When we left the Dordogne, we stopped over in Blois where we ate at a small and charming Michelin one-star restaurant called Au Rendez-Vous des Pêcheurs. The restaurant occupies an old grocery in a 16th-century house not very far from the chateau, and specializes in seafood and regional cuisine with local products from the Loire Valley.
We drank a delicious 2006 Jasnières Les Vignes de L'Ange Vin Le Charme du Loir, a wine from Jasnières, a small appellation located on clay/limestone hillsides thick with flint stones along the Loir River (a tributary of the Loire River). The area is the most northerly wine-growing region of the Loire Valley and is therefore distinctly colder. The wines are all dry white wines produced from Chenin Blanc grapes.
Les Vignes de L'Ange Vin was founded by Jean-Pierre Robinot, who used to run a wine bistro in Paris called L'Ange Vin for nearly 15 years. L'Ange Vin means angel wine but it is also a play on words with Angevin, a term that applies to the residents of the Anjou region and its capital Angers. Jean-Pierre Robinot is an ambitious winemaker that practices natural farming and winemaking. The white wines (70% of the production) are pressed very slowly and raised on the lees in oak barrels for at least 12 months. Minimal sulfur is added.
The wine had a light yellow color and a nose of citrus and white flowers. On the palate, it had a bright acidity, lots of minerality and a touch of honey. The wine was more crisp than a Vouvray or a Savenières but had plenty of character that highlighted well the flavors of the food.
Earlier this month, I was in the Dordogne for our biennial family reunion. This region, located in southwest France and east of Bordeaux, is I think, one of the best spots in France for a family vacation. There are hundreds of prehistoric caves, more than 1500 castles and plenty of medieval villages to explore. The region is also famous for its local specialities including foie gras, duck confit, duck magret, and truffles. And of course, there is wine.
The Bergerac wine region lies along the Dordogne river and is the biggest appellation in the south west of France, producing red, dry white, and sweet white wines. The grapes growing in the region are similar to the Bordeaux varieties but the local climate is more continental and less influenced by the Atlantic ocean. Winters are mild and summers are long and can be very hot with occasional storms and showers.
At last month's Port4lio Tasting in San Francisco, I had the opportunity to taste some delicious white wines made from uncommon grapes. Here are the three that I found the most distinctive:
•2010 Raventós i Blanc Silencis: the wine is 100% Xarel-lo, a Spanish grape variety from Catalonia. Although Xarel-lo is mainly used with Macabeu and Parellada in Cava production, it is sometimes used alone in still wines. Located in the Penedès wine region, south west of Barcelona, Bodegas Raventós i Blanc was founded in 1986 by Josep Raventós Blanc, a member of the Codorníu family. The family-run, quality-oriented winery owns 90 acres of vineyards, planted mostly to local varieties such as Macabeo, Xarel-lo, and Parellada, on rocky, chalky soil high in limestone content (like Champagne). The wine has a pale yellow color and a mineral nose of crushed seashells. On the palate, it is dry and quite earthy with a long distinctive finish.
•2010 Trajarinho Vinho Verde: the wine is a blend of Trajadura and Alvarinho, two native grape varietals of the Iberian Peninsula. In Portugal, they are mainly found in the Vinho Verde region in the northern part of the country. Low in alcohol (11.5%), the wine has a light golden color and an attractive floral nose. On the palate, it is rather dry, slightly fizzy with lemon aromas and a refreshing finish.
•2009 Bott Hárslevelu Határi: Hárslevelu is generally blended with Furmint to produce Tokaji Aszú in the Tokaj-Hegyalja region of Hungary but in this wine, it is vinified as a pure varietal dry wine. Határi is one of the top vineyards in Tokaj and the small, family-run Bott winery maintains 1.5 ha of vines there, planted on a rocky, volcanic terraced slope. The wine has a light yellow color and an unusual nose of aromatic herbs (thyme, rosemary). On the palate, it has a great mid-palate mouthfeel with notes of rose petal on the finish.
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May was Soave Month in New York so as part of the promotion program, I received a couple of wine samples from Colangelo & Partners.
Maybe Italy's best wines are red but I really like its white wines, especially those that are fresh, crisp, fruity, as well as delicious with food.
Soave is (with Pinot Grigio) one of Italy's most popular white wines. It comes from the Veneto region in the northeast corner of Italy, the country's third biggest wine producer. The Soave growing area is situated in the hills east of Verona and is characterized by volcanic soils particularly rich in minerals. Garganega is Soave's principal grape variety and Italy's 6th most widely planted white grape.
We first tasted the 2009 Il Casale Soave Classico produced by Azienda Agricola Le Albare. Le Albare is a small 6.5 hectare family estate planted with 100% Garganega grapes. it was founded at the turn of the 20th century by Adam Posenato, current winemaker Stefano Posenato's great-grandfather. The wine had a light golden color and a quite stony nose. On the palate, it was light-bodied with a crisp minerality and notes of citrus on the finish.
We actually prefered our second sample, the 2009 Re Midas Soave. The wine is produced by Cantina di Soave, a cooperative founded in 1898 and made up of 2,200 winegrowers and farmers with currently 6,000 hectares under vine. The wine was named after Re (King) Midas who wished that everything he touched would turn to gold. Re Midas vineyards are located on the hillsides in the village of Soave at elevations between 100 and 350 meters. The wine is 100% Garganega aged 3 months in stainless steel followed by 1 month in bottle before release. it had a pale yellow color and a spicy nose with a touch of honey. On the palate, it was fuller and rounder than the Il Casale with aromas of fresh white peach. It was actually a very good accompaniment for our Cod with Lentils.
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A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to Port4lio at the historic Fort Mason firehouse in San Francisco, an annual tasting event featuring wines imported by Blue Danube Wine Company, Return to Terroir, and Vinos Unico. This year, the event prominently featured French winemaker Jean-Michel Morel presenting his Slovenian wines for the first time in the US.
The other day, I found some veal shanks at the store and decided to make Osso Buco, a dish where the veal is braised in wine, tomatoes, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and herbs for at least 2-3 hours. The result is a full-flavored stew that calls for a rich and tasty Italian wine so I chose a 2007 Antinori Il Bruciato Bolgheri to accompany the Osso Buco.
Bolgheri is a wine region located on the southern coast of Tuscany and well known for its red Bordeaux style wines also called Super Tuscans. Thanks to a unique combination of sandy-clay soils, a sunny, dry, and moderately windy microclimate, and the effects of a maritime influence, Bordeaux grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, tend to thrive there. Before the creation in 1994 of the Bolgheri Rosso and Rosso Superiore DOCs (Denominazione di origine controllata), the Super Tuscans of the area—wines of high quality but made outside DOC/DOCG regulations—were typically sold under the simpler designations Vino da tavola or IGT Toscana.
Il Bruciato is produced by Guado al Tasso, Antinori's Bolgheri estate located on the coast, 96km (60 miles) south-west of Florence. The wine is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 20% Syrah and other black varieties. Fermented in stainless steel, it was then racked off into oak barrels, where it aged for 8 months before being bottled.
The wine had a dark red color and an aromatic nose of moka, licorice, and black fruits. On the palate, it was full-bodied with a juicy mouthfeel and a smooth earthy finish. The wine was quite tasty and I thought my Osso Buco that I served with Polenta was quite tasty too!
It is true that Pinot Noir is one of the most expensive wine varietals. It is quite famous for being difficult to cultivate. The vines are not very vigorous and the berries have a very thin skin, which makes them especially prone to fungal infections. It is also one of the most troublesome wines to ferment, as its fermentation is fast and dificult to keep under control.
But if you're looking for a well priced and well crafted Pinot Noir, try the the 2007 Saintsbury Pinot Noir Garnet Los Carneros.
Founded in 1981 by winemakers Richard Ward and David Graves, Saintsbury Vineyards was named after English writer George Saintsbury, perhaps best remembered today for his Notes on a Cellar-Book (published in 1920). That collection of tasting notes and personal observations is one of the first books on wine written in English. The Saintsbury Club, a prestigious London dining club that still meets twice a year, was founded in 1930 in Saintsubry's honor.
The winery has been producing Garnet, an affordable and early-drinking style of Pinot, since 1983. It is made from Pinot Noir grown in the Los Carneros appellation, an area much cooler and windier than the wine regions further north in Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley. After the wines have spent a few months in barrel, the lots selected to become Garnet are assembled and the wine is bottled in early summer.
The wine shows a bright medium red color and a nose of violet and black cherry. On the palate, it is medium-bodied, quite juicy, and very refreshing. It is perfect to accompany grilled fish on the barbecue. Try it with Grilled Fish with Orange-Fennel Salsa.
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A week ago, we were invited to the wedding of a British friend in Menlo Park, California. Although Menlo Park is not Buckingham Palace, the reception was a royal treat. The bride and groom were totally charming, the location stunning, the ceremony very moving, the eight course Chinese banquet exquisite, and I had the honor of selecting some California wines for the reception and dinner.
Our first wine was the 2009 Stuhlmuller Estate Chardonnay Alexander Valley. Stuhlmuller Vineyards is located at the southern edge of the Alexander Valley, just north of the Russian River Valley appellation. The 150-acre estate vineyard borders the Russian River and has a predominance of alluvial gravel-type soils as well as some rocky soils in the hillside sections of the vineyard. The wine was fermented with 100% indigenous yeasts. Aging occurred in both barrels (94%) and larger casks (6%), all of which were French oak (8% new). 85% of the wine underwent indigenous malolactic fermentation.
The wine had a bright nose of citrus and stone fruit. On the palate, it was crisp, elegant with a distinct mineral quality. The wine worked really well with the various hors d'oeuvres as well as with our first course, the crisp Tempura Tiger Prawns served over a bed of spring mix salad.
The terms Left Bank and Right Bank refer to the banks of the Gironde river that flows through Bordeaux into the Atlantic Ocean. The Left Bank includes the Médoc appellation and its sub-appellations (Pauillac, Saint Estèphe, Saint Julien, Margaux etc.). On the Right Bank, we have Pomerol and Saint Emilion surrounded by their lesser-known (and generally less expensive) satellite appellations such as Lussac-Saint-Émilion, Lalande de Pomerol, Fronsac, and Côtes-de-Castillon.
Since we saw the movie Babette's Feast, my husband has been dreaming of reproducing Babette's masterpiece: the Cailles en Sarcophage Sauce Perigourdine (Quails in a Coffin, Truffle and Foie Gras Sauce).
So suddendly the other day, he was ready. He found a recipe on the internet, ordered a foie gras, and bought some quails and frozen puff pastry dough. He didn't have any truffles but decided to use a combination of mushrooms and truffle oil instead.
He deboned the birds, chopped the vegetables for the duxelle, sliced the foie gras, stuffed and roasted the birds, baked the puff pastry, and finally placed each quail in its coffin. The result was amazing: it really looked like the quails in the movie! And it tasted very yummy too! The birds were tender and juicy with earthy flavors and the puff pastry was light and flaky and not soggy at all. We also agreed that having a small piece of seared foie gras to accompany the quail would have been even better.
Is organic wine better for the environment than conventional wine? Slate contributor Brian Palmer wonders in his recent article.
Isn't the answer obvious? Conventional viticulture has serious environmental issues such as soil depletion, water pollution, loss of biodiversity, and resistance to pests. On the other hand, organic viticulture produces crops that are healthier, more drought tolerant, more resistant to diseases and pests, and can better compete with weeds. But in reality, viticulture is only one of many factors that contribute to the environmental impact of a bottle of wine. Other major factors are winemaking practices, packaging, and shipping.
This interesting study attempts to quantify the greenhouse gas emissions of a bottle of wine and compares various production and transportation scenarios. It shows that the difference in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, between organic and conventional viticulture is relatively small, although this could change if the cost of fossil fuel increases in the future. The CO2 emissions that occur during fermentation are also small. They represent less than 3% of the overall amount of CO2 emissions for one bottle of wine. However, aging wine in oak barrels is more costly for the environment than aging in stainless steel tanks, especially if barrels are imported and new oak is used every year.
Actually, the study shows that the greatest impact on the greenhouse effect from the wine supply chain comes from transportation, and this includes the transport of empty bottles to the winery and full bottles to the customers. The cost tends to be much higher for these ultra premium wines in thick, oversized bottles. In fact, it is far more “green” to use boxed wines or Tetra Pak packaging.
If you live in New York, it is also greener to drink a bottle of wine from Bordeaux that has travelled in a container across the Atlantic than a wine from Napa that came across the country in a truck. Now, for us Californians, what is the price of enjoying a bottle of Bordeaux without being too bothered by our green conscience?
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At our last wine tasting event, one of our guests had some red wine spilled on his shirt. This is quite unfortunate but these kinds of incidents do happen so is there a safe way to remove red wine stains without damaging the fabric?
After a little bit of internet search, I found several effective methods that can be used depending on where you are (at home, in a restaurant) and what you have immediately within reach.
First of all, red wine stains need to be taken care of right away before they set. So check the label. If it is dry clean only, take the garment as fast as you can to the cleaners.
Otherwise, the idea is to dilute the stain's red pigmentation. One way is to blot the stain with a mixture of laundry soap and hydrogen peroxide. But test one small area first to make sure it does not discolor the fabric. Don't rub it, this would set the stain deeper within the fabric.
Another method is to blot the stain with club soda and let it bubble up. White wine can also be used because it dilutes the wine's red pigments. Surprisingly, milk is good too because it contains some enzymes that can discolor the stain. Allow the milk to remain on the stain for a good amount of time.
Following a different strategy, you can try to immediately absorb most of the stain with salt, cornstarch, talcum powder, or even baking soda. Once you have blotted as much of the stain, gently brush the powder off from the fabric.
How to Remove Red Wine from Fabric
Red Wine Stain Removal Methods
How to Get Rid of Red Wine Stains
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A little while ago, we had a small gathering at my house to taste some Eastern European wines around a sauerkraut dish cooked with carrots, onions, apples, riesling, and juniper berries, and accompanied by braised pork chops, sausages, and potatoes. Most of our wines came from Austria, a major producer of aromatic dry white wines made mostly from the local Grüner Veltliner grape, although red wine production accounts for 30% of all Austrian wines. We also had a red wine from Slovenia, a country that has been producing wine since the time of the prehistoric Celts. Finally, we ended that excellent evening with a Tokay from Hungary, a wine that is believed to be the world's oldest botrytis wine.
We had our first wine, the 2008 Bäuerl Stein am Rain Grüner Veltliner Federspiel with an appetizer of hungarian peppers. Grüner Veltliner is the most widely planted grape variety in Austria. Grüner means green in German as the grape tends to produce fresh and youthful wines. It grows well along the Danube river on steep, rocky river banks, as steep as those found in the Mosel wine region.
Weingut Bäuerl is located in the Wachau, the part of the Danube valley between the village of Melks and Krems and one of Austria's westernmost wine-growing regions. The estate grows only white varieties: Grüner Veltliner (55%), Riesling (35%) and Muskateller (10%), and practices organic and sustainable viticulture. My notes: medium golden color, nose of green apple, pear, and honey. On the palate, smooth, juicy, and quite mineral. Good finish, nice appetite opener.
The oldest winery ever found is 6,100 years old. It was recently discovered inside a cave in Armenia, near the country's southern border with Iran. Archeologists were able to date the winemaking installation to approximately 4,100 BC. That's the Copper Age, a transitional period between the Stone Age and the Bronze Age. In the cave, they found winemaking equipment, including a rudimentary wine press, a clay vat probably used for fermentation, a cup and drinking bowl, as well as remains of pressed grapes and grape must. They found no device to actually crush the grapes so they think that people stomped the grapes with their feet. The installation was surrounded by graves, which suggests that the wine may have had a ceremonial role.
After examining the seeds, paleobotanists were able to identify the grapes as vitis vinifera vinifera, which indicates that the winegrape had already been domesticated at the time. This is an important milestone in Human Evolution.
“Deliberate fermentation of carbohydrates into alcohol has been suggested as a possible factor that prompted the domestication of wild plants and the development of ceramic technology,” said Hans Barnard, one of the archaeologists who teaches in the UCLA Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures.
Until now, the oldest wine production site was dated to around 3150 B.C. and was found in the tomb of Egyptian king Scorpion I.
You can read the whole article here, it's fascinating.
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