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Discovering Ventoux, Provence

Discovering Ventoux, Provence

Like many wine lovers the Rhône valley, and it's wines, intrigues me and has done ever since I became interested in the subject. One of my earliest wine memories involved a bottle (or two) of Côtes du Rhône, a rather large chunk of Stilton cheese and a wonderful raucous evening spent with great friends.

Bizarrely since I moved to the Pyrénées from Canada 7 years ago I haven't managed to make the time to explore the region at all. Business, and life, got in the way along with a million great places to visit in Southwest France.

Now, with our business sold we're about to start a new venture across country in the French Alps. While house hunting is fun, it's no fun in peak winter season with sky high rental prices, houses half buried in snow so you can't see them, and sketchy mountain roads made sketchier by crazy locals who drive like they are on a rally circuit. So we've decided to "tough" it out just south of the Alps in Provence until the end of winter and things become a little more accessible.

What better excuse to check out the region that has captivated me for years.

Discovering Ventoux, Provence

For now I'm talking about the area, once known as Côtes du Ventoux, now known simply as AOC Ventoux. It's here that we have made our home for the next 4 months, in a small hamlet just outside of Carpentras, the truffle center of Provence.

In terms of wine, the Ventoux area has always been a bit of a poor cousin to the Rhône proper which lies just to the north and the Luberon which lies just to the south. Distance wise "just" means kilometers, and not many: The Rhône Crus of Beaumes de Venise and Vacqueyras are 6 and 13 km away and the boundary of the Luberon is roughly 45km south of us.

The landscape here is rugged and almost every view dominated by the giant mountain of Ventoux, Mont Ventoux. The area is less manicured than it's southern Luberon cousin and property a fraction of the price but by no means less stunning and picturesque.

Discovering Ventoux, Provence

I have included some links here about the location and proximity of Ventoux to the other regions along with some interesting articles on this beautiful part of France - there is so much written already that it seems a shame not to include some of it.

Here's a great article from Decanter about Ventoux Travel

A good comprehensive guide to Provence

A quick and simple read about Ventoux gastronomy and wine

Of course who better to get Rhône information from than Jancis Robinson

and finally Wine Spectator

Discovering Ventoux, Provence

Arriving in any wine region over stimulates the senses, well mine anyway. There is row upon row of vines, multiple vineyard signs at every turn, lots of small skinny vineyard tractors driving at full 35km per hour tilt and a plethora of wine choices in every store, none of which you are familiar with. 

Ventoux didn't disappoint in stimulating the senses at all, bringing beautiful vistas at every turn to be met with a gob-smacked "wow" at every turn. 

Beautiful doesn't even begin to describe it. Even in January when the leaves have fallen, the vines look skeletal and the mistral wind blows hard and cold there is an underlying richness to the landscape. I can only imagine how beautiful this place is in the summer with vibrant purple and blue lavender fields sharing the landscape with lush green vines and rolling Tuscan style hills - definitely worthy of it's reputation. 

Discovering Ventoux, Provence

Unsurprisingly, as a summer destination, Provence shuts in January. Open restaurants are hard to find, markets are sparse and many shops have pulled down their shutters not to be open again until the end of March. Vineyard workers tough it out among the vines spending cold days winter pruning and roads once teeming with tourist traffic are quiet and empty. 

All this hasn't bothered us though, in fact we like it, for us the region is shown in a more beautiful light. It's not every day you can drive through La Gorges de la Nesque, one of the busiest roads in Ventoux, stop the car in the middle of the road, let the dog out, take a bunch of photos and with never a whiff of another vehicle along the whole route. 

Provence may be shut but we are, of course, in France where there is always a boulangerie open with fresh baked breads and pastries and a local bar for a coffee or a different wine to try...no problem in my book!

Discovering Ventoux, Provence

The wines of Ventoux have been, and still are for the most part, a gamble as to what you are going to get in your glass certainly with the reds. This used to be mainly due to lack of investment and the fact that most wines were made to be sold as bulk or cheap "table" wine, leaving the prestigious neighbors of the Rhône to produce the world renowned wines we are all familiar with. 

Most peoples experience of Ventoux wine will be of rosé. Provence excels at rosé, the epiphany of summer wine drinking which I think should be renamed "summer happiness in a bottle".

The salmon pink elixir is ideally drank sitting outside by a pool on a hot day, under the shade of a vine or tree, bowl of olives and a slice of juicy melon to nibble on while something sizzles on a BBQ.

Can you hear the deep sigh?

Discovering Ventoux, Provence

Outside of rosé it's the cheap reds that you may know; 4 - 6 euros is the norm although 6 is a bit on the expensive side!

Of course it's not summer right now so rosé's are off the menu making way for winter warmer reds. 

76% of Ventoux wine production is red. Grenache based red wine blends which range from light and fruity to deep, dark and herbaceous and everything in between. 

I have made it my mission to try as many as is healthily possible in a quest to find a wine that truly blows my socks off.

Discovering Ventoux, Provence

I get the impression that things have changed a bit in AOC Ventoux, especially since researching some of the produce. Sure you have to sift through a lot of different wines to find one of note but the more memorable wines are easier to find than before.

I've been pleasantly surprised and the socks are definitely off!

There's lots to play with here - in terms of terroir it's a veritable herb garden from the abundant mountain garrigue, rosemary and thyme to fragrant lavender on the flatter lands. Mix all that in with a ton of sunshine, heat and soils ranging from clay and limestone and you're looking at some sunny, warm, fruity, herby loveliness in a bottle. 

Of course I'd be struck down if I ever described it like that to a wine maker. We all know that so much goes into making a great wine but that's the guts of it and I have to say they ARE rather drinkable!

Discovering Ventoux, Provence

The climate in Provence brings out the best in the classic Mediterranean grapes that thrive here - dusty, spicy Grenache, dark fruity Syrah, tannic Mourvèdre - the main grape varieties along with acidic Carignan and a dash of perfumed Cinsault for finesse, all blended in different (but AOC controlled) percentages to the winemakers preference. 

There in lies the key to great new wines from Ventoux, Provence.

The Ventoux AOC allows flexibility in terms of the blend which must be between 50% - 80% Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvèdre depending on where the site is located but leaves the rest at the discretion of the winemaker. It's a playground for those wanting to make different and exciting new style wines of the region.

Discovering Ventoux, Provence

There is land to be had here too and by the sound of it, at a fair price. There are many unattended vineyards waiting for an injection of life and new innovative winemakers are moving to the region, rejuvenating land and are starting to make great wines.

Here are a few links to producers that I have come across and who's wines have made an impression on me so far:

The Perrin Family who make incredible wines in the Côtes du Rhône have bought land in Ventoux and produce a range of wines that is starting to gather popularity.

Domaine de Fondrèche is one to watch. I visited and tasted their incredible wines and love their philosophy. Hard work, dedication and a new approach has resulted in superb ageworthy wines that blew the socks off!

Chateau Pesquie is probably the most expensive bottle I found (€25) and it was well worth the splurge.

and finally, for a cheaper option there is a good co-operative called Les Vignerons du Mont Ventoux who produce some pretty good every day wine so if you see their logo or name on a label it's generally a pretty good quaffer.

It's a time of change in AOC Ventoux and exciting times are ahead for those winemakers striving to produce great terroir driven wines - definitely a place to watch. Unfortunately, those wines don't all come in at the €4-6 price range, more like €15-30 but they are worthy and a treat to try...watch this space and AOC Ventoux!

For now i'll continue with my quest in finding out what I can about the Ventoux area of Provence. It's truffle season so i'm going truffle hunting which should be interesting, then there's the Luberon to experience and of course the Rhône Valley. I get the imprerssion that 4 months is no where near long enough and i'd better go out and buy some more socks!

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Food and Wine Pairing 101

Food and Wine Pairing 101

I am forever being asked about Food Pairing and what wine goes well with this or that dish. I have had many frantic last minute texts from people in the wine store staring, like deer in headlights, at the rows of bottles trying to find something to go with a certain dish.

We've all been there, in the restaurant looking at the food menu then looking at the wine menu and having no clue what wine to order. Or being invited to dinner and having no clue what wine to bring.

It's a thing, Food and Wine Pairing, an art. 

If you get it wrong your art is a failure, it doesn't taste "right", doesn't gel, but when you do succeed and get it right it's one of the best things to behold. The marriage of flavours from food and wine become one, complementing each other to form harmony on your palate.

I always say: 

When you get Food and Wine Pairing wrong dinner is meh (ok) but when you get it right dinner is memorable and something your guests will remember for a long time.

It's for that reason Food and Wine Pairing is one of the most popular subjects i'm asked about.

As a Chef and Sommelier I have the best of both worlds when pairing food and wine. I understand food, cooking methods and marrying flavours and I know what wine will make both wine and food a stand out act. All of that and I don't always get it right!

Food and Wine 101

There's a lot of differing opinions about what "should" go with what and, of course, there's the "old school" white wine with fish, red wine with meat theory but in todays culinary and wine world thoughts have to change along with the times. The "old school" train of thought worked and for some things, still does. There is some simple chemistry that cannot be ignored when it comes to Food and Wine Pairing

For example the "Old School" saying that light wine before heavy still stands. A heavy wine can over load your palate and if followed by a light wine their delicate flavours will be lost.

Food and Wine 101

With todays changes in food and food preparation our thoughts need to be extended to the wine we drink with it. The global popularity for food and wine has changed and grown leading to smaller, more intensely flavoured portions. International food, organic, raw and vegetarian food all play a roll in todays market. Add a huge change in the way wine is produced and the amount of new wines on the market and there is a veritable cornucopia of choices available. 

So, while the "Old School" way of thinking is almost a thing of the past, a "New World" approach is necessary. The "New World" way of thinking, if you ask me, is to keep it simple, don't over think it and always be prepared to try new things. If and when you get it right, it's amazing!

Successful Food and Wine Pairing is a difficult thing to get right without the correct information though. Restaurants often have a sommelier who works closely with the head chef when choosing wine for their lists and tasting menus. In wine stores the professionals working there are good at recommending wines when asked but for your average Jo who just wants to know a little bit more about pairing i've written down some pointers to get you started.

Food and Wine Pairing 101

What is Food and Wine Pairing?

Well, simply put, it's food or a dish served with a wine that complement each other. Neither stand out alone as being stronger or more flavoursome than the other, it's just a perfect harmony between the two.

To be honest there is no right or wrong when it comes to Food and Wine Pairing, you can eat what you like with what you like as long as it works. There are, however, a few rules you should apply to make your choice a bit easier.

The Principles of Food and Wine Pairing?

Before you get yourself freaked out about what to choose by stating that "I'm not an expert", start with a simple question to narrow the playing field:

Are choosing the wine to go with the dish or the dish to go with the wine or are you looking for a bottle to take to a dinner party?

Once you've worked that part out the rest is easy.

Looking for a wine to take wine to a dinner party?

Here's where vanity and ego often gets in the way. Some people don't want to be seen to just spend a fiver on a cheap bottle of plonk and some people want to show off by bringing a hugely expensive or old vintage bottle with them. While there is a place at a dinner party for both it may not be the best choice for the occasion. The idea for taking a bottle to a dinner party is that it may be drank at the event and therefore needs to fit in. Bringing a bottle for you host as a gift for another time is a completely different kettle of fish.

Take these things into account when choosing your dinner party wine:

Season and Weather: 

If it's summer then your choice should lighter, a rose or a light refreshing white maybe. If it's snowing and -20 outside something heavier and warming will be needed - a Shiraz maybe. If it's super hot you may want to think about bringing fizz which will have a cooling effect.

Occasion:

If it's just a get together you could experiment with a new wine or even a cocktail mix. Fizz is ALWAYS a good idea - but then I'm female and fizz is a girl's best friend! If it's granny's 80th birthday you may want to keep it more traditional and go for a middle of the road red such as a Merlot. Don't forget the flowers though, grannies always love flowers!

Location:

If it's at the beach you want, again, to keep it light. Heavy reds in hot weather can accentuate the heat. Pinot Noir dies in the heat, save that one for a cooler time. Try a Sauvignon Blanc or pinot grigio - both light, refreshing and easy to drink

People:

If you don't know who's going you'll want to stay in the middle of the road wine wise. Merlot is great as is Valpolicella for an easy drinking, food friendly, middle of the road red. Chardonnay (not the heavy oaky type) and Chenin Blanc are always safe bets for whites.

Avoid holiday wines:

A wine that you taste on holiday often tastes completely different when you get it home. Leave the pineapple wine for another occasion and design a menu around it for more fun.

Budget:

May or may not be a factor for you. Just know that many palates won't appreciate the delicate nuances of really expensive labels so don't waste your money (unless you intend to gift the wine). Keep your spend relative and save the expensive stuff for a special occasion.

Food and Wine 101

Choosing the Food to go with the Wine:

If you have a great bottle or bottles that you want to drink, create a menu around it. It's easy to do but you must know the wine, it's flavours and characteristics before you do. Try your wine before building your menu.

Take these things into account when choosing the Food to go with the Wine:

Opposites attract: 

Sweetness wine and saltiness in food - Sweet and Sour

High Acidity:

If your wine has high acidity you may want to make a dish with equal acidity Don't use too much salt in your dishes, it highlights the acidity

High Tannin:

If you have a wine that has high tannin then try a fatty protein (duck for example) to counter balance it. Keep sauces condensed and well cooked off, too much alcohol highlights the tannin

Heavy wine:

The heavier the wine, the heavier the dish can be. Think components - wild boar is a heavy meat that will stand up to a heavy wine Heavy wines are the perfect partners for meat, roasted or in stews. Use a low tannin wine with light white proteins

Delicate wine:

Choose your cooking method well, delicate food needs delicate cooking. Delicate wine = delicate and simple food Deep fried food can kill a delicate wine's bouquet

Match flavours:

Try to match the flavours in the wine with the flavours in the dishes Smoky foods pair really well with oaky wines Dark berry flavours in the wine, make a sauce with berries in

Food and Wine 101

Choosing the Wine to go with the Food:

It's difficult to find just one wine that pairs with a whole dinner party, it can be done but for the most part you should be looking at 2-3 different wines. It's pretty easy to reverse the logic written above.

Here's some pointers:

Cooking Method:

Can dictate what wine you choose Steaming, poaching, stir-frying = lighter wines Braising, roasting, frying - heavier wines

Dish Make up:

Dish make up can alter what you think will work Weight, intensity, texture, region, ingredients all need to be taken into account Try to find a couple of things to focus on that the wine you choose will pair well with 

Temperature:

The wine's temperature can alter it's profile so decide how you want to drink it Not all wine should be drunk at textbook temperatures

Sauce, Rub, Marinade:

It's one thing to figure out what the main ingredient of the dish is but it's another thing if the sauce, rub or marinade out shines it. Be careful with spicy marinades, spice needs either spicy reds (Shiraz, Malbec) or fruity whites (Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling) to counteract it. Creamy sauces need creamy wines - full bodied whites 

Balance:

Sweetness in the food needs to be balanced with sweetness in the wine or one will outshine the other.

White Wine with Fish?

Doesn't have to be so. Light wines and fruity wines pair really well with fish, especially oily fish Just be careful with salt and red wine Be careful with oaked wines and salmon or tuna

Don't be afraid:

There's nothing wrong with drinking fizz (especially vintage fizz) with a main course Fizz cuts through the mouth coating effects of eggs Sherries pair really well with Japanese food Sherry (a sweet one) also cuts through the mouth numbing effects of ice cream Try a lightly chilled Pinot Noir with your Chinese next time

Food and Wine 101

As much as I can give pointers on what to do, like I said, there's some basic chemistry you need to be careful of.

Here's a few difficulties with food and wine:

Salt and high tannin - makes food taste saltier Sweet foods with dry wines - wine will taste tart Astringent things - vinegar in salad dressings can make a wine taste astringent Oily, palate altering foods - peanuts, they're a toughie! Heat - wasabi, horseradish, mustard, chilli- will make most red wines seem tannic, try sweeter whites Unami - the newest sense - asparagus, artichoke, tomato, spinach - notoriously hard to pair with. Sauvignon Blanc seems to do ok. Cheese - hard cheese, creamy cheese, blue cheese, rind cheese  - It's really hard to find 1 wine for all. Oaky whites work well

 

This just scratches the surface on Food and Wine Pairing, there's tons to tell and tons to learn. I offer to tailor made Food and Wine Pairing workshops to both private and professional clients either virtually (via Skype) or in person - See SERVICES

Please contact me if you have questions or are interested in learning more.

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Pinot Noir Any Time!

Pinot Noir Any Time!

Pinot Noir. It is, without doubt, my absolute favourite grape variety.

Don’t get me wrong, I love ALL wines but Pinots have a special place in my heart.

My love might have something to do with time spent grape picking in Burgundy, sleeping in the vigneron’s barn after eating a hearty meal prepared by Madame vigneron accompanied, of course, with plenty of their product.
My knees still hurt at the thought of the vendage but my heart will never forget the wine.

 


Pinot's have many faces depending on where it originates and can therefore prove to be disappointing to some searching for their definition of Pinot Noir.

A notoriously difficult grape variety to grow, the Pinot Noir has very delicate, thin skin that can be succeptible to frost, wind, rain, hail and any other harsh environmets.
It's ironic though that the Pinot thrives in cooler climates rather than warmer climates and sun scorched areas. So to say that the perfect set of ingredients, climate wise, have to be achieved to produce the best grapes and ultimately vintages, is an understatement.
Unlike other hardier grape varieties it often takes just one hail storm to ruin the whole crop leaving little or no vintage at all.

Depending on where the wines originate will also depend on how your Pinot is going to taste.
Typical flavours and aromas of Pinot Noir range from black and red cherries, raspberries, strawberries, roses, currants, vanilla and a whole host of descriptors such as stinky barnyard and mushroom.
The wine is almost always light red in colour with high acidity and low tannins which makes it appealing to those looking for a lighter wine to drink.

However - not all Pinots are the same!

Pinot Noir's home is Burgundy where classic Pinots command extortionate prices and are sought after world wide. It's here that the difference between your bog standard Pinot and Grand Cru Pinot's start.
Basically it all depends on where it's grown - how much sun it gets, what soil type it's grown in etc. I'm talking about terroir.
In Burgundy the growers believe that terroir gives the wine the personality of where it comes from, it's own identity, and there are none more complex personalities than in Burgundy.
Parcels of the best prime vineyard land renowned for producing the greatest Pinot Noirs are coveted and IF sold their prices are rarely disclosed.
Hence, the some of worlds best wine comes from an area 10,000 km. sq and with hugely diverse geography. Small in comparison to other large wine producing areas.

Pinot Noir is also successfully grown in other countries around the world - Chile, USA, New Zealand, Australia to name a few.
Pinot's from these countries have their own personalities tending to be bigger, richer, fruitier and fruitier than their French counterparts - very likeable by all who drink them!

 


This year for Christmas I dove into my cellar and pulled out a few bottles that I thought might be interesting to try with whatever we were eating.
The summary is testimony that not all Pinot Noirs are the same. They were all from Burgundy but all different, one light and easy to drink, another heavy and almost too tannic, quite different yet all with their own personalities.

Here’s a summary of what I chose, where I got them from, what I ate with them and what they tasted like in both wine-speak and for you wine beginners, non-wine speak.

I bought the three wines from Vinatis where I buy a lot of wine.
I am not affiliated with them in any way but they do have some good prices and deliver to my door in 24 – 48 hours, which is pretty good for rural France!

 

First up:

2010 Domaine Machard de Gramont Chorey-Les-Beaune
Grand Vin de Bourgogne
€11 Vinatis

I bought this Pinot a couple of years ago as Chorey Les Beaune is where I grape picked (poor knees!) so it was more for sentimental reasons rather than taste that I bought it and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.

I had this with an aperitif with a mélange of things to eat:

Apple and walnut baked Brie
Homemade black olive Tapenade – with plenty of garlic
Chunks of baked Chorizo Sausage
Dried Mountain Ham
and whatever else was kicking around

Wine-Speak – Light and opaque cherry red in colour with fast legs.
Incredibly fragrant on the nose with red fruits, raspberry and red cherries.
Slight oak, vanilla with a very slight hint of earthiness.
Fruit disappeared quickly.

In the mouth it was hot – for a Pinot.
Good fruit on entry, smooth, lightweight with slight tannin and with a short, but hot, finish.

In short – balanced apart from the heat.

Non Wine-Speak – This wine was awesome!
It’s a classic light Pinot Noir taste that was great with the food but would be equally as good without.
It’s an easy drinking wine for those looking to get started with Burgundy reds.

Hardly a classic Pinot pairing to say the least but it all worked really well and my only complaint was that I didn’t have a second bottle open.

 


 

Next up:

2007 Lupé Cholet Domaine du Château Gris
Aloxe-Corton 1er Cru Les Fourniers
€28 Vinatis

I had this little tinker with my Christmas lunch but rather than go for the classic turkey we had Roast Pork Loin and crackling with a sausage and chestnut stuffing and all the trimmings.
Oh my goodness it totally worked and, yes I did have a second bottle open!

Wine-Speak – Dark cherry red colour from rim all the way to the core. It looked elegant!
On the nose it fragrant and pretty with ripe dark red fruits of cherries and blackberries.
More than a touch of established vanilla with the telltale barnyard nuances.
On the palate it was smooth, with balanced tannin and acidity.
Fruit came through from start to finish leaving you wanting more.
A smooth and elegant length so typical of a great Pinot.

Non Wine-Speak – A fantastic example of Aloxe-Corton! If you can get it, try it.
It’s fruity without being over the top and leaves a great taste in your mouth at the end.
Price point doesn’t break the bank and it’s incredible with or without food.
You won’t be disappointed with this.

 


 

Finally!

2006 Domaine Michel Caillot
Beaune Les Avaux 1er Cru
€16 Vinatis


I bought a case of this a few years ago and have been trying it at regular intervals since. It hasn’t changed much and I doubt it will.

We had this little guy with Christmas dinner leftovers, which were just as good as the day before.

Wine-Speak – Dark! Dark black cherry rim to almost inky core. 
It looks full-bodied.
On the nose, dark unripe fruits of black cherry and blackberry.
A very slight touch of coffee and licorice.
Earthy but with a grainy, gravelly minerality.
Palate – dark unripe fruit immediately followed by a quick bitter finish – almost coffee like.
Medium tannin lingers for a long time.

In short – not for me!
It was a darker, heavier Pinot but with bitterness that makes it almost unlikeable.
Funny enough though, it worked with the leftovers especially since I had shredded and pan-fried the Brussels sprouts with some pancetta, a good match despite the aftertaste, which one got used to.

Non Wine-Speak – Ok, not bad but think there’s better out there at the same price point.
It may be a bit big for Pinot beginners or those who prefer a lighter wine.
It’s a full-bodied Pinot but the bitterness could turn you off 

 

Pinot Noir Any Time! 
Despite the fact that they all taste different, to me, they are still some of the most easy drinking wines out there...if you can afford them!

"It’s a hard grape to grow…thin skinned, temperamental, ripens early…it’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can grow anywhere and thrive even when it’s neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention…it can grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who takes time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression.”

Quote from the movie Sideways

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Madiran

Madiran Wine

When we moved to the Pyrenees 7 years ago I had little knowledge about the wines of Southwest France other than those from Jurançon and Cahors.
SW France wines simply weren't out there to be seen, most probably because they weren’t made in large volumes, a lot of it was consumed locally and their labelling was terrible.

High on my list of things to do when I arrived was to go and check out some of the wine areas and get to know the wines.
I was, after all, living here and going to be drinking them.

I started with Madiran, one of the closest wine regions to my new home Chez Passet.
I had sourced out some places on the internet to check out and 2 of the more renowned were: Domaine Berthoumieu and Chateau Montus.

 

A 45min drive took us north on a drizzly overcast March morning past the town of Tarbes and into farming country where we found the small village of Madiran.
A somewhat non-descript village surrounded by fields and vinyards with one road passing through the centre of a few non-descript houses and a church (of course!).
We had thought that Madiran was the centre of the "Madiran" Wine region, however it wasn't, it just seemed to be a village of that name which was a shame as we really couldn't find a sense of where the region actually started and stopped.

Used to looking at wine regions and wineries across the U.S. and Canada we were looking for some form of signage and direction but there was nada, nothing.
We guessed they did things a bit different here!
We did see a wine information sign but when we went to where it pointed the door was locked so we decided to carry on and try to find our first vineyard, Domaine Berthoumieu.

With the absence of any signs we went to a nearby restaurant and asked a lady setting up tables for directions. Her response as she turned and walked away, was that she didn't know.
There was no, “try here they might know”, no help at all.
Ah the French way, they definitely did things differently here…..so helpful!


Luckily we had a Sat. Nav. so we programmed in the address and up a narrow lane we went on our way.
15 minutes of very narrow, winding lanes and not a lot of vines later we were instructed to “turn here”.
“Where? There’s no turning.” I said
Indeed there was a very well camouflaged turning with an equally camouflaged sign to Berthoumieu attached to a tree.
Finally, we had arrived.
Where we were I had no idea.

Montus

The sign pointed to a farm gate that was open and next to which stood a sign for the vineyard so we drove in, parked the car and went off in search of the tasting room.

We hadn’t called ahead and made an appointment as in North America you don’t normally have to.
There was no one around so I sent my husband Tim off in search of life while I made friends with the friendly guard dog. 

A few minutes later Tim came out followed by Didier Barre, the owner and wine maker at Berthoumieu.
We asked in our best, bad French if it was possible to taste and were rewarded, for once, with a smile and “of course”.

We spent the next hour with Mr. Barre tasting his wines in the smallest tasting room I have ever been in, 1 small round table and 3 chairs.  
I tasted, spat and tasted again and again.
Tim basically got hammered and enjoyed everything he tasted!

My French (at the time) was poor, but my wine and restaurant French were fluent so I had no problem conversing with Mr. Barre who was clearly delighted that I knew what I was talking about and was asking informed questions.

Berthoumieu is only a small producer in terms of quantity but, like many small wine makers, he values traditional family wine making techniques and is passionate about his wine and the land that the grapes grow on.
His wines, therefore, are very traditional and are perfect partner for regional dishes such as Confit de Canard or Cassoulet.


Madiran reds are made with the Tannat grape (60%) with additional grape varieties including Cab. Sav. and Cab. Franc being used to make up the blend if the wine maker wants to.
Berthoumieu makes nearly all of his Madiran reds with a high percentage of Tannat. (Whites from this region cannot be called Maridan but must be called Pacherinc du Vic Bilh)
Berthoumieu's wines are what I would consider to be in an “old world style” meaning they take time to soften and become approachable but once softened the layers of flavour in the wine define the terroir and passion that has gone into making it.

I asked if the year was going to be a good vintage.
The question was met with a typical Gallic shrug, a smirk and an absolute “every year is a good year here”.

Enough said, lesson over.
Wine is very simple for these producers, they are from a small farming area without huge financial input for modern day equipment or technology but they have pride and passion.
It's as if you are drinking history which in a way is refreshing and there’s nothing at all wrong with the wine they make.

I ended up leaving Berthoumieu with a large quantity of wine (funny how that happens).
A lot of the wine is still in my cellar today, it tastes a bit better now than it did then which is saying something because it was awesome when I bought it!

Chateau Bouscasse

We never did get to go to Chateau Montus that day, it was closed but we have since been a few times and it is very different from Berthoumieu.

Chateau Montus is owned by Alain Brumont and his family which is a larger company with a few different vineyards around the Madiran region.
They have a range of wines from every day cheap n’ cheerfuls (well relatively) to the high end Chateau Bouscasse and Chateau Montus which I have to say are both fantastic wines and in every way (except grape varieties) comparable to a great Bordeaux.
They have a fantastic tasting room at Chateau Bouscasse and offer cellar tours and tastings if you book in advance.
They also offer a tour and dining option if you have enough people and book in advance which from experience was incredible. The tour was really informative and the food was exceptional, especially since it was made from local produce and paired with incredible Brumont wines 

Alain Brumont is an "iconic" winemaker in Madiran.
Brumont embraces modern wine making techniques along side traditional techniques in his wine making and is credited industry-wide for being a visionary in Madiran.
The results are that his wines are made for every palate.
His old world styles are earthy and tough but refined and approachable and the wines made with newer techniques show fruit that used to be buried behind tannins for years.

If you get a chance to go to either vineyard you should go.
Better still, go to both and see the difference.
Both are free to taste and you can purchase wines onsite.
Both producers are exporting to the UK and limited outlets in North America.

All in all, Madiran is a pretty neat little wine region to visit.
The wines are awesome, varied and terroir driven which makes them unique.
I still didn't figure out where the centre of the region was but from subsequent visits i'll happily say that the signage has improved.

Madiran still has a lot of undeveloped farmlandvand I get the feeling that with so many advances in technology we are going to see a new side to an old wine soon.
I don’t think that traditionalists need to fret, there will always be an old school producer tucked away in them there hills.

Chateau Bouscasse

Chateau Montus

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Get the Floc out!

Get the Floc out!

Getting the "Floc" out is a common occurrence in the South West of France.
I get the "Floc" out often although I'm pretty sure most French don't snigger like kids when they do, the joke just doesn't seem to grow old with me.
I know, it doesn't take much.

If you're wondering what I'm prattling on about, I'm talking about one of the regional drinks here in SW France, the little known Floc de Gascogne.
 

Why am I writing about it?
Because it's one of those drinks that needs to be talked about and shared.
It's an incredible drink and one which is, sadly, undersold and under exported for many reasons.

One of the reasons is that it's a fortified wine and the demand for fortified wines around the world outside or port or sherry, just isn't there.
Don't be put off by the "fortified" bit, I'll explain that part, just be sure that this drink is awesome!

Every region of France has it's own version of a fortified wine (also called vin de liqueur or mistelle) which is drunk as an aperitif or as a dessert accompaniment.

Cognac has Pineau de Charentes, the Rhône has Rinquinquin, there's Cartagene from the Languedoc and Macvin from the Jura just to name a few.

Mostly though "Floc" is drunk before dinner as an aperitif, often accompanied with tasty treats local to the area and often produced or reared locally. 

"Floc" comes in white, red and rose styles meaning they've got the seasonal changes covered so you can drink it year round - bonus!

Get the Floc out!

So, what is it?

Floc de Gascogne is a bi-product of the Armagnac (brandy) industry here in SW France.
It is (simply put) a base of grape juice to which Armagnac has been added.
Don't be fooled, you hardly taste the Armagnac.

The recipe has been around since the 16th century and it's name is as old as the local language, Occitan, which is still spoken by some older generations.
"Floc" means bouquet of flowers in Occitan and when you smell it that is exactly the aroma you smell.

 

Here's the technical description: 

Just prior to the completion of fermentation, the grape must (juice) is fortified with brandy until the solution reaches an alcohol level of 16%–22%.
The appellation (a set of strict controls to maintain authenticity) states that  there must be 2/3 grape juice and 1/3 brandy both of which must come from the same vineyard.
The resulting wine is left with a high level of residual sugar because most strains of yeast cannot reproduce at such a high alcohol level.
After blending, the Floc is kept for 10 months in the cellar of the producer and must be approved by a committee of experts before it can be sold under the appellation Floc de Gascogne.

Get the Floc out!

Visit any traditional family home in SW France and you most likely will be offered a chilled glass of Floc de Gascogne as an aperitif.
It's a bit of a ritual and there's rarely a fridge without a bottle in it.

The ritual part is typical of the people of the SW who are incredibly proud of their lands and the produce that has been grown or reared on it for centuries.
Not only will a chilled glass of "Floc" be proudly presented but there will also be offerings of local dried ham, nuts, olives and cheese all of which, unsurprisingly, pair incredibly well with it. 

In fact the "Floc" is transformed by the arrival of food, it becomes whole, the flavors rounded and the whole experience turns into a journey of taste sensations.
 

Think almond, jasmine, roses, honey and black fruit from the "Floc" then add to it salty ham or dry goat cheese or juicy ripe melon and you're looking at what I can only describe as complete foodie fulfillment.
"Floc" on it's own is....ok, but "Floc" with food, especially the right (meaning local) food is a different beast.

So, if you're looking for something a bit different that will blow the socks off your guests at a dinner party Get the Floc Out and pair it with some simple and delicious produce.
Believe me, you won't look back. 

No joke, try it you might even like it.

 

A bottle will cost between €7-15 in France and is readily available in many large supermarkets.
I added a couple of links on the right to Floc de Gascogne on Amazon UK where I know you can get it but you will probably have to order it through other wine stores.

"Floc" should be drunk within a year after the production.
Once a bottle is opened, it should be stored for up to three months in the refrigerator - but it won't last that long!

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Beaujolais or Bust

The Sommelier Chef - Beaujolais or Bust

There was a time when Beaujolais Nouveau was the in thing in the wine world.
Hordes of people raced to France from various countries in an attempt to be one of the first to get the new release, which takes place at midnight on the third Thursday in November every year.

Celebratory "Nouveau" parties would take place in towns and cities around the globe as soon as the wine had arrived. Hosts cracking open the bottle as soon as the box had arrived, eating moules and beef bourguignon and slurping down many, many glasses of the young wine. I think I remember being at some of them!

Beaujolais Nouveau then became un-vogue, out of fashion, sent to the back of the store cupboard and other "in wines" took its place.
But like all things fashionable, if you wait long enough it will one day be popular again and true to form there has been resurgence in its popularity, mostly among the younger crowd keen for another reason to have a party.

Today there is no race across Europe with Nouveau being shipped around the world ahead of the release date just in time for sale. In fact this years release saw a huge portion of Nouveau go to Asia where amongst other things, it was poured into baths in Japan.

The Sommelier Chef - Beaujolais or Bust

So what is it and why don't people like it?

Well, Beaujolais Nouveau is a wine made in Burgundy, France from the Gamay grape.
It is made in a slightly different way to most wines with the grapes being left whole during fermentation rather than crushed in a method called Carbonic Maceration.

The result of this type of fermentation is a lighter style in terms of both colour and weight as no skins are crushed resulting in a lighter juice with little tannin, suitable for younger palates.

Nouveau literally means “new” in French and like any wine that has just been harvested it is very, very young.
There is no complexity and to be honest it is akin to alcoholic fruit juice, which is fine if you know what you are getting.

I think that a lot of consumers thought they were getting something different when they bought the bottle, especially with Nouveau’s Burgundian roots, only to be disappointed when they drank it.
Possibly this was a result of the huge marketing push centered around Nouveau at the time.

Beaujolais Nouveau bottles are easily recognized with by their brightly coloured “arty” labels and the contents of the bottle bright red, young, fruity, acidic and to some wine drinkers, bloody awful!

It has its place; no one buys Nouveau for the cellar, it's meant to be drunk now, today, with a good beef stew, and as a celebration of this years harvest.
If you over think Nouveau you're thinking too much.
Nouveau is a simple soul, what you see is what you get.

Beaujolais Nouveau, however, is not at all typical of other Beaujolais wines that have, unfortunately, been tarred with the same brush resulting in lost popularity.
Nouveau is to Beaujolais wines what a Mini is to a Mercedes, great but not at all the same product.

Beaujolais wine is made from the same grapes and using the same process as Nouveau, it just has a longer and sometimes different aging process.

Real Beaujolais Red is still acidic and a lighter style but with layers and complexity sometimes on par with it's more expensive and sought after Burgundian cousin Pinot Noir.

It's a shame that these beautiful Beaujolais wines have fallen into the same catagory as it's younger Nouveau counterparts, definitely a result of fantastic marketing by wine companies that back fired on other serious Beaujolais producers.

Beaujolais has had a hard time climbing out from the bottom of the barrel but it is still afloat and their wines are just as good, if not better, as ever they were.

There are 3 appelations of Beaujolais:

Beaujolais AOC – basic Beaujolais with a majority of wines being sold as Beaujolais Nouveau

Beaujolais Villages – accounting for ¼ of Beaujolais wine production the wines come from the north of the region and from a collection of 39 villages. Some Nouveau produced but not much. Stricter controls than for regular Beaujolais AOC

Cru Beaujolais – highest classification in Beaujolais. No Nouveau production allowed. There are 10 crus (villages) and which are where the best reputed Beaujolais come from - Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Réginé, Saint Amour

Each of the crus have their own unique characteristics, some more age worthy than others, some unfiltered and full-bodied, some flowery and delicate, there are lots to choose from but look at the labels and if one of the “crus” is noted then try it.

So, if you have ever had the privilege of Nouveau and the headache to go with it, try some of the other Beaujolais wines, they are something to behold and there are loads to choose from.

To help you choose which cru might be best for you, here’s a link to some Wiki information that offers some interesting information on both Beaujolais and Beaujolais Nouveau

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beaujolais

 

 

Drink This: 

Moulin à Vent Beaujolais - try this one!

Moulin a Vent
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Merlot Misunderstood

Merlot Misunderstood

The other day I was talking to a colleague in the wine trade and the subject of "easy drinking" wines came up.
Specifically we were talking about wines that appealed to all palates, especially the beginner wine drinker.

Almost at the same time we both used a Merlot from the Languedoc in France as our example, although my use of it was a positive one and his not-so-much.
I have to give the person their dues as we were in an area not known for it's delicate and subtle wines.
We were in Madiran, where reds are big, bold and tannic and are what I call “hairy wines”. So I think a bit of bias had crept in…or had it?

Merlot has a bit of a poor reputation, a lack of respect if you will. 
Anyone who has seen the movie "Sideways" will remember the famous scene where drinking Merlot was categorically dismissed as something never ever to be drunk.
It was this scene that brought the modern spotlight and a bit of stigma onto Merlot.

I find it amusing that Merlot is dismissed as a "simple" wine when it's the prominent grape variety in world renowned and sought after wines from Saint Émilion and Pomerol. 

Merlot Misunderstood

Merlot is the predominant grape variety used in Pomerol.

To me it's not the grape variety but the style in which the wine is made that makes some drinkers run for the hills.
My colleague who scoffed at the Languedoc version basically meant that the Merlot produced there was made with the sole intention of becoming an easy to drink, middle-of-the-road beginner wine, appealing to the masses and sold by the box load. 

He was right, and it is, but it's incredibly drinkable, pairs easily with most foods and appeals to all palates.
A good result in my book, what's not to like about that?

Same grape but completely different wines depending on how it's made - it's the story we are seeing all around the world.

Most people with a bit of wine knowledge know that New World versus Old World wine making techniques are the reason for this. 
They are very different and make two very different wines and it's that which is confusing to those who are unfamiliar.

For those who don't know the difference I'll describe it in layman's terms.

Old World wine making uses old "recipes" and techniques that have been perfected over centuries, and the resulting wine has characteristics renowned for the region it comes from.
Many wines are blended vs single variety and there are often many subtle layers of flavour in the wine that are difficult to find unless you know how to taste and go looking for them.
These wines often can be described as "complex" because of that reason and beginner wine drinkers tend to describe them as too strong or too dry when their palates are overwhelmed by the complexity.

New World wine makes use of new technology during wine making process whether from machinery, chemically or simply using new techniques and theories.
Some of these processes bring out more fruit flavor or enable the wine to be drunk earlier by taking away some of the tannin.
Single variety wines are the darling of New World technology rather than blended.
The results are simple, fruitier, softer structured wines that are easily drinkable and particularly attractive to the novice wine drinker. 

I am completely generalizing here, there's more to it than that but in very basic terms that's the nuts and bolts.

Merlot Misunderstood

Same grapes producing completely different wines depending on the method of vinification used.

Merlot is one grape variety that has become very popular by using New World techniques. 

Ordinarily Merlot from Old World countries needs to be blended to give it structure and backbone and the fruit is lean as it’s typically grown in cooler climate areas where the fruit takes a long time to ripen.
In a bad vintage Merlot needs help to make it shine yet in a good vintage the Merlot grape produces a light, smooth wine with silky tannins.
It’s a middle of the road wine appealing to drinkers who find the stronger, fuller bodied wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Nebbiolo too much to take.

By growing Merlot in hot climates and using New World techniques wine makers have produced a very fruity wine with low tannin.
The structure is not complex and the wine is simple, almost always dependable vintage wise and has become incredibly easy to drink. 

Merlot is made successfully all over the world using NW techniques, most notably in Chile where there are some amazing results at affordable prices.
It is also made in the Languedoc, France by the bucket load, often sold in boxes and is a staple for everyday, easy drinking when you don't want to think about it.
 


So, why is Merlot misunderstood and why the poor reaction from my colleague when mentioning it?

Well I think it's not so much the Merlot grape variety, it's more the fact that it has been mass produced and people drink a lot of it while not really knowing (or caring) what they are drinking.
For the "wine lover"  it's hard to comprehend why people drink it when there are so many better wines available.

Merlot Misunderstood

While these two wines might be made from the same grape variety they are VERY different wines.

There's also a bit of stigma, a bit like the youngest child having to live up to their older siblings achievements.
The "old school" see Merlot as an inferior wine to the bigger, bolder, in-your-face wines although the "old school" are often the first to get excited when a bottle of Pomerol is opened.

Personally, I think it all works and whatever floats your boat wine wise is your own choice. 

There is a place for your bog standard mass produced Merlot, just don’t misunderstand and confuse what it’s purpose is.
It’s a glass of wine, rather like a glass of bog standard beer - does the trick and people love it.

I do think that wine education is key to helping novice wine drinkers move on and try different, more complex wines, whether it's the wine shop, magazines, tv, friends or whatever; I think education is key.

Sure there are other wines out there that are better but to compare a boxed Merlot to a Chateau Cheval Blanc just isn't possible.
Same grape, two totally different wines.

I certainly wouldn't describe Cheval Blanc as an every day drinking wine even though it is predominantly Merlot and I certainly don't have the budget to buy it every day. 
Although if anyone wants to prove me wrong by sending me some to compare I'll gladly accept it.

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Collecting and Cellaring Wine

Collecting and Cellaring Wine

"What's a good year?" I'm often asked about wine.
"Why?" I question.
"Because I want to buy some wine to lay down" I'm told.
"Well that all depends on why you want to lay it down. Do you want to create a cellar for yourself, or buy to re-sell as an investment, or lay down for a special occasion?" I ask.
"Errrrr not sure, I think for me, for later." The response.
"How much do you want to spend and what are you looking for?"
"Not sure, not much and I like everything." was the "helpful" reply

The conversations go on and on but "laying wine down" is at the tip of many people's tongue once into wine.
Laying down wine means to putting wine to one side in favourable conditions and allowing it to mature and improve with age. 
For most people the "laying down" occurs in their own cellars but others with large amounts of wine (and cash) use controlled cellars where companies cellar your wine in guaranteed controlled and insured conditions much like rented storage units.
I'm going to be discussing the former as I don’t think the latter is something your average wine drinker is particularly interested in.

Collecting and Cellaring Wine

So why "lay down" wine?

Well, there are many reasons for laying down wine but the main reason is that some wines improve with age and with that can come higher re-sale value or, for the most part, higher satisfaction when drinking it. 
Some people lay down wine to mark an occasion such as a birth or an event.
For example if a baby is born someone may buy a case of that year's wine so that baby can drink the wine on their wedding day or 21st birthday etc.

Some people create a cellar to leave to their children, sort of an inheritance or even a dowry that they are still able tap into a bit while they are alive.

Some find a case or 2 of wine, perhaps while on holiday, and lay it down.
Every 6 months or so a bottle is opened to see how it is improving.
Some take notes, others just remember, either way opening the next bottle is always an event they look forward to.
Will it or won't it be better?

Let me start by saying that if you are looking to buy wine for re-sale then you will need more than a wine fridge or dark room to store it.
Wine buyers are looking for proof of cellaring conditions before they buy.
After all we're not talking small amounts of money here and they need to guarantee their investment.
So, if you're thinking about investing in wine for re-sale you'll need to talk to a professional before you do it.
Depending on your budget and unless you have a fantastic climate controlled cellar you're most likely to be out-sourcing and paying for the privilege.

For most people, laying down wine means allowing the wine to mature and improve for their own enjoyment.

Collecting and Cellaring Wine

So, how do you know what to lay down? Here are a couple of quick pointers:

First of all, ask questions about a wines longevity before purchasing.
It’s all well and good buying wine but if your buying the wrong wine you will either need to have a party to drink it while it’s ready or pour it down the sink because it’s past it’s prime.

Not all wines are cellarable.
A lot of wines are made to be drunk today and will be spoiled if they sit in a cellar. 

In general white wines have a shorter cellar life than reds (there are some exceptions).

Know your producer, do your homework.
Some producers are renowned for using new world techniques that can bring out the flavours in the wine making it drinkable at release while others are renowned for using old world techniques requiring the wine to be laid down before they are at their prime to drink.

Certain grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo and Malbec lend themselves to long term cellaring due to their high tannin and acidity (tannins soften with age).
Others such as Pinot Noir, Gamay and Tempranillo with lighter tannin have a lesser cellaring timeframe as their delicate light tannins are quickly lost.

Just because it’s got a fancy label or comes from a big wine producing area doesn’t mean it’s going to taste any better after 3 years in your cellar, don’t be fooled by appearances.

By wine books or magazines that have specific producer, label and vintage information.
Often these will tell you if the wine is worth cellaring.

Here's a link to an interesting infographic by Wine Folly about what wines to cellar http://winefolly.com/tutorial/cellar-wine-guide/

Collecting and Cellaring Wine

Should I or shouldn't I create a cellar?

Well, that's up to you, the choice is yours alone.
If you want to cellar you should be prepared to have a chunk of money sitting under your stairs. It costs a lot of money to create a maturing cellar.

You have to ask yourself some questions as to why you're cellaring. 

For some people it's the ability to bring out a special bottle for a special occasion, for others it’s the nurturing and care that gives pleasure especially when the wine becomes “of age” and is spectacular to drink.
For some it’s about bragging rights and bringing out the big guns in front of the Jones'.  
More often than not it’s a combination of some of the above plus it's because you've found the wine at a good price and you want to be able to enjoy it for a few years especially if it gets better.

I once asked a Barolo producer how long he would recommend laying down his wines for, here's his answer:

"In my opinion the best collection of wine is one of empty bottles. I make my wine to be enjoyed now, not in 20 years."

For me, I subscribe to the same mantra as Barolo guy.
I want to drink my wine now and not leave it for someone else.
I don’t have a budget for a big cellar and I don't particularly want to have big money sitting where it might go off as my cellaring conditions aren't the best.
But I do have bottles that have improved with age, not many, 50 or 60 bottles and i'm happy with that.
I live in France remember so I feel that if I want to have a special bottle i'll go and find it, there are many options.

There are many portals nowadays for consumers to purchase affordable and incredible wines so the need to cellar has subsided somewhat.
It used to be that if one wanted a good bottle of wine one had to have it in one's cellar.
Not any more, the internet and changing face of wine exportation has changed that greatly.

So, if cellaring is what you want, do your homework before you jump in and take as much advice as you can get. 

For others thinking about doing it; in my opinion it’s great to have a few bottles/cases at hand but do you really need to tie up funds when you can get cracking wine quickly and easily anytime you need it?

You decide.

Here are a couple of links to companies that can help with cellaring:

BBR (UK) - http://www.bbr.com/cellar-plan

Lay and Wheeler (UK) - https://www.laywheeler.com/cellarcircle

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Summer = Rosé

Summer = Rosé

Summer is on it's way, the bbq's are being dusted off and supermarket shelves are being stocked with charcoal and pretty bottles filled with Rosé.

Rosé, it’s the best thing on a sunny day, plenty of it, chilled and consumed with good friends preferably when looking at a great view.

I’m talking about Rosé, the wine, loved by most, loathed by some.

I remember once a man told me emphatically that he would never ever drink “that shit”.
He meant rosé, of course, and his reasoning was that it was feminine, tasted like pee and was far beneath his sophisticated palate to be drinkable.
I pity that man who clearly hasn’t had a decent rosé in his life and also hasn’t a clue what he is talking about.
Rosé gets a lot of that, it’s totally misunderstood.

For those of you who don’t know about rosé I’d better start by telling you what it isn’t.

Rosé isn’t red and white wine mixed together (although I don’t doubt that in some dodgy establishments they might try it!)
It is not weak red wine or watered down red wine 
Neither is it all made from pink grapes and it is not all sweet, sticky and called “Blush” from California.

What Rosé is, however, is a clever and precise invention of the wine-maker. 
I’ll explain.

Rosé is a wine made from red grapes that have been crushed and the juice left in contact for a very short time with the grape skins. It’s the skins that give the wine color and the dryness (tannin).
The longer the juice is in contact with the skins, the darker the wine and depending on the type of grape, the more tannin the wine will have.
After the juice has been separated from the skins it then continues through the normal wine making process.

It’s the wine-maker who decides how he/she wants their rosé to be.
He/she might want a dark full-bodied number that can be drunk with grilled meats or he/she may be looking for a light and fruity picnic rosé.
As with any wine it’s the decisions from the wine-maker that makes the wine what it is.

Summer = Rosé

Differences in color are an indication of body and sometimes sweetness

Rosé got a bad rap in the 80’s mainly due to the over production of sweet “blush” wines from California.
“Blush” was created because rosé wines at the time were not very popular and the creators (from California) needed a new name to sell it. Advertising at it’s best. 

These are also the same people who, for the same reason, started calling rosé made from the Zinfandel grape, White Zinfandel – even though it was clearly not white.
Almost all of these wines were sweet, mass produced and cheap but we all drank them and hated them mostly because of the sweetness. 
Hence rosé went out of favor and got a bad rap. Now, 30 years later that’s changing as more and more good quality rosés are accessible to us.

Rosé’s from Europe have almost always been dry with a few exceptions and until the early 90’s they weren’t readily available or, if you could get them, cheap enough for our pockets.

In countries around the Mediterranean dry rosé is a staple and is drunk with all sorts of accompaniments from nuts and olives to grilled fish and barbequed meats, it’s very versatile. 

Why? Because the dryness makes the wine refreshing on a super hot day rather than it’s sweeter cousin that would gum up your mouth and taste buds leaving no refreshing feeling.

There’s tons of rosés out there to choose from and depending what you want it for there’s one for every occasion.

There’s light and refreshing – picnic rosés which are the best drunk cold or over ice.
There are sparkling rosés either in Champagne form or just good old sparkling - either way they are incredible and make your smile wider on a sunny day.
There are medium bodied, full-bodied, fruity, sweet, dry, you name it, if  the grape is red they make wine from it in a rosé style. Like I said, versatile.

Summer = Rosé

So, how do you find the right Rosé?

Well, most of the Rosés from New World countries like Australia, Chile and the US will have a description on the label telling you how sweet or dry the wine is and what you can eat with it.

The European’s, although getting their act together with information and labeling, still leave a lot to be desired in that category so here’s some pointers:

If the color of the wine is dark, it’s a pretty good indication that the wine is going to be fuller bodied and dry so might be the better choice for “rosé is crap” man.

The really lightly colored rosés could indicate a slight sweetness. I say “could” because this is not always the case; if contact with the grape skins was so short as to leave little colour then the tannin will be lacking too and while the wine will not be sweet it will seem weak to some. Might be better for “just getting into wine” girl or those wanting something to quench their thirst on a hot day.

Anything from the Mediterranean should be dry and medium bodied - it’s all about the grape varieties that grow there which have a fair bit of tannin.
These are great to drink with or without food and are an awesome choice for the “anytime anywhere” drinker or if you’re just not sure.

Lastly, if in doubt there's a couple of things you can do:
Most Rosés are affordable, meaning cheap. So buy a few different bottles and experiment.
The exceptions are the higher end and more expensive Tavel and Anjou Rosés or even some Provence Rosés which you can always try once your training wheels come off.

If you're still not comfortable trying different types yourself, ask a professional to point you in the right direction. 
They'll ask you a bunch of questions about your preferences and give you some suggestions.

So, don’t be afraid, try rosé, you’ll learn what you like and what you don’t. 
They are hugely affordable, available everywhere and are a lot of fun to drink while sitting around on a sunny evening.

 

Summer = Rosé and summer IS coming, so get out there and enjoy it with a glass of pink!

 

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Plaimont Producers

Plaimont Producers

I'm always up for a spot of wine tasting, plus I felt the need to visit a winemaking cooperative after writing Understanding Winemaking Cooperatives. So, this week I was pleased to be invited for a tour at Producteurs Plaimont here in Southwest France.  

In Southwest France and Gascony, there are hundreds of small producers, spread across a lot of land. I am a big fan of the wines from the SW, particularly Saint Mont. Chateau Saint-Go, a St. Mont wine, gives some Bordeaux wines a run for their money in my opinion. I wanted to write a piece and share the love for Chateau Saint-Go on my website but couldn’t find any independent info anywhere about them.

It was then that I found out they were part of a co-op called Producteurs Plaimont. That led to me doing some research and taking a visit to Plaimont where my knowledge of cooperatives grew.  

Producteurs Plaimont couldn’t be further from the old original, poor quality cooperative mould.

These guys have a massive business and have become renowned in the wine industry as one of the leaders in the cooperative field. With over 1000 growers, 200 employees and a production of nearly 40 million bottles annually they export to over 30 different countries in addition to selling 45% in France alone.

PLAIMONT represents wines from the Plaisance, Aignan and St. Mont (98% of production) regions of the SW along with wines from Madiran and Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh (48% of production), Bearn, Côtes de Gasgogne (almost 50% of production) and Côtes du Condomais. This is a huge portfolio and in addition to their large repertoire Plaimont also owns the emblematic chateaux of Arricau, Bascou, Sabazan, Cassaigne and Saint-Go, which produces the cooperative’s finest wines.

Plaimont Producers

So what makes Plaimont so special? To be honest I haven’t visited many other co-ops so I can’t compare but I can tell you what I saw and how I felt.

Plaimont don’t hide who they are. They are all about the people and the heritage of the region. For sure the co-op is a business seeking to make a profit but how they have structured themselves should hit the heart of anyone true to earning an honest living.

Plaimont are a united group who believe that their co-op plays not only an economic role but an important social one as well. Their ethics are true to the roots of their ancestors who farmed before them and those strong values have been passed along. The passion of the people shows. Plaimont encourage young people to set up businesses (as growers) and teach them the importance of helping each other out on a daily basis. They are committed to improving and maintaining the region through sustainable growth and to raising the quality of life in Gascony. Co-op members are required to volunteer days of work for the co-op depending on the size of their land. This work is pretty global and consists of things like learning languages and going to trade shows; all in order for the business to be effective in the worldwide market place. Find Plaimont wines at a wine show and you are likely to be speaking to the one of the original growers not just a salesperson. Basically they are business people, grape growers, who are proud of their region and work hard to produce a product that resembles that.  

In terms of viticulture (farming) Plaimont aren’t on the back foot. A simple farmer would just know where to plant and when to harvest but for big business it’s big technology. The co-op has created a strict set of rules in order to obtain the best results from their growers and land. These rules include annual evaluations and rankings not only for the land but the produce grown on them and for the way in which they are farmed. Consistency and quality on all levels are truly important to them.

The co-op uses the latest technology to select the best “terroir” so that each wine shows the uniqueness of its origins whether it’s an entry level wine or a crown jewel wine. It’s all about the soil and there are lots of different types in the SW from clay and pebbles to limestone and sand, the latter of which hosts some of the only pre-phylloxera vines in France. Every parcel of land has a logbook, which is religiously updated with details of pruning, spraying, vine management and adherence to regulations etc… With the assistance of some of the latest technology, Plaimont sets an optimal harvest date to be able to pick grapes at precise maturity and sugar density that the winemakers are looking for. Plaimont are also very lucky to own a few parcels of pre-phylloxera vines, dating back to the Napoleonic Empire. A rarity in France and quite rightly due for bragging rights. Not all pre-phylloxera vines are used to produce grapes for wine but Plaimont are producing the exceptional Cuvée Préphylloxérique near to St. Mont from some of them.

Plaimont Producers

Vinification (they way in which the wine is made) is defined by the epitome of “terroir”, which is very expressive in the southwest. “Terroir” is the personality that the land gives to the grapes allowing them to express where they come from in the wine. For example (and I am generalising): a vine that is grown in a limestone-based soil would give the wine a unique minerality and dryness to the wine as opposed to one grown in clay soil that would impart a different structure and roundness.

For Plaimont this process, like any other, is made to measure in order to produce wines representing the region and Plaimont’s strong historic values.

Wines are produced from white grape varieties such as Colombelle and red varieties such as Tannat that are always denoted by their origin and “terroir”. In addition red Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Pinenc grapes are grown for blending and the more regional white grapes of Petit Courbu, Arrufiac, Gros and Petit Manseng blended for their whites.

Along with producing historic wines of the southwest, the region is also a proving ground for new styles and varieties never grown in the area before. In St. Mont, there is a small vineyard where unknown and ancient grape varieties found in the region have been planted much like a “grape vine museum”. This small parcel of land has been listed as a historic monument by the French government who wishes to protect the extraordinary biodiversity of the Pyrenean foothills. There’s not enough to make wine from but the history alone makes it something to see. I felt quite privileged to be able to walk among vines of such history and rarity.  

In marketing terms, Plaimont have moved with the times realizing that the “old guard” wasn’t the best business model. New World marketing measures are necessary to be on top of the market. However, true to their identity Plaimont haven’t just gone all "rainbow and bold letters" about it. For example they have changed some of their labels to host cool and catchy sketches along with the grape variety BUT instead of having the grape variety in bold letters overshadowing the wines name they have reversed it and chosen to have the grape variety in a smaller font.

Why? In order not loose their identity and just become another “Cabernet” for example. If you see two bottles marked “Cabernet” side by side you’ll look at the price and choose the cheaper of the two. While Plaimont is in the business of making money by selling wine they still want you to know where the wine came from and are proud of that. I think that’s pretty cool, they are saying: “this is not just Cabernet, this is Cabernet from SW France and it’s going to taste better than the other stuff."

Plaimont Producers

An example of Plaimont's new labelling. Note the grape varieties shown in smaller font.

Plaimont Producers

All in all, the winemaking co-op is alive and well here in southwest France. Plaimont run a tight and efficient ship with members who are as passionate about their product as they are about the beautiful region they grew up and live in. The range of wines Plaimont markets represents everything Southwest France has to offer while remaining true to their values.

Plaimont have a huge portfolio of wines that are distributed worldwide. I have noted some of them below along with their website. They are readily available and if you Google “Plaimont wines” for your specific country you will find reference to them easily. I would highly recommend trying them.

Website: www.plaimont.com

The French site has an online boutique or you can visit one of their stores here in the Southwest.

I tasted many different wines as per the photos, and they were all good. I won’t mention them all on here but I will mention the ones that, to me, stood above the rest.  

WHITES:

Côtes de Gasgogne l’Original, IGP Beautiful, fruity, citrusy and very easy to drink. For it’s price it should be a staple in anyone’s cooler.

Le Faîte Blanc, St. Mont AOC This wowed me with structure. It would be incredible with seafood and will age well. For it’s price it’ll rival it’s more expensive Bordeaux neighbours.  

ROSÉ:

Rosé d’Enfer – Saint Mont AOC For a Rosé this had it all: dryness, fruit, acidity and enough body to make you want more. Nicely done.  

REDS:

Béret Noir – Saint Mont AOC This is their entry level St. Mont. It is such a happy chappy that it lends itself to summer bbq’s and happy times with good friends. It’s got some teeth though so might be a bit much for those looking for a smoother wine but it definitely speaks of the SW.

Château Arricau Bordes – Madiran AOC I was surprised, really surprised with this wine. For a Madiran, I expected tannin, which it has, but they were smooth, really smooth and there was a lot of ripe fruit, which I didn’t expect. This would be great either with, or without food. My new favorite wine from this region I think!

Madiran 1907 – Madiran AOC This is a new wine to the Plaimont list. Plaimont makes it in collaboration with some of the top independent growers in Madiran. Definitely needs food, like most Madiran’s but all I can say is “If you can get it, try it, it’s worth it”.

Plaimont Producers

Yours truly, as ever, asking loads of questions....while tasting.

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