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Category Archives: France

Exploring the Rhône through a Wine Glass

During the 2017 Wine Bloggers Conference, we were introduced to the wines of Cariñena, Spain. Predominantly Garnahca based wines, we were instantly in love. As we enjoyed the flavors of these wines, we began to yearn to explore other regions noted for their Garnacha wines. Perhaps the most famous of these regions is the Rhône Valley in France. There, as in most of the wine world, this fantastic and versatile red grape is known as Grenache.

The Rhône Valley is in the southeast of France. It is one of the oldest grape growing regions in the world, with viticulture documented as early as the 4th century B.C. The valley runs some 150 miles in a north-south direction, and as such, encompassess a wide variety of soil and growing conditions. The Rhône Valley can generally be divided into the Northern and the Southern. In the Northern Rhône, Syrah is king, with the wines generally dominated by this grape. Village (and wine) names such as Côte-Rôtie, Condrieu, Crozes-Hermitage, and Hermitage may be familiar to you, as these are some of the more famous Syrah regions in France.

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Credit: WineFolly.com

In the Southern Rhône Valley, the wines are most often blends, with Grenache playing the lead role, usually supported by such cast of characters as Syrah and Mourvèdre. These wines are commonly known as GSM. In addition to reds, the Rhone Valley also produces some stunning white wines, from Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne grapes. While we’ve had Grenache and Viognier wines before, including GSM and Viognier from the Rhône Valley, we wanted to deliberately dive into some fine Southern Rhône Valley wines to explore and get to know the region as well as the wine.

The more well-known villages in the Southern Rhône are Côtes du Rhône, a rather generic term for wines from this area, Côtes du Rhône Villages – denoting a more specific identity of place and quality, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, and what is arguably the most famous and best quality Southern Rhône region, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. There are many other villages worth exploring, but we wanted to focus on the most famous and prolific for now.

The Southern Rhône is a Mediterranean climate, as one might expect in the South of France. Long, warm summers and mild winters provide ideal growing conditions for Grenache. In addition, the Mistral winds, blowing up to 60 miles per hour, some 150 days per year, provide cooling and drying to the tight, fungus-prone Grenache grape clusters. Hold on to your hat, to be sure, but appreciate those high winds for the effect they have on this cherished wine!

Before we dive into the wines, allow us to share another little tidbit from history. The famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape is roughly translated to “New Castle of the Pope.” In 14th century, the papacy moved from Rome to Avignon, a village along the Rhône River near the southern end of the valley. Apparently the Popes enjoyed the tranquility of French countryside! In 1317, Pope John XXII had a summer residence built at what is now Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Although construction was not completed until 1333, a year before Pope John XXII’s death, the name remains and the wines from this region remain coveted for their quality.

With our interest in Southern Rhône wines, we were pleased to receive the following bottles as media samples. Tasting through these wines, we were transported to the South of France in each glass. Though we have not yet been in person, the Rhône Valley is definitely high on our list of places to visit.

Now, on to the wines!

The wines below are media samples. All thoughts, opinions, and notes are our own. No other compensation was received.

Ogier Côtes du Rhône Artesis Blanc 2016


Golden color in the glass. Aromas of white flower, light straw, and tropical fruit. In the palate, there are flavors of lemon and grapefruit, with hints of mango, and soft floral and herbal notes rounding out the mouth. Soft, full mouthfeel with vibrant acidity. The finish is medium with pleasing notes of citrus, tropical fruit, and floral. Excellent pairing with grilled sea bass and rosemary quinoa.

Ogier Côtes du Rhône Artesis 2016

Deep, rich purple color. We decanted for about an hour before serving. On the nose, luscious aromas of blueberry, raspberry, and plum with spicy notes. On the palate, blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, and plum, with black pepper, baking spice, and vanilla. Notes of milk chocolate as the finish develops, ending with spicy black fruit. The mouthfeel and tannins are incredibly soft, round, and smooth, with medium acidity. We paired this with, of all things, carne asada tacos with a radish-cilantro salsa, and it was sublime. A truly amazing Côtes du Rhône.

Ogier Gigondas Dentellis 2014

Deep ruby color. Decanted for about an hour and pleasing aromas of raspberry, bramble, and black pepper. On the palate, there are flavors of cherry, red currant, cranberry, raspberry, and spice. At mid palate mineral and crushed granite notes emerge, along with hints of milk chocolate and black pepper. Medium body with mild tannins and acidity. We paired this with grilled Ahi tuna steaks, and the combination was amazing! The spice in the wine really enhanced the flavor of the tuna. This is a truly amazing wine!

Ogier Châteauneuf-du-Pape Reine Jeanne 2014

They call this the wine of kings, king of wines for a very good reason. Rich, complex, and delicious. Cherry red color with brick rim. Aromas of chocolate covered cherry, licorice, and smoke. On the palate there are flavors of black cherry, ripe raspberry, tobacco, licorice, cloves and other baking spice, and smoky notes. Tannins are firm but smooth, and ample acidity perfect for food pairing. We had this with grilled rib eye cooked medium rare, and it was heavenly perfection. Long, spicy finish with abundant red fruit and milk chocolate. Please may I have another?

As you can tell, we were very impressed with the wines of the Southern Rhône Valley. If you’d like to travel to the Rhône in a wine glass, head to your local wine shop and get yourself some of these amazing wines today!

Cheers

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
  • Photo Credits, unless otherwise noted: Kent Reynolds

References:

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Longing for Some Summertime Red Wine

It’s only the first week of July, but it already feels like a long, hot summer. Here in NorCal we’ve seen near-record heat including a week-long heatwave (seemed more like a month) with temperatures pushing, or exceeding 110°F…and that just was in June!

Naturally, when the mercury rises this high, we all gravitate to the cold, crisp wines. But seriously, one can only drink so much Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and Rosé. (Yes, I know the more adventurous among you are cracking refreshing Albariño, Picpoul, and Torrontés. I’ve had my share of those, too!)

What I’m really craving right now is a nice, juicy red wine. But it’s just too hot for a big, heavy Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Malbec. What is one to do???

Beaujolais.

No, not the young, fun, fruity Beaujolais Nouveau released in November. You should have finished all of that by now. I’m referring to the grown-up, big brother: Beaujolais Villages wines. Made from the same Gamay grape as the youthful Nouveau wines, “standard” Beaujolais is often aged in oak before release, giving it more depth of character while still retaining that light, refreshing flavor that can satisfy your red wine craving in the heat of summer.

The Beaujolais region is located just south of Burgundy, but is actually part of the Rhone region of France. With a warm growing season, the resulting wines tend to be fruity, yet with proper care and aging, can develop complex flavors. The most prized Beaujolais wines are those from the 10 “crus”; those vineyards recognized as the best in the region.

Wandering through my local Total Wine & More store the other day, I was in search of a  red wine that I could pair with a grilled, New York strip steak that wouldn’t be too heavy in the sweltering heat. In a momentary flash of inspiration, I asked the store associate to direct me to the Beaujolais section. He gladly did so, but as I reached for the familiar label of the Louis Jadot Beaujolais (Retail $11.99), the clerk suggested I up my game.Jadot

While there’s nothing wrong with the Jadot (and I bought a bottle for a BBQ that would be attended by less-discerning palates), for a mere $3 more, we could enjoy one of the best-of-the-best…a cru Beaujolais Villages wine. Powerless to resist, a bottle of Jean La Perriere Belles Grives Morgon 2014 landed in my cart. Morgon is one of the cru vineyards, producing superior Gamay. As you can see, the best quality can be had for a bargain price!

As expected, my craving for red wine and red meat was satisfied that night. The steak was cooked to perfection, and with wine was magnificent; fruity and light, yet deep and complex.

 

Belles Grives

Good price point for a Cru Beaujolais. Brick red with garnet rim. Aromas of raspberries and black pepper. Flavors of ripe raspberry, earth, and smoke, with medium body and super soft tannins. Finish is long with red berry, plum, and baking spice.

Retail: $14.99 ($13.49 with the six-bottle discount.)

 

That’s not the end of the story, however. A few days later, we popped open the Jadot at the BBQ party. It was a huge hit, and complemented the Tri-Tip very nicely! Fruit-forward with raspberry and cherry, but less of the oak influence and depth, everyone loved it. That bottle didn’t last long!

If you are already growing weary of summer, and can’t bear the thought of one more Rosé or crisp white, head down to your favorite wine shop and grab a bottle or three of a wallet-friendly Beaujolais Villages red wine. It’ll help you through until Cabernet season!

Cheers!

 

Review: Château Bélingard AOC Bergerac Rosé

Summer is the traditional season for Rosé wine. There is a movement afoot to encourage wine lovers to enjoy Rosé all year, and I’m all on board. I do enjoy Rosé wine year around. Nevertheless, lighter bodied, crisp wines taste best to me (any many others) when the weather is warmer. Poolside, lakeside, or parkside, a refreshing Rosé is a great way to enjoy a summer afternoon.

Rosé wine comes to the plate with two strikes against it. First of all, many people I know still think all Rosé wine is like the syrupy sweet White Zinfandel popular in the 80’s and 90’s. This is simply not true. The reality is that a good many of the Rosé wines available today are crafted in the classic, Provençal style: dry, crisp, and refreshing. Still, some simply aren’t willing to give dry Rosé a try. I say their loss is my gain: more for me!

Strike two is that there are a lot of low quality Rosé wines out there, lacking in flavor, interest, or character. I suppose this is to be expected when a product suddenly becomes as popular as Rosé has in recent years. Everybody wants a piece of the action; to ride the wave while it is high. So they’ll rush to put something, anything out there to enter the market before the tide turns. (I’m detecting a surf theme here. Appropriate, given that Rosé is a great beach wine!)

Fortunately, there are also many excellent Rosé wines available! I found one of them recently at my local Total Wine & More store. Château Bélingard AOC Bergerac Rosé (Retail: $11.99) is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. As one might expect from the use of these two big, bold red grapes, this Rosé has a bit more body and heft than most. Make no mistake, though; this is still a dry, crisp, refreshing wine!

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Founded in 1820, Château Bélingard is located in Southwest France, in the Bergerac appellation, east of the more famous Bordeaux region. While Bergerac wines are made predominantly with the same varietals as those of Bordeaux – Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot based red wines, and Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon based whites – Bergerac wines are often considered softer and less serious. I don’t take this as a criticism in any way! On the contrary, these are high quality, value wines! Not everyone is a collector or connoisseur, and there is definitely a need for affordable, easy-drinking, everyday wines.

In addition to this Rosé, Château Bélingard produces an impressive portfolio of reds and whites, including a Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon/Muscadelle blend, and several levels of Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blends. Below is my review of the Rosé, which we recently enjoyed as a cool refresher on a 102°F Sunday evening.

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IMG_2342Salmon, almost orange color. Aromas and flavors of tropical fruit including mango and passion fruit, with a hint of mandarin, along with light red berry flavors of strawberry and ripe raspberry. Dry with medium body and a soft, round mouthfeel and lively acidity make this a refreshing wine, yet big enough to pair with grilled tri-tip steaks or other summer BBQ fare.

We really enjoyed this wine! I rated it 4.5 out of 5 stars (92 – 94 points).

Check your local retailer and seek out some of this amazing Rosé wine! You’ll be glad you did!

Cheers!

Review & A Bit of History: Jean Claude Debeaune Beaujolais Nouveau Celebrate Harvest 2015

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It’s a day that is anticipated and celebrated by excited fans everywhere. The third Thursday in November, at one minute past midnight, Beaujolais Nouveau Day begins. On that day, at that time, thousands of cases of new wine are shipped from the vineyards, in the MapBeaujolais region of France, to Paris, and then on to the thirsty masses all over the world. The tradition evolved as a regional event in the early 20th century, and the day was originally designated annually on November 15th. However, in 1985, as the celebration gained in popularity throughout France, this was changed to the third Thursday each year. With no more inconvenient Monday or Tuesday release dates, it became possible for revelers to celebrate over a four-day weekend. Sounds perfectly reasonable to me!

Here in the United States, Beaujolais Nouveau Day happily coincides with our Thanksgiving Day. With a taste and body profile not unlike Pinot Noir, a bright, lively, fruity Beaujolais Nouveau pairs very well with the traditional turkey dinner.

Beaujolais Nouveau is about as un-snobbish as you can get in a red wine. It’s not made for high-brow, serious, sniffing-and-swirling tasting events. It’s an easy-drinking, fun wine meant for a party! Made from the Gamay grape, Beaujolais Nouveau is meant to be consumed young. Unlike most red wines, that are aged for several months or years, Beaujolais Nouveau is unaged, and released just weeks after harvest. In production, the wine undergoes a short fermentation process, with the skins in contact with the juice for only a brief time. This results in a light, acidic wine with minimal tannins. In this way, it is often compared to a summery white wine, rather than a more traditional red wine. And like a white wine, Beaujolais Nouveau is best served chilled. As a light, low-tannin wine, the recommendation is to enjoy your Beaujolais Nouveau within six months.

This year, my Beaujolais Nouveau selection was the Jean Claude Debeaune Beaujolais Nouveau Celebrate Harvest 2015. Here’s my review, posted to Vivino.

Beaujolais Nouveau

Delightful and lively. Beaujolais Nouveau is always a fun wine. Purple color in the glass, the aromas greet the nose with raspberry, strawberry, and cherry. The flavors on the palate are raspberry, cranberry, cherry, and red currant. The tannins are light and the acidity is brisk. This wine wakes up your mouth! The finish lingers with red fruit and a bit of peppery spiciness. Definitely a gulpable wine!

Purchased at Total Wine & More, $9.99

Rated 4 out of 5 stars

If you haven’t tried Beaujolais Nouveau yet, it’s not too late. There’s still some in stores and it would be a great addition to a Christmas dinner table, a New Year’s Eve party (before the bubbles, of course), or for any other reason you can think of to celebrate! If you miss out, don’t fret. The next Beaujolais Nouveau day is on November 17, 2016. Mark your calendars now!

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Information Sources:

[1] http://www.intowine.com/beaujolais2.html

[2] http://www.wineweekly.com/wine-basics/beaujolais-nouveau-answers/

[3] http://www.beaujolaisnouveauday.com/