Benjamin Darnault, Languedoc-Roussillon,, Viognier, Wine

Viogn-Yay! Review: Benjamin Darnault Viognier 2015

I’m not normally a big Viognier fan. There are just too many low quality offerings out there that are off balance, and often the characteristic floral notes come off as just sweet. When I do buy Viognier, it’s usually for white sangria. So when this bottle arrived in a sample pack for review, I was a little apprehensive.

Benjamin Darnault produces wine for His flagship wine, Minervois, a Grenache-based blend from the Languedoc-Roussillon region, is an Angel favorite. He also produces some stunning Rhône wines. I’ve had several of these reds, and have always been impressed, so this gave me hope that his 100% Viognier would be a winner, too. Here’s what I thought when I gave it a try:


Many of the reviews here [on the website] have said this is a great wine for a hot day. Well, it’s 106F today in my neck of NorCal, so this seems to be the day to give this a go!

Clear, straw color in the glass. The aromas…oh, my…the aromas! I could smell the floral and citrus aromas from, literally, 3 feet away as I poured! Honeysuckle, elderflower, white grapefruit, and mild apricot explode on the nose. On the palate, the floral notes mingle with apricot, mango, grapefruit, and lemon. Bright acidity gives it zip, while a creaminess at the back of the tongue softens it and provides a medium-full mouthfeel. The finish goes on and on with yellow citrus flavors.

Viognier is probably the only varietal my wife enjoys more than me, and I love this one! Crisp, refreshing, and delicious, this is a great hot-weather quencher, that also goes well with a variety of foods. Yum.

4.5 out of 5 Hearts (92-94 points)

Angel Price: $10.49

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Rioja: Grape, Brand or Region?

Here’s a great post by Ian Abrahams, from the Bristol Wine Blog. As I described some time ago in my post, “Bordeaux, It’s Not a Grape“, Ian highlights one of the major differences between Old World and New World wines; that Old World wines generally carry the name of their region of origin, rather than the grape varietals used. In his post, Ian discusses the Spanish wine, Rioja. I hope you enjoy Ian’s post as much as I did.

MWWC, Solitude, Wine

Alone in a Crowd #MWWC26

I Only Drink Alone or With Others

Solitude. Wine. Solitude and wine. At first glance, those two words don’t seem to go together. Isn’t wine meant to be enjoyed in the company of others; friends and loved ones? Of course it is! And don’t they say drinking alone is a sign you might have a problem?

Yes, they do, but what do they know? And just who are “they,” anyway? “They” are everywhere, telling us what we should and should not be doing. “They” aren’t very fun at all. But I digress.Monthly Wine Writing Challenge

This is my entry for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, #MWWC26. As last month’s winner, Beth, the Traveling Wine Chick, had the honor of selecting this month’s theme. And she chose “solitude.” Challenge. Accepted.

This month’s theme was announced on the first day of my 30-day trip to Québec City. It turned out to be a timely announcement. Québec City is in the Canadian province of Québec, which is commonly known as French Canada. In Québec, the people speak French. I don’t.


Some of my first thoughts on solitude came during my first few days of my trip, as I struggled to find what I needed in the Super Marché. Shopping in an unfamiliar grocery store is stressful enough, but there is a sense of being all alone in a crowd when you don’t speak or read the language. It certainly gave me a much greater appreciation, and sympathy, for immigrants to the U.S. who are not English speaking. Fortunately, most of the people there do speak at least some English (Canada is, after all, officially a bilingual country), and are very accommodating, so I was able to survive. (In my defense, I tried to learn French before our trip. I really tried! I did manage to pick up a few helpful terms and phrases, but darn it, I’m old!) In true stereotypical Canadian fashion, I even had several people apologize for their poor English. I always responded that their English is far better than my French! Then we laughed together. Laughter is, indeed, a universal language.

But this isn’t the MWC. It’s the MWWC, with the emphasis on the first W…wine! So, whereas wine and solitude don’t naturally seem to go together, please allow me this opportunity to wax poetic.

I submit to you, dear reader, that wine and solitude are actually symbiotic. While it is true that wine is meant to be enjoyed with others, one of the unique and magical truths about wine is that everybody experiences it differently. Pour a taste from the same bottle for 10 different people (OK, let’s assume it’s a magnum), and each will describe different aspects of the wine. Some with limited wine experience may taste only fermented grape juice, while others might describe a host of fruit, floral, herbal, or mineral notes. There are no right or wrong answers; the enjoyment is in each individual’s own, unique, subjective experience.

Take this concept to another level with me. We’ve (hopefully) established that a group of individuals experience the same wine differently. In much the same way, an individual within that group will experience different wines in different ways. It is in the enjoyment and ethereal experience of a given wine that the individual drinker is transported to his or her own, unique place. A place of solitude.

Open a bottle of Bordeaux, and share it with a loved one. Allow the aromas to invade your senses. See the color in the glass as you swirl the wine. Now, to the tasting. That first sip, rich and decadent, may transport you to the rolling hills of the French countryside. You imagine are walking in the vineyard; the cool evening breeze in your hair; the gravelly soil crunching underfoot. You are utterly alone in this charming place. Solitude. bordeaux-vineyards-france-hikingYour partner experiences something completely different. Her Bordeaux fantasy involves a Parisian bistro; an outdoor table on the sidewalk, the bustle of the people passing by; the charming waiter with his attentive gaze, ready to refill the glass at a moment’s notice; and the delightful meal with which to enjoy the wine. Solitude.Paris Bistro

It’s a hot, summer afternoon. You open a chilled bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. The straw color immediately cools you as you anticipate the cold, crisp refreshment. Take that first sip – instantly you are carried away to the soft, warm sands of a tropical beach; relaxing in a chaise with a good book. The sun is warm on your skin, the sand soft and warm on your feet. You are utterly relaxed. Solitude. Chaise at the BeachYet your partner has been whisked away to a cool mountain lake; on the porch of a cabin overlooking the rippling water. Hungry trout beckon, but rising to grab the fishing pole would merely disrupt the moment. Solitude.Lakeside Mountain Cabin

Wine is an enchanting, magical beverage. Depending on your circumstances, it can bring relief to a stressful day, enjoyment to a social or family gathering, or release you to indulge in your own unique, relaxing, peaceful solitude. Different people, different experience. Different wine, different destination. Where will your next glass of wine take you?

SNAP! We’re back! Still not convinced? Are you worried about the whole “drinking alone” stigma? Do you have a pet? If so, you’re not drinking alone! If not, and you are interested in adopting and being a good pet parent, then get thee to the nearest SPCA and rescue a deserving dog or cat.

There are hundreds of dogs and cats that need a loving home, and you will never drink alone again! (Note: I do not advocate adopting a pet simply as a drinking buddy. If you are not willing to devote the love, time, and attention needed to care for a pet, please don’t.)

Now sit back, pour a glass of whatever strikes your mood, let it take you where it will, and bask in your solitude!desertiland

Cabernet Severnyi, Carone, Ile d'Orleans, Quebec, Quebec City, Wine

Québec City: The 4th and Final Week

Parliament and Fountain
The Parliament Building and Fontaine de Tourny, a gift from Bordeaux, France

We are nearing the end of our journey to Québec City. It has been an exciting adventure, and the longest time we’ve ever been away from home. We are both fortunate to have jobs that allow us to check into work remotely, and that Colette, our Cavalier King Charles Spaniel travels so well!

Traveling Colette
A little nervous about her first flight, but she did great! 

One of our primary goals in taking this extended trip, a variation from the standard American two-week vacation, was to immerse ourselves in a different culture and, as best we can, “live like a local.” While 30 days clearly isn’t sufficient time to fully integrate, particularly when one does not speak the local language with anything remotely approaching fluency, we do feel that we settled in nicely and got to see the goings on beyond the typical tourist. We quickly found a local, independent café, and within a few days the barista had memorized my wife’s order. There are few things that make one feel more like a local than having a barista or bartender recognize you when you walk in, and immediately start making your drink for you.

Past vacations for us have typically encompassed only one weekend in a locale, so we were only able to experience the events of that Saturday and Sunday. By living here a full month, we had the pleasure of watching weekends come and go, and the variety of activities with them. One weekend, a BBQ Fest popped up literally across the street from our condo. Another weekend, we encountered an outdoor circus a few blocks away, and we enjoyed watching as children learned how to walk a tightrope or swing from a trapeze. We were here to help the province of Québec celebrate her 408th birthday one weekend, and then participate in the 149th Canadian national Independence Day the following weekend. We got to see all the sights, museums, and attractions we had planned, without rushing or concern for the weather. If it was raining on a day we planned an outing, we just changed our plans. Québec is a great walking city. Everything we wanted to see was within 3 miles or so, albeit much of it uphill! The upside (pun intended) is that the walk home was mostly downhill!

Of course, there’s wine! Small but emerging, the Québec region is producing some interesting, high quality wines. Relying mostly on hybrids and clones, local winemakers are making tasty table wines; both reds and whites. Fruit forward but not jammy, these wines are structured and balanced. They tend to finish with an earthy, musky, funky essence, which I suspect is terroir-driven. Native grapes have been described as “foxy” tasting, and I think that may be similar to the funkiness I find on the finish. Those who like a hearty, earthy Pinot Noir will really enjoy these wines. I strongly encourage anyone who is interested, to seek out Québécois wines and give them a try! If your local shop can’t procure them (most Québec wines are consumed locally), you’ll just have to make the trip to this enchanting province!

A discussion Québécois wine isn’t complete without mentioning their wheelhouse wine product. The Ice Wines and Late Harvest wines are spectacular! These are the wines that put this region on the wine map, and we enjoyed them a lot. Both Ice Wines and Late Harvest wines are very, very sweet. They are enjoyable as after-dinner quaffs, and a little goes a long way! Fortunately, many of these are widely available in the U.S.

As I mentioned in Québec City, Week 1, other than at restaurants or bars, most wine (and all liquor) must be purchased through the government owned and operated SAQ (Société des alcools du Québec) stores. I got to be something of a regular here, too. Store sizes vary, but in the larger stores, selection of European and Southern Hemisphere wines is pretty impressive. I was a little disappointed in the representation of wines from the U.S., but then, I can get those at home. The prices of the U.S. wines were surprising, too; some nearly double what I pay in the states. However, European and Southern Hemisphere wine prices are quite attractive! During our time here, in addition to the Canadian wines, we’ve enjoyed wines from France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Argentina, and Chile. Only a couple of the wines I bought here are available at my home Total Wine & More or BevMo stores, so we’ve definitely made the most of our travels! I’ve included reviews in each of my weekly posts. Here’s what we enjoyed during Week 4:

Pfaffenheim Alsace Cuvée Bacchus Gewurztraminer 2013

Pfaff Gewurztraminer

I’m no Gewürztraminer expert, (my reference is Fetzer) but I one is the best I’ve had.

Soft, golden straw in the glass. Aromas of apricot and honeysuckle. On the palate, honeysuckle, elderberry, and floral dominate. The acidity is soft and the mouthfeel, oh so smooth. The apricot is there, just below the surface, with gooseberry and pear. More sweet than spicy. The finish is medium long, with just a bit of classic spice, and that soft, smooth honey. Yum.

4.5 stars (92-94 points)

SAQ Store, $19.95 CAD (approx. $15.25 USD)

Vicente Gandia Hoya De Cadenas Reserva Tempranillo Utiel-Requena 2012

Hoya De Cadenas

Rich, dark, Ruby color in the glass. On the nose, an explosion of ripe cherries and spice! This continues on the palate, along with some raspberry and cedar. Tannins are a little edgy at first, but soften with exposure to air. Acidity is balanced, creating a wine that pairs with food, but is also pleasant to drink on its own. On the lingering finish the cherry continues with hints of black pepper and oak.

4.0 stars (88-91 points)

SAQ Store, $12.95 CAD (approx. $9.90 USD)

Fleur de Sauvignon Bordeaux 2014

Fleur de Sauvignon

Gold color in the glass. Aromas of apricot and white peach, some pineapple, with a hint of herbs. On the tongue there are flavors of apricot, peach, pineapple, and honeysuckle, as well as fresh-cut hay, and a little green bell pepper. Very dry with minimal sweetness, but bright acidity. The finish is brief, with some tropical fruit and herbal notes.

3.0 stars (82-84 points)

SAQ Store, $14.90 CAD (approx. $11.39 USD)

Carone “Venice” Cabernet Severnyi Reserve 2012


My favorite of all the Québec wines I tried! A Cabernet Sauvignon clone, originally bred to withstand the harsh Russian winter, it does well here as well. According to the sales rep at the Farmer’s Market, this is the only 100% Cabernet produced in Québec.

Deep purple color in the glass. Classic Cabernet aromas and flavors of blackberry, cassis, and oak. Medium to full bodied with smooth tannins with balanced acidity. It’s lighter than traditional Cabernet Sauvignon, but still has all the flavor and structure. The lingering finish is enticing with dark berry, vanilla, and oak. This wine pairs well with steak, or any other rich, juicy meat.

4.5 stars ( 92-94 points)

Marché du Vieux-Port Farmer’s Market, $28.00 CAD, (approx. $21.62 USD)

Frescobaldi Pater Sangiovese 2014

Frescobaldi Pater

Bright ruby color in the glass. Aromas of fresh raspberries and cherries. On the palate, those flavors mingle with blackberry, plum, soft oak, and spice. Tannins are soft and smooth, and balanced with fresh acidity. A solid offering from a reliable producer, this paired very well with Farmer’s Market fresh basil pasta and marinara sauce.

4.0 stars (88-91 points)

SAQ Store, $15.95 CAD, (approx. $12.31 USD)

Graffigna Elevation Reserve Red Blend 2012

Graffigna Elevation

A blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Tannat, and Bonarda. Deep, brooding purple color. Aromas of dark berry and smoke. Flavors of blackberry, black cherry, raspberry, blueberry, and oak. Firm, chewy tannins with lively acidity. A perfect pairing for grilled flank steak. Long, smoky finish with lingering dark berry.

4.0 Stars (88-91 points)

Auberge Louis-Hebert, $8.50 CAD per glass (approx. $6.59 USD)

Caliterra  Reserva Carmenérè – Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Caliterra Carmenere Cabernet Sauvignon

Deep purple color. Initial aromas of blackberry, bramble, and baking spice. Flavors of blackberry, cassis, cherry, and oak. Sharp tannins, with medium acidity and medium body. The finish is black fruit and black pepper, with some vanilla. The wine has good flavor and structure, but needs a little more time to allow the tannins to soften.

3.5 stars (85-87 points)

SAQ Store, $12.95 CAD, approx. $10.07 USD

As we wrap up our trip, we are off to Montreal for a few days. Then it’s back home to reality once again. Thanks for following along!