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Category Archives: France

Where in the world is the Côtes de Gascogne?

2008 Domaine des Persenades, Cotes de Gascogne, France LCBO# 175695 $11.95

So…who amongst you have heard of the wine making region Côtes de Gascogne? If you answered “yes”, good for you. You graduate “top of the class” and will probably get beaten up at recess. For the rest of us, Côtes de Gascogne is a large (but rather obscure) wine making region in the southwest of France. Think of it as the “no man’s land” between Bordeaux and the regions of the Languedoc and Roussillon. Yet out of this black hole comes a hidden world of fantastic wine values waiting to be discovered.

I often wonder why these inexpensive French wines are so readily passed over by consumers. We all know that the French make some incredible wine. So why (and I am generalizing here) would the average consumer choose an Australian or Chilean wine over a French wine at the same price point? Is it that the French have effectively screwed themselves by hanging their hat on the ultra-premium brands from Bordeaux and Burgundy to the demise of value producers from lesser know regions? Or is it an issue of the consumer getting past the boggy swamp that is the typical French wine label. Either way, these wines are often lost among the “fuzzy bunny” wines that litter the shelves of the LCBO.

So, in defence of the “non” fuzzy bunny wines out there, I introduce the 2008 Domaine des Persenades. Made from a blend of the Ugni Blanc, Colombard and Petit Manseng grapes, this has beautifully balanced flavours of grapefruit, peach, lemon zest and honey. This is a really fresh wine with great acidity and a silky mouth feel. I would recommend pairing it with mussels or a light fish. As for cheese, I would try this wine with Brie or another soft cheese.

At $11.95, 2008 Domaine des Persenades is definitely punching WAY above its weight. I would highly recommend searching out this wine for the upcoming holidays…but that’s just my opinion. Let me know what you think by commenting below.

If you’re not following me yet on Twitter, you can find me at @adamsWOTW. Also, never miss an Adam’s Wine of the Week by clicking the “subscribe” button to receive an email notifying you when I post a new wine review.

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Posted by on December 1, 2011 in Colombard, France, White Wine

 

The Sweet Nectar of the Gods

2007 Château de Rayne-Vigneau, Sauternes, France LCBO# 98236 $31.00 (375ml btl)

The sweet wines of Sauternes are probably one of the most difficult wines to make. The growing conditions need to have the perfect combination of moist morning fogs and hot afternoon sun to allow for the onset of that magical fungus call botrytis. Botrytis, otherwise know as “noble rot” is what gives Sauternes its intense sweetness. The botrytis fungus literally feasts on the grape’s water content leaving a slightly shrivelled but insanely sweet grape. The winemakers then hand pick each individual berry in successive passes through the vineyard so each grape is at its optimal ripeness. To say that this is a labour intensive wine to make is a bit of an understatement, but the results can be earth-shattering. I have seen grown men cry…seriously…weep like small children. Sauternes is that good.

The question most people have about Sauternes is when would I ever drink such a sweet wine? The most immediate answer has always been with dessert. While this is obviously correct, there are so many other ways to enjoy Sauternes. Sauternes has been traditionally paired with foie gras, but frankly too much foie gras is just gross. Plus, I think it’s just a matter of time before foie gras is banned everywhere. Some exotic pairing for a Sauternes are with cured ham, steamed lobster, oysters or even spicy dishes like pad thai or jerk chicken. It’s Sauternes balance of sweetness and high acidity that allows for such food versatility.

This week’s wine gives you all that versatility plus is a great value. The 2007 Château de Rayne-Vigneau has beautifully integrated flavours of honeycomb, apricot, mushroom and a slight earthiness. This wine’s high acidity gives it a beautiful balance and a long finish. Beyond the above mentioned food matches, I would recommend pairing it with a Roquefort or another strong blue cheese. The smellier the better.

At $31.00, 2007 Château de Rayne-Vigneau is not an inexpensive wine, but for Sauternes, it is a definite value. I would highly recommend picking up this wine for the upcoming holidays…but that’s just my opinion. Let me know what you think by commenting below.

If you’re not following me yet on Twitter, you can find me at @adamsWOTW. Also, never miss an Adam’s Wine of the Week by clicking the “subscribe” button to receive an email notifying you when I post a new wine review.

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2011 in France, Semillon, Sweet Wine

 

Dinner with Faugères

2007 Château St. Roch de Laurens , Faugères, France LCBO# 223865 $18.95

Autumn is the season for the rarest of wine snob events…the wine tasting dinner. You know, the dinners you see advertised on the LCBO’s Vintages website touting amazing wine paired with incredible food for what many consider too high a price. Too many times we have passed up these events as been the bastion of the über wine snob. I say enough! We, the wine drinking masses, must invade this last outpost of the snobby elite for the simple reason that these tasting dinners are the best way to taste some pretty incredible wines at a fraction of the price of buying the wine yourself.

Think about it. The average wine dinner might cost you $250 per person. I agree, that’s a pretty high price for just a dinner, but if you factor in that many of these dinner feature super-premium wine that cost upwards of $100 a bottle at retail (or $200 off the average restaurant wine list) how could you not see this as a deal.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not advocating that attending a wine dinner as a regular event, but going to one that features a producer or region that interests you is well worth it. Often these dinners are attended by either the winemaker or the winery owner, which is always educational and frequently entertaining. I guarantee that not only will you come away with a new appreciation of the wines that you have tasted (plus a full belly), but you will undoubted meet people at these events who share your interest in wine…and drinking wine with friends is never a bad thing.

Ok…now I can get off my “wine box” and get to this week’s wine. The 2007 Château St. Roch de Laurens hails from a warm pocket of the Languedoc called Faugères. This is a rustic blend of the three grapes Syrah, Mouvèdre and Grenache. It has big flavours of red berries, prunes, red cherries and classic notes of dried sage. I would recommend pairing it with grilled meat or even meat lasagna. As for cheese, you can try it with Manchego or any other sharp hard cheese.

At $18.95, 2007 Château St. Roch de Laurens is a great wine so share at your own “home-cooked” wine dinner. This is definitely not a snob wine…but that’s just my opinion. Let me know what you think by commenting below.

If you’re not following me yet on Twitter, you can find me at @adamsWOTW. Also, never miss an Adam’s Wine of the Week by clicking the “subscribe” button to receive an email notifying you when I post a new wine review.

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2011 in France, Grenache, Mourvedre, Red Wine, Syrah

 

The “edu-ma-ction” of white Bordeaux

2007 Château Ferran Blanc, Pessac-Léognan, France LCBO# 100867 $21.00

Mark October 17th, 2011 in your calendars! This was the day that I drank the Kool-aid. That date marks the first day of the final unit of my Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Diploma, aptly named “Still Wines of the World”…also known to my wife as the “widow maker”. For the next eight months I will be immersed (nay…drowning) is a sea of wine and wine knowledge. If you have ever wanted to know all about how Ratafia is made (picture grapes from Champagne and Sherry having dirty sex and making a baby) or who the best producers from Romania are (beats the hell out of me!), then strap in baby…this is going to be a ride.

All this “edu-ma-cation” culminates in June will a winner-take-all tasting and written exam that constitutes 100% of my mark. Sounds like fun…doesn’t it! I have been warned from those who have gone before me that I won’t be able to look at wine for six months after I’m done.

So why do this? It’s simple. To help me develop the skills to find great wines without buying into the hype that blankets the wine world like a thick layer of bullshit. As they say, a little education goes a long way. It was a little education that brought me to this week’s wine.

The 2007 Château Ferran Blanc is an elegant white wine from Bordeaux’s Pessac-Léognan region. While Bordeaux is most well known for its reds, there are some devastatingly good whites being produced at incredible values. This wine, made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape, has well balanced flavours of lemon, lime, white peach, grapefruit pith and a hint of herbaceousness. This wine has definitely seen some oak giving it well-integrated notes of spice, butter and a hint of smoke. I would recommend pairing it with fresh fish in a rich sauce, lobster or lemon chicken. As for cheese, you can try it with brie or any other semi-soft cheese.

At $21.00, the 2007 Château Ferran Blanc is a great deal from a very competent producer. Best of all, it is ready to drink now. I recommend you educate yourself by giving it a try today…but that’s just my opinion. Let me know what you think by commenting below.

If you’re not following me yet on Twitter, you can find me at @adamsWOTW. Also, never miss an Adam’s Wine of the Week by clicking the “subscribe” button to receive an email notifying you when I post a new wine review.

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2011 in France, Sauvignon Blanc, White Wine

 

At play in the Baron’s nursery

I guess it is somewhat ironic that my last post from France is about the first Grand Cru that I ever tasted…Château Mouton Rothschild. Like all firsts in life, I remember it well. I was 26 years old visiting my uncle at his fishing camp in rural New Brunswick. I remember him coming up the stairs from the basement with a big smile on his face and announcing to me that we were going drink a spectacular wine tonight. It was the 1986 Mouton Rothschild. I remember everything about it. I remember the foil, the dust on the label from years of aging, the wine soaked cork and the sound it made when I pulled it out of the bottle. Most of all I remember the smell; the black inky graphite aroma wrapped in black fruit, leather, spice and cedar. I savoured every minute of it.

Maybe it was because of this experience or maybe it was the stories surrounding the Baron Philippe and his triumph of promoting Mouton from a 2nd growth to a Premier Cru that fascinated me, but when it came time to plan my trip to Bordeaux, visiting Château Mouton Rothschild was at the top of my list. Unfortunately, all the romance and dreaminess got beaten out of me pretty quick when I found out that the Château was undergoing a full-scale renovation and was closed to visitors. Normally this would be the end of the story, but a chance meeting with Todd Halpern (Mouton’s long time agent in Canada) provided the needed clout to get an invitation to (at the very least) have the opportunity to taste the most recent vintages of their Grand Vin and 2nd wine. What actually happened went way way way beyond any of my expectations.

Upon arriving at Mouton (yes I got lost on the way…stupid GPS) I was quickly ushered into the “temporary” tasting room. Standing before me were three bottles of wine with very odd looking labels; the first from Château d’Armailhac, the second from Château Clerc Milon and the third from Château Mouton Rothschild. It took me a second, but when I finally gave my head a shake I realized that I was looking at barrel samples of the 2010 vintage from all three of Baron Philippe de Rothschild’s premium properties. I had never tasted any wine straight from the barrel before, so getting to break into the big leagues by tasting these wines was well beyond my rookie dreams.

The first of the wines was the Château d’Armailhac. It was a dark purple/ruby colour and smelled of fresh blackberries, black plum, sage, leather and cedar. The palette carried a lot of the same flavours, but the tannins were unmistakable. They were definitely not the smooth silky version that you come to expect from premium Bordeaux with a bit of age on it. Even with my inexperience in tasting barrel samples you could tell that this wine was going to be very very good in a few years.

The second was the Château Clerc Milon. Of course the same pungent aromas of black fruit, spice and cedar where there, but the thing that blew me away was the intense acidity that this wine showed. I guess there is something in the theory that a wine with good acidity will keep the fruit fresh for a long long time. The tannins were young and aggressive, but without the greenness that affects lesser wine. Tasting this wine in its infancy really does give you a view into the elements that make up a good wine…fruit, acidity and tannins. It was actually a bit funny to see these three elements fighting with each other in the glass, like three toddlers fighting over a toy. Eventually they would grow up and share.

Finally it was time to taste the Château Mouton Rothschild. I am the first to admit that I am no expert on Mouton, but I have had the chance to taste a number of vintages and know its unique signature. This very young Mouton was very much part of the family already, but the intensity of the tannins and acidity were almost too much to deal with. The tannins literally muffled the black fruit, herbal notes, and smoked wood. This wine was a monster! Now I understand when critics like Parker, Suckling and Robinson can profess that a wine like this can last for 50 years. This was truly a treat to taste.

So here ends my French adventure. I know that there is much more to French wine that just Bordeaux, but as I have said you always remember your first. Bordeaux was my first and will always hold a special place for me. I look forward to returning to France soon and exploring all that France and French wine have to offer. Who knows…maybe some day I will move there permanently. France already has my heart; I guess it’s just a matter of time until it gets the rest of me.

Next week I am back to recommending great wines under $30. If you’re not following me yet on Twitter, you can find me at @adamsWOTW. Also, never miss an Adam’s Wine of the Week by clicking the “subscribe” button to receive an email notifying you when I post a new wine review.

 
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Posted by on October 2, 2011 in France

 

Château Latour…the epitome of claret

Some have said that once you have tasted Château Latour, the way you experience wine changes forever. I’m not so sure about that, but my visit to Château Latour certainly had me wishing I had more opportunities to drink this incredible wine and more income to be able to afford the habit.

As described by Frederic Engerer, Latour’s Managing Director, Château Latour’s greatness comes from its perfect intersection of geography, geology and climate. Latour is situated just far enough north in Bordeaux that it can soak up the region’s ample heat, sun and cool nights but still experience the necessary stress on the vines required to make great wine. These conditions, combined with an unparalleled rigorousness in the vineyard, contribute to make Château Latour one of the most powerful and long-lived wines in the world. I actually had the privilege to be at the château on the first day of the 2011 harvest and saw this attention to detail in action. I watched as 10 people hovered over a sorting table removing any bruised or sub-par fruit from the young Merlot that had just been hand picked from the vineyard. It is this precision and meticulous detail that truly makes Château Latour one of the best wines in the world.

Yet the fruit alone is only half the story. The personal connection that the team at Latour exhibit is something I have never seen before. Many of Latour’s employees have been with the Chateau for 25 years or more. This sense of family has afforded Latour the luxury of having an intimate understanding of not only the vineyards, but also how to best vinify each individual vintage into the best possible product.

In 2000, the Chateau completed a multi-million dollar renovation of its wine making and wine storage facility. This initiative not only brought Latour to the cutting edge of wine making and quality control, but also introduced some incredibly innovative concepts to the wine making process. One example (that blew my mind) was that Latour now has the capacity to blend an entire vintage worth of wine in a single blending vat. (Sonia Guerlou, Château Latour’s Reception and Tours Manager, gave me a little context by comparing the size of the blending vat to the size of 3 good sized swimming pools stacked on top of each other.) Exacting this type of control over its end product ensures that every bottle of Latour is as magnificent as the last.

The highlight of my visit to Château was the opportunity to taste a sample of all three of Latour’s wines. Le Pauillac de Château Latour, Les Forts de Latour and of course Le Grand Vin. The 2009 Le Pauillac de Château Latour is Latour’s 3rd wine made for the grapes that don’t quite make the cut. For most other wineries, grapes that don’t make the “cut” get sold on the bulk juice market. For Château Latour, they make a “baby” Latour for the budget conscious. The Pauillac was a fresh wine with fruit forward aromas of blackberries, black plum and blackberries. The refreshing nature of this wine came from its excellent acidity. Out of the three wines I tasted at Château Latour, the Pauillac was the one that surprised me the most. I never thought that a Château with the prestige of Latour would spend much thought on a wine that only represents 15% of their production and is not made every year.

Château Latour’s second wine, Les Forts de Latour quite frankly is better that most Grand Vins that I have tasted. The 2006 vintage that I tried was absolutely delicious. It had complex aromas of black fruit, spice, smoke, oak and that classic minerality that tells you are in the Premier Cru. This wine is by no means a second wine. In fact, if you can get your hands on Les Forts I highly recommend that you buy it. I have seen with my own eyes that Château Latour puts as much effort into Les Forts de Latour as they do Le Grand Vin. Consider it a steal for the price.

Finally, the top of the house! The 2004 Grand Vin de Château Latour. Despite coming from a more difficult vintage, this wine was incredible! It was deep, intense and layered flavours of black fruit, sweet spice, leather, oak graphite. This wine still had firm tannins, but has the acidity to keep this wine fresh even with long aging. This wine will last 25 to 30 years at least. It’s amazing that you can get all this complexity from a wine made in what has been called an “off” vintage.

Visiting Château Latour was definitely the highlight of my visit to Bordeaux. Regardless of your opinion on the ever rising price of the Premier Crus, the attention to detail and passion that goes into creating every vintage of Château Latour is the benchmark that all wine producers should strive for. As Sonia Guerlou so eloquently stated, “there are no shortcuts in making a wine of this quality, history and importance.” I have to agree. Thank you to all at Château Latour for opening your doors and allowing me in, if only for a moment. I will savour my time at Château Latour and the unmistakable flavour of your wines long in my memory.

Just one more post from my visit to France…tasting the 2010 barrel samples from Château Mouton Rothschild, Château Clerc Melon and Château d’Armailhac.

If you’re not following me yet on Twitter, you can find me at @adamsWOTW. Also, never miss an Adam’s Wine of the Week by clicking the “subscribe” button to receive an email notifying you when I post a new wine review.

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2011 in France

 

The Grand Experiment of Château Pontet-Canet

Château Pontet-Canet is something of an oddity in Bordeaux. Traditionally considered a “Super 2nd” this 5th growth has seen its fortunes rise and fall and rise again over the past 300 years. Once considered to be one of the best that Bordeaux has to offer, a combination of poor decisions, poor winemaking and poor finances conspired to bring this great winery to its knees.

Enter Guy Tesseron. Pontet-Canet’s knight in shining armour. This well financed and savy producer of Tesseron Cognac purchased the winery in 1975 and immediately set out to revitalize the château with new facilities, new winemaking equipment and a new attention to the quality of the grapes growing in its vineyards. The most important new direction that the Tesseron family put in place at Pontet-Canet is the introduction of biodynamic farming practices in its (very large for Bordeaux) 80 hectare vineyard. This included the use of horses (instead of tractors) in the vineyard as a method of reducing soil compaction.

While the rest of Bordeaux is patiently waiting to see the results of what has been termed Pontet-Canet’s grand experiment, I can tell you that the 2006 vintage that I tasted had depth and complexity well deserving of it place as a “super 2nd”. Even critics like Parker and James Suckling agree that the quality of Château Pontet-Canet has improved dramatically since the Tesseron family took over. The 2006 Château Pontet-Canet was incredibly deep ruby in colour with aromas of blackcurrants, plum, blackberries, cedar, cigar box, spice and anise. Not surprisingly, a lot of these flavours carry themselves on the palette and last long into the finish.

Château Pontet-Canet was an amazing place and hopefully will be held up as an example of sound vineyard and winemaking practices for the rest of Bordeaux. In fact, even Chateau Latour has set aside a small plot to conduct their own biodynamic experiment. In Bordeaux it’s one small step at a time.

Stay tuned….next stop Château Latour for the first day of harvest.

I am in full Twitter mode while in France. If you’re not following me yet you can find me at @adamsWOTW. Also, never miss an Adam’s Wine of the Week by clicking the “subscribe” button to receive an email notifying you when I post a new wine review.

 

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2011 in France

 
 
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