euro scribbles: a pause from the wine tour for the bike tour.

cycling, french wine, French Wine Travel, Uncategorized

No matter how much you try to plan travel flawlessly, there will always be moments of, errr, miscalculation. If it weren’t so, I wouldn’t find myself and hour and a half away from my group in a random little village called Chatillon-sur-Chalaronne, a town I somehow believed was 15 minutes from Beaune when I was first sketching out this plan. I decided to take a taxi to the gare (train station) in Macon and catch a train up to Beaune this morning.

Easy enough.

But I sit here now at the wrong one, of course. 7 k away from the other. And hopeless. I resort to calling my poor boss, who has ordered me stay put, as he will just get me. And so, now I can sit, drink my teeny tiny coffee and munch on yet another croissant: breakfast of (future heavyweight) champions.

When we left Alsace, we headed to the Jura to watch the finish of Stage 8. Though only 6 men were left standing, they held their heads up high. As JV mentioned in a twitter: ‘In cycling, a good team isn’t defined by how perfect it is in winning moments, but instead how it moves onward when all is shit. Onward.” Talking with the guys after Stage 8, it was clear to me that this was their group effort to make lemonade and not dwell on the past. I have always admired pragmatism and persistence. And so, this year’s Tour will be about that in my mind. You cannot be on top all the time. That’s just the truth. Much harder to rise to the occasion day after day when the chance for a final podium spot seems unlikely. My respect for them has grown even more.

I stay with them that night and get up to watch the start of Stage 9 in Arcs-et-Senans, where we enter a massive stone fort to park the team cars and bus. Everyone else seems more into spandex that ancient history. I ask several people where the heck we were, and they look around as if they hadn’t noticed and in a distracted tone simply say, “I have no idea.” My need to know only grows, and I learn that it is actually a salt mine from the 1700’s. It was central to France’s source for salt: ‘it was of paramount economic importance.’ Its grand presence is all I need to be convinced of its importance. The next time someone threatens that they will send me to the salt mines to work, I might take them up on it!

Zabriskie is up to ride his time trial, and I hop in the back seat of a team car with the NBC sports guy in the front, a team mechanic to my right and my man driving. We speed out and watch Zab’s butt for the next 40k. Zabriskie has always been one of my favorite riders. He has a pretty warped sense of humor and a slight undertone of morbidity–both of which I relate to immensely. His dry, sardonic sentences never cease to hit me just right, and I am laughing for days when I recall it. For example, yesterday, he discussed with me his backup plan after his cycling career: to open a blow-dry salon called DZ Nutz Cutz. Where people can pay too much to get their hair dried. Of course, that’s not where the concept ends. This place will also offer a selection of beef jerky and hot air balloon rides as well. (What???!) We all laugh like it’s natural enough… but it’s not. Only for him.

Last night, we stayed in a very adorable hotel in Chatillon-sur-Chalaronne, if you should ever go: the appropriately named Hotel de la Tour in the Place de la Republique. They describe themselves as a place for ‘cacooning and gastronimique’. Our cacoon had an open bathroom on raised tile, a clawfoot tub and an ambience that resembled an Anthropologie ad. All grey and brown tones, I felt I might have stepped into a piece of poetry, it was so delicate and pristine. I was happy to see they were given a nice place for their rest day. Because trust me, they ain’t all like this. In fact, many make the Holiday Inn appear luxurious!

We break from the team and head over to a nearby pizzaria with the team’s PR guru and the astrophysicist. The place they find is a total gem: Cafe Gourmand Maison— a little local joint with an impressive stone fire. The wine choices are extremely limited, maybe 1 rose, 3 whites and 3 reds. But they are awesome. We enjoy a Provencal rose and a Vacqueyras. The salads taste fresh pulled from the garden. We all regressed and shared banana splits for dessert. I never realized what a difference bitter Dutch chocolate ice cream could make! 15 euro later for each of us for everything, and I was floored. A definite must if you pass through this village.

Driving to this station, I still really saw no vineyards. I am eager to get on to the Cote d’Or, where we plan to go to Chambolle-Musigny, Meursault and Gevrey-Chambertin just today! Stay tuned for those travels in the next couple days…

Au revoir!

euro scribbles cont: getting down to business in the land of bubbles.

Bubbles, cycling, french wine, French Wine Travel, travel, Uncategorized

The morning is met with a rescheduled appointment, a series of unfortunate orienteering, but alas… unforgettable snapshots of memories that may not have been had we not gone off course. Not far from Ay, we visit Hautvilliers–home to the L’Abbaye of Dom Perignon. Though he did not invent these beads of beauty, he did learn how to perfect them and really grab hold of the method itself.

As we enter the cathedral, the same intoxicating smell of wet, chalky cellars fill my nostrils. I think to myself that churches should always smell so inviting. Perhaps I would frequent them daily! Classical music resounds in the space. Thin wooden benches are stacked left and right. There are massive wood cuttings one one side of the room, while renaissance murals line the other. Slate tombstones at the front before the altar commemorate the famous monk along with his scribe Dom Ruinart. I light a candle in the sanctuary and say a short prayer to my mom. I smile knowing this is as close as I might get to sharing Champagne with her. And it feels heavenly.

The church has a remarkable history, filled with strife, vulnerability and change. Since its erection in 650 AD by St. Nivard, it began its turbulent journey. Destroyed in 882 by the Normans, then restored in 1411 only to be burnt down 35 years later by the English in the 100 years war. It was consecrated in 1518, then burnt in 1562 by the Huguenots, rebuilt in 1603 and finally really restored with Dom Perignon’s presence beginning in 1672.

We press on to Verzenay, a blessed region in the Montagne des Reims that sees all Grand Cru vineyards. We meet with the consultant for Pehu-Simonet along with the son (who spoke little English). Here, we learn about their philosophies and methods. We begin to put together just how varied each vigneron really is, even if their common goal to produce high quality, small quantities are the same.

Like Geoffroy, they block malolactic. In doing so, they do not force the natural acidity to lessen. Both would agree this allows the fruit to be more pronounced, less obscured. I would agree, there was a difference to be sure– a lightness on the palate. Malolactic, much like it sounds, promotes a creamier milky body in the wine by inciting a lactic bacteria to convert the more tart malic acid levels. So here, in these wines, a linear quality is preserved. Apparently less than 1% of vignerons in Champagne block malo according to our guide, so this was very unusual that we met with two in a row!

Where they differ is yeast cultures. Geoffroy insists upon the native yeasts found on the skin and in the cellar to carry out the first fermentation. They believe it maintains the terroir of the region. Pehu-Simonet, though organic and in the process of becoming biodynamic, proudly stand by their choice to use non-native strains that are indigenous, however, to the Champagne region. For one thing, it is much less risky, and they feel confident they can repeat quality first fermentations time and again without the fear of interruption or, God forbid, a ‘stuck fermentation.’ When I asked him about possibly losing ‘terroir’, as the last winemaker insisted upon, he explained that while it may affect aromatics, that is not to be confused with terroir. Terroir, he continued, is felt on the palate. You cannot smell a region, you must taste the difference. One thing I found fascinating was that they selected much of their oak from the nearby Verzy forest (note: only their highest end wines see time in oak–most are steel or concrete). In doing that, he explained, there was another sense of local terroir added to their wines. It was all very poetic, and one thing was certain after all this ambiguity: both were phenomenal producers with distinctive styles. Where there was a note of opulence and restrained oxidation in Geoffroy’s bubbles, while a linear, tasteful reductive quality shined through in Pehu-Simonet’s wines.

We tried several wines at Pehu-Simonet, but the standouts for me were the NV Blancs des Blancs (thing lemon sorbet on a hot, sunny day) and the Blancs de Noir (100% Pinot Noir–a rare, rare thing to see), taken from the tenderloin of the slopes, beaming with dark berried fruit and coming out salty on the finish. It was difficult not to have the word ‘terroir’ beat through my brain with melodic persistence.

That, I think, is the true meaning of terroir.

Though hard to leave, we knew our next appointment would be equally interesting: Chartogne-Taillet, recently taken over by the ‘next’ generation: Alexandre Chartogne–handsome, gentle giant. He was very tall, good-looking, and he had the kindest eyes. His English was unbelievable, but he spoke with such humble hushed tones, you had to smile. Despite his quiet demeanor, however, he had an equal portion of fierce ambition to turn this 800 year old estate into something different. He seeks to shake things up in Merfy, a small village just north and west of Reims. How? In a region rampant with philosophies of blending, Alexandre is insistent that true terroir speaks through each parcel. Though he makes a famous cuvee–St. Anne– his focus is single vineyard expressions.

We spend the first part of the appointment getting to know one another. This was very important to do before meeting his cellar–a detail that I find important, as so many vignerons do it the other way around, tasting at the end. He showed us old journals of everyday notes his family has kept since 1700! He basically explained that this was important for him to understand his family’s tradition in taking over for future generations. He has a little guy of his own. Whether or not he takes over one day will be his decision. It is not forced on anyone. His son is two! Here’s hoping!

The most eye opening experience, really on this trip thus far, was sitting with Alexandre and being blind of 3 varying dosages on the same exact wine. Not only did it change the wine’s character remarkably, all four of us had extremely different preferences. One was dosed with 0 grams of sugar (Brut Nature), the others at 2 and 4 grams (Brut). Strangely, the first was the most appealing to me (and I usually like a dab of sugar to balance the acidity). The nose was almost nutty and fully enticing. The second took on a much fruitier presentation. It was favored by most. It had a fresh, vibrant quality without being too linear. Finally, the one with 4 grams, while interesting and well-received, left a very slight trace of residual presence on the palate–not in the lingering finish kind of way. To be clear, a dosage does and should vary dependent on zillions of reasons. Even a house style should listen to a vintage if something, like acid, has changed. For example, thought the sugar was noticeable in the one with 4 grams, we shortly thereafter had another wine of his–the 2006 Blanc de Blancs from the Heurtebise parcel–at a whopping 5 grams (yes, I am joking, as most ‘Brut’ in Champagne is 8-12 grams), and there wasn’t a trace on the palate. Time really integrated it, plus the acid was pretty rippin’! If you EVER have an opportunity to do this exercise, I recommend it. Tasting is truly the best teacher.

He showed us around the cellars, tasted us on pre-phylloxera 100% still (not fizzy) Pinot Meunier, and showed us old bottles from his personal non-bubbles collection. He then sat down with us, and really delved into his personal passion and vigor for maintaining single vineyard labels. His training in Cote des Blancs really affected him, changing his perspective forever. Though it goes against the norm, it creates yet another thought-provoking process in a region of such history and varied opinions.

As we drove away, we just couldn’t get over his passion– a passion so genuine, it was granular. You could touch it. Even if we understood the overarching technique and purpose for blending, his enthusiasm made it so you wanted to throw it out the window and hop on his bandwagon. His love was infectious.

Exhausted, we took our grubby, unkempt selves to a little pizzeria in Epernay. It was exactly what we needed. A bottle of Chianti and a couple of pies at 9 euros each. Epernay, while not over the top in its gastronomic options, was solid, quaint and right on the money. It was not overcome with tourists, overpriced as Reims or cheesy. It has a very local feel, many speak no English and your food is just very unassuming and well made. Even today, we sat at a simple corner Brasserie and had croque monsieur. It was sensational for 3 euro and full service. For real. Not to mention, yesterday we stopped at a couple little shops for bread, cheese and fresh salami to feed 4 people for about 12 euro. The same food at Whole Foods? Easily $45. It’s pretty awesome.

Stay tuned for the rest of Champagne in tomorrow’s blog…

In the meantime, on our way to Alsace today!

Le troisième Tour de French wines!

Bubbles, cycling, french wine, French Wine Travel, travel

As I gear up to head across the pond, here’s the 3rd Annual tour ahead… by the bottle. It’s a list I pull together every year for my customers. I figure my 3 readers (or 4 now?) may want to take a gander at the wine regions this year’s Tour de France plans to cycle through. It’s the kind of Tour I prefer…

Champagne (July 6)

Known to make full grown men weep like a baby, Champagne has long been heralded the most precious discovery in all the world’s wine. As with all things brilliant when it comes to wine, we can thank the monks for bubbles.  They invented these beads of beauty back in 1531 down near the Languedoc (sorry Dom Perignon—you may have been the Benedictine monk who improved Champagne, but it was your comrades who invented the concept).  They discovered that once you made a still wine, you could add a little more sugar and yeast (referred to as the ‘licor de tirajo’), bottle it back up and promote a second fermentation process.

At Little’s, we take it one step further with most of our Champagne— we dismiss the mass-produced negociant juice, which speaks to about 80% of the production. We opt instead for farmer fizz. Why is this so important? When you are spending over $40 on a bottle of wine, we want to ensure you are getting a product that has a name behind the label. No effort so strenuous as producing Champagne should go unrecognized. Not only that, you get more for your money! Most of ours are classified Grand Cru or at the very least Premier Cru—denoting the best vineyards in all of Champagne. Even Dom at $150 doesn’t wear that honor on its bodice! Some favorites: Marc Hebrart  ($52), Aubry ($40), Paul Dethune ($50), Varnier ($65), 2002 Gaston Chiquet ($72—half the price of vintage Dom Perignon!), and Chartogne-Taillet ($42).
Alsace (July 7)

Alsace. A region that once was Germany…then France…then          Germany…then France…and so on. For several decades now, it has fallen into the hands of the French, but its history is an inescapable characteristic of this region’s wine and culture. These flute-shaped bottles (much like German Rieslings), wear its varietal  name like a badge, as opposed to most of its French neighbors who go by blends & regions to describe what lies behind theglass. Here, they focus on: Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Muscat and even Gewurztraminer. Sure, they make some reds, but here white wine is the noble ageworthy grape.

The Alsace geographically resides in a fascinating area. Wedged as it is between the Rhine river to the east and the Vosges Mountains, it  has the unique advantage of a balanced climate, great mountainside terraced drainage and sun exposure. It is dry, sunny and just about perfect for their heralded varietals. Be sure to sample a few if you are so curious! We carry many from the 14 generations old Emily Beyer Estate, many of which start at only $19! They even make a red we carry at the same price. Prized Grand Cru can be found with Joseph Cattin’s Riesling at only $24. And don’t miss out on trying one the region’s most beloved and influential Zind Humbrecht, the first to practice biodynamics. We have his Pinot Blanc and blend, both about $25. Bubbles, called Cremant here, range from Cattin’s Brut ($18) to our household favorites: Allimant Laugner ($24) and Camille Braun ($25—a favorite of mine, so much so I am serving it at our wedding this fall!)

Jura (July 8)

A region that wins the obscurity contest based solely on the fact that these wines are so damn hard to find, expensive, and honestly not very researched at this point. The same voice for the Savoie—Wink Lorch—has become the voice for the Jura as well. Although the smallest region at 1500 hectares, it is also one of the more complicated. But let’s take a crack at it. Only 80 k east of Burgundy, it is closest in soils and style as you will ever get.

What we have to offer at Little’s is one of the reds from this mysterious region, a Pinot Noir: 2009 Chateau d’Arlay ($22). People joke that the reds here are so light in color that they are often mistaken for roses. Likewise the whites are so dark they are considered amber. Pinot, funny enough, are among the darkest compared to Trosseau and the even lighter Poulsard. Grown on soil remarkably similar to Burgundy, they are a hop, skip and a jump from being mistaken time and again. The delicate, tile-colored reds are high in acid and perfect with alpine cuisine—sausages, rustic casseroles and cheese.

Macon (July 11)

A recovery from the mountains and a rest day to boot, the race will press on through the southern section of the greatest wines on earth (fine, tied with Champagne, Bordeaux and Piedmont—-fair?): Burgundy. Thankfully, a little parcel of peat isn’t as expensive as those from the more northerly Cote d’Or. That parcel is the Maconnais. Here, excepting Beaujolais, you are in the warmest pocket that is famous for its richer, fuller, more modern style Chardonnays. For many, this is their first taste of Burgundy. Remarkably different in character from California Chardonnay, you really should give it a try regardless of your biases towards this popular varietal. And if you love Cali Chard, see what you think about these oft un-oaked beauties. While many are intended for early consumption, one little section is head and shoulders above the rest: Pouilly-Fuisse.

At Little’s, you may try both. We have a range of general Macon Chardonnays, such as the Cave de Buxy ($15), Cave des Grands Saint Veran ($15) and the ever so delightful Domaine Jean Touzot Macon-Villages ($16). You can also take it up a notch and grab the Domaine de la Collogne Gilles Noblet Pouilly Fuisse— we have the half bottle at $16 or the full size 750 ml at $26.

Savoie (July 12)

Back in the mountains we go, welcoming the crisp whites of summer that come along with it! To really appreciate the wines of Savoie, one must close their eyes and visualize the setting. High in the Alpine Mountains, where vineyards climb up either side of the valley, is a wine region that produces wines that taste of place. Crisp, minerally whites and the perky bitter edge of peppery red Mondeuse characterize the wines of Savoie. A French friend once recounted every winter when he and his buddies would pop up to Savoie for world class skiing, throw some Apremont in the snow by the hot tub and enjoy just after coming off the runs. It is the quintessential fondue wine, yes… but so much more. These are pristine, light, reflections of terroir in their finest light. Stretching from Lac Leman in Haute Savoie to the Isere Valley and Chambery , 1800 hectares comprises the Savoie growing region. The best vineyards are steeply terraced and south facing, much like Burgundy’s Cote d’Or or Alsace. ‘Vin de Savoie’ can come from all over the region technically. We have several, from light reds of Mondeuse, crisp Apremonts, and Jacquere from Chinian. They are no more than $15, making it an ideal summer go-to quaffer!

Rhone (July 13)

To be fair, the Tour will mostly be in the northern section this time around, but we are letting it slide, so you can taste the vast difference between the steeply sloped Syrah-loving north and Grenache-glutton south. Driving along the rather short stretch of land which marks the northern Rhone a mere 50 k north of the southern Rhone, you wouldn’t know they were related by name. In fact, one writer noted that all they have in common is a river. And that’s true. You will know you are in the north when suddenly very steep hills emerge from the ground near the river. Vineyards will be terraced all about, making it easy to figure out cardinal directions, for here, only the prominent vineyards of quality are planted on the northern slopes facing south. It is much harsher and cooler here than in the southern Rhone. They sip on the sun, just as we would water in the desert. The best vineyards also seek shelter from the Mistral as we would a tornado in the Midwest. Here, productions are small but treasured, for this region produces some of the most haunting, ageworthy Syrahs you will ever taste.

Pressing on to the South, the most memorable landmark—Mount Ventoux—is home to many a Tour de France stages over the years. A region that is felt, the southern Rhone has a penetrating smell that reflects the garrigue and herbs that characterize its environment. The Mistral is the single-most influential and challenging feature of the Rhone. It is typically going about 50k per hour during the day, sometimes reaching 90k/hr. At night it calms down. As a result, vines are often bush-trained low to the ground. Comes down the Alps and funnels through the Rhone Valley. It can also occur when pressure is high in the Atlantic and low in the Gulf of Genoa. However, in the summer it is merely due to the thermal depression in Provence. Keep this in mind the next time the boys in spandex ride their way through this gorgeous, and challenging piece of France!

Picpoul de Pinet (July 14)

It is always appropriate to start at the beginning. For the Languedoc, it just may be the little ancient ‘Piquepoul’ varietal, a white grape that was noted for its prevalence in the early 1600’s by botanist  JB Maniol. Though by no means an ‘intellectual wine’ to dwell upon, it has a distinct translation of place: the dry warm climate upon rolling hills of limestone amongst perfumed  pine groves and a cool necessary breeze coming off the Mediterranean—a breeze that moderates the heat allowing crisp acid to develop. An enticing terroir alternates between a limestone laden garrigue covered scrubland as well as ancient rock. An interesting fact to dwell upon, this region is bisected by the Via Domitia, a road that links Spain with ancient Rome. North of this route are the famous limestone soils amidst garrigue and pine. South speaking to the gravelly plain in the Mediterranean’s Thau Basin. Here in the basin, cuisine is reflective of its perfect source for shellfish (the natural accompaniment to this lively, bright white!).

Inside the bottle, the Picpoul comes off fresh and vibrant. The color is almost green-yellow in the glass. This wine radiates with citrus fruit and racy acidity. Translation: excellent food pairing, especially with shellfish and goat cheese.  There is also a slight glycerol, round note, too, though that provides the wine the balance it needs to entertain a variety of palates—a trait which really speaks to its popularity in the store. We have two to choose from here at Little’s. One has been here for eternity, and is honestly our best-seller of all time: HB Caves de Pomerols Picpoul de Pinet ($12). If you want to give another guy a try, we recommend the La Domitienne—our newest addition at only $13. Who knows? It may become your new favorite!

Limoux (July 15)

Still hanging around the massive Languedoc region, you will find yourself in the historic regions of Limoux—officially home to the first version of Champagne method ever created in 1541. Limoux, a wondrously pretty green valley, sits in the eastern foothills of the Pyrenees, west of the Corbieres hills. Winds prevail from the collision of Atlantic and Mediterranean influence, giving it slightly more maritime characteristics than the rest of the Languedoc. This area boasts distinct terroir through its rocky terrain of clay, limestone and sand. The unique climate allows for a slow, even ripening season. It was the first sparkling in France, the first AOC in the Languedoc. Due to their fortunate proximity to the Cork Oak forest the south in Cataluna,  it is thought that they were able to get the materials need for flasks allowing for secondary fermentation. Traditionally, Mauzac  (rustic, homey and reminiscent of apple peels and cider) was used as the base grape, but now many are finding that other grapes yield more complex bubbles. Though famous for their bubbles, they are increasingly becoming well known for some of the most complex Chardonnays in all of France, so watch out Burgundy!

We only have one Limoux currently in the store: The J Laurens Brut ($23).  I mean no trace of hyperbole when I says that it is as close as one might get to the real stuff from Champagne itself. This one sees 60% Chardonnay, 30% Chenin Blanc, 5% Mauzac and 5%

Pinot.  It is a tete de cuvee. It wears bright apple and lemon on the nose, but it also loaded with layers of spice and mystery… They have been around for over 80 years trying to get it right.

Gascogne (July 17)

A region that never gets overlooked for the great Tour, nesteld as it is in the massive Pyrenees mountain range, Gascony, as it is sometimes called, offers up on a platter some of France’s most obscure and fascinating wines! Whether the deeply colored Tannats from Madiran or the softly spoken whites of Jurancon and the general region of Gascogne itself, this alpine region boasts much more than merely cheese and foie gras (though those are beyond noteworthy!).

It’s easy enough to try the wine of the month, Lalande Chardonnay ($13)—a yummy alternative to the Maconnais. But for something even more crisp to pair with this wretched heat, perhaps the Domaine de Pouy is for you at $11. Browse the French wines for more inspiration, or settle on a nice bottle of Armangac to do the trick!


While it takes no convincing our customers to fall in love with the likes of Loire’s Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumes, it is less often that we see you all walk out the door with Loire’s other gems from the center of the Valley: Touraine. Here, long-lived, complex Chenin Blanc of Vouvray and tender-hearted, peppery Cab Franc of northern-most subregion of Chinon take center stage. So unique in character are they that they have the ability to take you by surprise, capturing your intrigue in seconds, but having you searching for words of articulation for years.

If you have never met Touraine, it is time. Start with the carefree Sauv Blanc sipper from the organic, thoughtful Thierry Delauney with his Le Grand Ballon ($13)— a playful, crisp white that honors the annual hot air balloon festival in the Loire Valley. For a more complex Sauvignon Blanc, try the Le Clos Les Grandes Vignes while it lasts ($17)—about as close as it gets to their more famous easterly neighbors.

Get your Chenin Blanc affair started with the man who wrote the language of love for this grape: Kermit Lynch’s 09 Champalou Vouvray Sec ($24). Bruised apples, damp cellars, and honeysuckle are just a few things you might find… For a memorable biodynamic producer that has been around longer that the tuffeau soils that characterize this region, try Vigneau Chevreau’s Vouvray Sec. And finally, for a touch of sweetness, grab Domaine des Vodanis Demi-Sec Vouvray ($22). In 2007, Francois Gilet and Nicolas Darraqc joined forces after going their own ways for a bit after oenology school and founded this estate– a 4 ha property that was sold off by the prestigious Domaine Huet. They bought up another 10 ha and proceeded to make the best wine they could off those limestone soils using highly sustainable methods, borrowing often from biodynamic principles and adhering to strict measures of yield restraint for high quality.


And that’s a wrap! Stop by today, if you are in the neighborhood.  Grab your yellow Tour de French Wine card and get drinking! Each featured region gets you 1 bottle at 10% off. Complete all 10, and you will receive 50% off any one bottle of your choice from a featured! Come see why it is our most anticipated promotion all year!











A night of wine, food, the pink jersey & supporting young riders…

cycling, denver restaurants, wine news



A lot of people forget that was has become one of the world’s top professional cycling teams began as a youth development team about9 years ago with a couple of rackety cars and jerseys that matched. It was a team that offered young riders an opportunity to get into the European circuit by starting their careers here. As though overnight, a pro team was born in conjunction with this youth development team.

It certainly takes more to fund a professional team. But its cache and affiliation with such races as the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia make it a little more attractive to sponsors. In the meantime, the young cyclists need you. In fact, they need to raise nearly $30k to exist. Give in a way that gives back to yourself. Next Thursday, June 7th, and join us at Frasca Food & Wine as we come together to support the future of American cyclists. For $500 a seat, you not only get an incredible four-course meal with wine at one of Colorado’s top restaurants, you will also get the chance to take part in an auction of a signed pink jersey from Ryder Hesjedal’s recent victory at the Giro as well as a morning ride with team Garmin-Barracuda’s Christian Vande Velde and Tommy Danielson along with their CEO and former cyclist Jonathan Vaughters. This is a good cause that isn’t half bad for you, too!

The event is limited to 35 people, so reserve today with Frasca at 303.442.6966.

european scribbles: more of the 2011 tour de france.

cycling, French Wine Travel


Days 2-4: The rest of the 2011 Tour. Well…Almost.


The last couple days have fallen through my tight grasp. They are spun into my history now and somewhat unbelievable to recall.


So I finally did arrive to Bardonecchia, Italy on Thursday night after a very weary TGV ride and a thrifty 100 euro taxi from Modane to my destination (missed the last few euro bus by about six minutes). I went through the newly completed Frejus Tunnel– a hinge between France an Italy, it is a phenomenal 13k structure inside the Alpes. We sat down to eat with the team and staff at about 10 pm or maybe later. That has been a theme every night since. Even at these seemingly simple mountain conference style hotels, the food was more than solid. It hit the spot.


The next day we traveled back to Modane for the start of possibly the most famous climb in France: Alpe d’Huez. I was shocked when JV wanted me to ride passenger (with a mechanic in the back, of course, thank God). He and I both knew my terrible relationship with car sickness. Even if it seldom led to, well, ‘sickness’ per se, my body often escaped queeziness by immediately shutting down and invoking sleep. He looked like a kid who just finished learned to ride a bike for the first time, so eager he was–no, so proud–to show me what he does ‘out there’ and on one of the most memorable routes. I couldn’t say no. I was determined to overcome this character flaw.


Within minutes out of town, my eyes began to droop. Damnit! Stop! I cracked a window for fresh air. Ah crap… the bobblehead began. I kept catching myself dozing off, not twenty minutes in the stage. We began the first of three climbs up the Col du Telegraph, named appropriately for its evident use of telegraphs back in the day. It was then that I began to grow alert. Some of our guys were getting up in the breakaway, and we needed to keep up.


Weaving in and out of cars as we trudged up those climbs was an art form. We could never pass the race organizers without a permissable nod, making it a real game of give and take with all the other teams who were trying to get to their men. On the descent, we whizzed down and reminded the boys to eat up, as it is easy to forget as the stage unravels.


The next climb was possibly more daunting to the eye then Alpe d’Huez in hindsight. One switch back after the next, we climbed up the fatal face of Col du Galibier. To my right was a set of mountains that mimicked the ragged ‘teeth-like’ points of the Dentilles in the Rhone. Though the side we climbed was quite barren and sunburned, the back side of the descent was one of the most gorgeous clips of pure poetry I have ever witnessed. The mountains were dripping with wildflowers in full bloom as hundreds of sheep in the distance munched on tall, windswept grass; snow still capped a few naked mountain tops, and waterfalls creeped out in cracks and crannies. It was majestic. It was…


At this point, I realized we were whippin’ down this sensational mountain at about 85k. We were trying to make our way to our tired men with goo and water. Near brushing other cyclists and team cars, we would hover alongside their weary bodies and hand off fuel, zipping ahead to make way for the next car’s duty, all the while taking sharp turns and staying clear of riders. It was a thrill. At one point, I glanced again and the odometer read 100k. No longer was carsickness even on the horizon. Adrenaline had killed it completely. Turns out, I need to constantly watch my life pass before my eyes, and my stomache has other things to worry about than being uneasy.


The stretch of land before the feared Alpe d’Huez was a continuation of wonder. Here, more water fell from the rocks endlessly. The boys were working hard to keep up with the front–to break the time gap and join their club. Tommy D was fueling. Ryder was loading up. Christian was keeping steady and focused. These three knew it was up to them to preserve their top 10 GC spot as well as their #1 team classification.


The march up Alpe d’Huez was narrow. Crowds were screaming the entire 14k to the top. I have never seen so many men in speedos. In all my time living in New York City, I never saw so much public urination as I did that day. One guy wore a slingshot thong. Another actually walked around erect—and fully exposed. These people were nuts. They were drunk. Running out across the path with a death wish. As I worried for the small children in oversized jerseys on their dad’s shoulders, watching not only the epic race but indecent half monkeys running wild, I was more concerned that with 4k to go the road competely closed up. What was going through these peoples’ heads?! Move!!! We had to actually stop. Finally they cleared and we progressed. I am not sure how many feet we ran over that day, but I realize now I feel not one ounce of pity. This was madness.


Tommy gained so much ground on this climb. He deserved to be top 10. As JV said, there is a huge difference between 15th and top 10. They are reserved for the psychologically determined. The strongest mentally to withstand the endurance and pure anguish of this three week race. You have to dig deep and pull it out not just one stage, but each and every without relent.


It was as amazing as you could imagine. We walked that alpine village that evening recounting just how hard those guys worked. They earned what was coming on this final day…today. The time trial sealed the deal, as they maintained their positions.


Today, as I get ready to watch the race roll in from the Embassy, bubbles in hand, I am so proud of Garmin-Cervelo for meeting all their goals this tour (winning team classification, winning the TTT, having a guy in the top 10) and even surpassing some that were not necessarily intended (holding the yellow jersey as long as they did, or even at all). To share in this moment is an honor. It is somehow something more than history. It’s unreal.


Go Team Garmin as you bring it into Paris and drink Champagne on the Champs-Elysees!

Tasting the 2011 Tour de France.

cycling, french wine, French Wine Travel, Wine Blog

My kind of Tour de France...(from:

If last year served as the Tour de France of wine regions for dummies (‘Oh yeah! I’ve heard of Champagne and Bordeaux!’), then this year may be a bit more exciting for the connoisseur (and the pocketbook) as the legendary cycling race speeds past the lesser talked of regions in France. It is a race that that will take you deep into the alps and Pyrenees, along the Mediterranean coastline and Loire River. You will taste wines that reflect the dry hot summers of Languedoc and the crisp cool nights in Savoie.

Sipping through the Tour is a great way to experience each of the regions, without the expense of a physical trip there. So here are my picks that brush the route of this year’s epic race:

1) Cognac—July 2nd

Only the French. What would otherwise be nasty wine, they found a way to turn into high end brandy. Cognac has a long and enticing story. Per usual, it begins with drunken sailors and an accident, but ends with sophisticated, sought-after genius. This twice-distilled, barrel-aged eau-de-vie (made from fruit) has varying levels. All indicate the time in oak. Cognac must be aged at least 2 yrs (indicated by VS on the label), though many are aged longer. VSOP indicates at least 4 years in barrel, while the highest level of XO sees at least 6 years (though most see nearly 20 years!). We have made it easy for you to explore this region. You can either try regular old white wine made from the same grape—Ugni Blanc (but from another nearby region that actually makes it drinkable). Or, you can really throw yourself into the experience and try one of our several Cognacs. Here are some to keep an eye out for:

-Pierre Ferrand


-Paul Beau


-Maison Surrenne

-Ragnaud Gaston Briand (if you have about $1k to spend on a bottle)


-La Lieutenance Liqueur d’Orange (comparable to Grand Marnier…but better and only $17)


2) Loire (Nantais)—July 4th

Surrounded by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and rivers Loire, Sevre and Maine, Muscadet is made to pair with the ‘fruit de mer’: think oysters, clams, mussels and scallops. These wines compare to Chablis with their razorlike acidity and fresh notes of tart apple and pear. Thankfully, they typically wear half the price tag. Here are some awesome examples:

-2009 Domaine Chauviniere Muscadet ($14)

-2005 Chauviniere Granit Chateau-Thebaud ($21)

-2009 Domaine Luneau Papin Muscadet-sur-Lie Pierre de la Grange ($12)

That's teamwork.

3) Touraine—July 8th

This is where all the ageworthy action happens in the Loire. Here, the climate gets considerably continental as we head inland. Though Touraine still sees a bit of the Maritime influence, continental Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume have fully warm summers and cold winters. This makes for very different varietals than the Nantais coast. Here, Chenin and Sauvignon Blanc are kings (or queens, if you prefer). If you desire red, try a Chinon made of the Cab Franc variety.

-2009 Vigneau-Chevreau Vouvray Sec ($21)

-2009 Champalou Vouvray Sec ($22)

-2009 Roger Champault Sancerre ($21)

-2009 Crochet La Croix du Roy Sancerre ($34)

-2009 Laporte Sauvignon Blanc ($20)

-2009 Delaunay Le Grand Ballon Sauvignon Blanc ($13—killer for the price)

-2010 Delaunay Rose ($13—ever tasted a red Chenin?)

-2008 Baumard Chinon ($18)

4) Gascogne—July 14th

If you are a brandy lover, you would revel in the fact that this year’s tour not only hits up big daddy Cognac, but also the more artisanal, earthy Armagnac region of Gascogne. For those who aren’t such sippers, good news. They make much more here besides the strong stuff. In fact, red, white and rose is known to come from this Southwest French region in the Pyrenees. Most popular is the blanc, however. These wines tend to carry a certain, well, ‘je ne sais quoi’, so to speak. Terroir may be simplest way to describe this singular quality. They are often simple, country wines, but they have charm made of beloved local grapes Ugni Blanc, Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng, Colombard, Malbec, and Tannat.

-2009 Domaine de Pouy ($11)

-2009 Domaine de la Dourbie Rouge AND Blanc ($11)

-2007 Chateau Laffitte-Teston ‘Ericka’ Petit/Gros Manseng ($25)


5) Languedoc—July 17th

The largest wine producing region in the world, comprised mostly of cooperatives, the Languedoc offers just about every kind of wine for every palate at often very affordable prices. Thankfully the ‘Vin de Pays’ system of regulations have made this southern Mediterranean region really up their standards of quality, making it now one of the most sought after places if you are desiring the rare combo of value and character in a bottle. The Mediterranean tempers what would otherwise be a very hot, unmanageable climate—it is, in fact the hottest and most arid parcel in all of France! Picking up just about where Gascogne left off, the Languedoc is pretty large, stretching the length of the coast to Provence and the Rhone. They have a nice long growing season and benefit from large scale production. We have a bunch of wines from the Languedoc to choose from. Here’s a sample of some…

-2010 HB Picpoul de Pinet ($12)

-2009 Les Jamelles Syrah ($11)

-2010 Domaine du Grand Chemin Rose ($11)

-2010 Chateau Fontanes Rose ($15)


6) Minervois/Corbieres—July 17th

Yes, it’s true. Minervois and Corbieres are technically within the Languedoc, but their quality and status really warrants them to have their own category for exploration independent of the rest of this region. To overlook them would be a shame, for they give the Languedoc complexity and prestige in a way that perhaps some simpler country wines do not. Excellence does not always equate to price. The following will demonstrate that.

-2008 Saine Eulalie Rouge AND Rose Minervois: ($14)

-2008 Chateau d’Oupia Minervois ($12)

-2009 Les Heretiques ($10)

-2007 Domaine Faillenc Sainte Marie Corbieres ($19)

-2008 Domaine Fontsainte ($16, On sale: $13)


7) Provence—July 19th

At the edge of the Languedoc there lies a little region that does not boast the most age-worthy of wines, but possibly the most poetic and…pink. Rose wine is famous here. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone sipping anything but pink wine on a hot summer day at a local cafe. This region is also famous for its incredible herbs and vast fields of grapes and sunflowers. It is a stunning piece of France, if you ever get the chance to take a holiday here. This summer, if you can’t, you can at least sip it into existence in those late afternoons on the porch, just before the sun sets. That’s when it tastes best! Here are a few we recommend (plus a couple that are white and red as well):

-2010 Bieler Pere et Fils Rose ($12)

-2010 Andrieux & Fils Cotes de Provence Rose ($14)

-2010 Triennes Rose & Viognier ($17)

-2005 Le Galantin Bandol ($24)

-2009 Chateau Miraval Clara Lua Blanc ($20)

-2007 Chateau du Rouet Esterelle ugni Blanc ($14)

-2008 Le Pigeoulet en Provence Rouge ($19)

8) Savoie—July 21st 

We were there once last year, and we are back in those mountains once again! Think alpine skiing and yummy fondue! That’s what comes to mind when I sip on Savoie. Ironically, it is almost better in summertime, though, than it is when it’s snowing, unless you truly are making a big, warm, melty vat of gruyere! These are crisp, acidic, delightful wines that would be perfect if you’re firing up the grill and throwing on seafood!

-2010 Vullien Vin de Savoie ($12)

-2008 Perrier Mondeuse de Savoie ($16)

-2009 Perrier Vin de Savoie Apremont ($14)

-2009 Giachino Savoie ($13–tastes like Chablis at a fraction of the cost)

9) Northern Rhone—July 22nd

So often, customers stop by the shop wanting wines from Cotes du Rhone, but it’s much less so that they ask upon the great region just 50 miles to the north. As opposed to its Grenache-driven counterpart to the South, the cooler Northern Rhone is fond of Syrah. In fact, most appellations within this ageworthy region require their wines be almost entirely Syrah, with the occasional dollop of white Viognier to give their reds a pretty color. That said, they are also famous for their whites of Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. These wines fetch a pretty penny, so they aren’t daily sippers for most. That said, phenomenal bargains can be found in Crozes-Hermitage and St. Joseph.

-2004 Betts & Scholl Hermitage ($80, on sale: $60!)

-2006 Gaillard Saint Joseph ($47, on sale for $44!)

-2010 Cuilleron Syrah ($20)

-2006 Domaine Courbis Saint Joseph Blanc ($17)

-2008 Etienne Pochon Crozes-Hermitage ($23)


10) Southern Rhone—July 23rd 

We finish our tour in a region of variety and intrigue. It is a rare person who cannot be satisfied and mystified by the Southern Rhone. Their styles, grapes and prices range so greatly, the novice and connoisseur are equally enraptured with this hot, rural region. Their vineyards are a patchwork of pudding stones—large smooth rocks instead of dark soil are what you will find at the base of the knobby, bushy Grenache ‘trees’, if you will. Some of the most endearing, soul-warming dishes are made in the Rhone, dishes that reflect hard work, patience, fiscal conservatism and pride. If I could describe the people and wines of this region, those would be the descriptors that first come to mind. Push yourself to try something new from this region. The options are many!

-2006 Chateau Correnson Lirac ($20)

-2009 Domaine des Rozets Coteaux du Tricastin ($10)

-2008 Chateau des Tours Cotes du Rhone ($34)

-2008 Domaine du Gour de Chaule

(de-classified) Gigondas ($21)

-2010 Domaine de Lanzac Tavel Rose ($16)

-2007 Domaine la Boutiniere Chateauneuf du Pape ($30)

-2007 Chateau les Quatre Filles Cotes du Rhone ($13)

-2009 Cassan Ventoux ($14)

-2007 Raspail-Ay Gigondas ($34)

-2006 Chateau de Fonsalette Cotes du Rhone ($68)

If you happen to be in the Denver area, stop by and sip through the Tour. You will get a yellow card with 10 regions to taste at 10% off a bottle. If you finish, you get 50% off any bottle of your choice from qualified regions.

Enjoy this year’s Tour… and go Garmin-Cervelo!!

Tour de French Wine: for the sipping cyclist

cycling, french wine, Wine Blog, Wine Travel

Cycling and wine.  They seem to pair about as well as peanut butter and jam.  But why?  Perhaps it is the proximity to the pastoral times of yore, or the accessibility of both to those of all shapes, sizes, ability and age (okay…not all ages).  Asking a former Tour de France cyclist, he responded that possibly it was the individual, silent pursuit of both that intrigued him so much—that eccentricity was actually rewarded for each.  Some of the best wine trips involve cycling.  You not only see but also taste the culture you are visiting—a true immersion, a most memorable pairing.  This month, get the most out of the Tour de France by tasting through its stages, which will be going through the country’s best wine regions.  If you can’t actually be there, what better way to experience than to taste the route itself?

If you live in Denver, stop on by my shop (Little’s Wine & Spirits near the University of Denver, 2390 South Downing, 303.744.3457) and grab a yellow card, where you will receive 15% off a bottle from every region (10 total).  Finish the race, you win some wine!  Plus, on days the tour goes through a wine region, tell us who won the stage by the next day, and we’ll take 20% off a bottle from that region.

If you are not in the area, go to your favorite wine shop and set yourself up for the challenge.  It’s a fun way to partake in all the lovely regions this historical race intends to pass through this month!

To begin, July 7th: Champagne.  The word alone inspires a sense of  pedigree, prestige and nobility.  Its history runs long, even proceeding the medieval era.  No matter the century, Champagne’s allure and acknowledged exceptional status above other bubbly has wavered little.  It is difficult not to spend the entirety of this issue poring over its particularities, but in respect for France’s other incredible wines you will get to know, I will truncate Champagne’s raison d’arte to one word, one source: soil.  This chalky, belemnite, fossil-laden soil that come to compose the bleak, dreary fields of Champagne are the reason they produce the most untouchable, superior bubbles in the world.

Next stop: the Maconnais on the 9th, one of five major regions of production in Burgundy.   It sits just above Beaujolais in the southern portion of the Burgundian map and is known primarily for its whites (about 90% is Chardonnay).  This pocket of Burgundy tells the story of limestone, the warmth of the sun, and fresh, pure Chardonnay.  I’ve always been a fan of the lesser expensive 2007 Drouhin St. Veran ($17) or 2008 Cave de Grands Crus Blanc St. Veran ($14) to experience the rounder notes of apple and pear.  If you like a leaner, more mineral-driven style with higher acid, try any of the biodynamic 2008 Dominique Cornin line. Or, if you are in the mood for something a little more special, consider the 2006 Daniel et Martine Barraud ‘La Roche’ ($29) drinking beautifully now with rich notes of toasted hazelnuts and savory scents of earth.  The 2006 Ferret Pouilly-Fuisse is a very traditional, ageworthy Fuisse, while the 2007 Cave de Grands Crus Blanc Pouilly Fuisse ($23) is a fresher, fruitier style.

I also recommend you sample some Beaujolais, as the tour will skim through this piece of Burgundy as well.  This is a region that is often scoffed at and associated with plonk Thanksgiving Nouveau.  But it is not.  People have overlooked some incredible values from their top Crus (10 total), not the least of which Ruet’s ‘05 Brouilly ($20) and Clos de la Roilette’s floral, peaty ‘06 Fleurie ($21).  If you like Pinot Noir, you will undoubtedly like these.

Alpine-bound, we will be fortunate to stop in the Savoie. Known for its first rate skiing and savory fondue, this region also boasts of dry, acid-driven, lean, clean wines—both red and white.  I absolutely love the 2008 Dom. Jean Vullien ‘Montemelian’ at only $11.99.  Try also the Perrier line, which include a Pinot Noir ($13.99), Mondeuse($16) and Apremont ($14) made of the  Jacquere grape.  If you are thinking Perrier water, you are onto something.  This is the same family that brings you delicious, non-alcoholic, re-hydrating bubbles.  If having Fondue or Raclette party, there is no other wine more appropriate that those from the Savoie!

If you tuned in to last month’s lengthy entries, no need to prattle on about the next couple areas in the South of France, which include Vaucluse, Ventoux, the Languedoc and even a touch of the Northern Rhone.  If you didn’t happen to discover them last month, try try again during this month’s tour.  They start as little as $9.99 with the Cave de la Romaine Ventoux and cap out at in the $100’s, especially if you land on Hermitage (Chave classically one of my favorites when I can sneak a sip), though you’ll be delighted to learn there are dozens under $20, such as the quirky, funked out red and white Le Pigeonaire ($10.99), the elegant cherry-kissed, earthy Domaine de la Damase ($12.99), the jammy, bbq perfect Grand Chemin Rouge ($10.99) and their light-footed Rose in a Gris style($9.99).

Finally, to bookend the tour by complimenting its prestigious beginning of bubbly Champagne, we end this 3-week long meal with the delicate whites, hearty reds and sticky sweet Sauternes of Bordeaux.  A region far too complex in history, variety and culture to really understand within the confines of a paragraph or two, there are a few things you should know about Bordeaux.


For one, there is a left bank and a right.  The Cab-driven reds lie on the left (like Haut-Medoc, Margaux, Pauillac, St. Julien, St. Estephe and Graves), where the softer more youthfully accessible Merlot-driven reds sit on the right (St. Emilion and Pomerol, namely).  Dry whites made of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are also found here, not the least of which Graves, such as the endlessly interesting 2008 Lacoste Graves ($20). I am sometimes amazed at the quality you get per dollar with that one.  To get a sense of these herbaceous, mineral-kissed whites, also try the 2007 Chat. Thieuly ($17) and the 2007 Chat. Peyruchet ($12), especially if you are preparing some herb butter sole or goat cheese with chives.

Bordeaux is also famous for its honeyed, age worthy, botrytis-affected desserts wines.  If you have never taken the time to get to know the sweeter side of wine or hold some prejudice, I dare you to relax and take a sip.  I am certain you will fall just as deeply in love with stickies as I have.  Sauternes are particularly famous for their ability to achieve balance with acid and sugar—the perfect duo to avoid flabby, cloying, sugary sweet messes of wine.

So mix it up this July and allow yourself to interact with the most famous bicycle race in the world.  Imagine, while watching highlights at night, you can actually see the region you are tasting in your own living room.  Now that’s the kind of Tour de France I’m talkin’ about.

desire is…swiss wine.

cycling, Wine Blog, Wine Travel

It’s funny.  By definition, desire invokes a want—a need, almost—for that which is unobtainable.  The more difficult to have or understand something, the greater the desire to grasp “it.”

For wine geeks, this often comes in the form of knowledge, an eccentric wine or a coveted vintage from a famous producer.  The former two seem to epitomize the recent surge of interest in America for Swiss wine.  One wine writer even referred to Swiss wine as “the best wine you’ve never tasted”.[1] Little is exported (less than 2%), therefore everyone loves to drop the fact that they tried one here or there.  When a wine is fairly uncharted territory, it becomes the icon of possibility for mastery in the eyes of the wine geek.

Well.  I have had a chance to try some of this forbidden fruit during my short stay in Valais—Switzerland’s primary wine country—and have come to an assessment for myself.  Like many alpine wine regions, there is certainly charm one can approximate from its juice—a terroir that sounds of minerality, bright but still restrained fruit, white pepper, balanced alcohol and noticeable acidity.   But none were as complex as some other similar regions boast, those like, say, the acclaimed German and Austrian appellations of the Mosel, Rheingau, Pfalz or Wachau.  Nor did they share the pronounced personalities found in the French regions of Savoie and the Alsace.  They were more than pleasant, intriguing even… but not as intellectual or complex as so many sippers in the States have zealously advertised.

What makes a fantastic wine—even a noteworthy wine—is purely subjective.  What makes an exceptional wine, however, is a little less so.  To be an extraordinary wine depends on many factors—acid, tannin, length, ageworthiness, oak, vinification, alcohol and the overall character (some might even strive for that oh so indescribable stamp of terroir).  In this sense of the definition, I found possibly only one exceptional wine.  However I am delighted to report that there are several fantastic, noteworthy finds from Valais.

Throughout dinner two nights ago, I was able to sample an array of grapes and producers from this small mountain village, which is scattered as far as the eye can see with near vertical vineyards on jagged, steep hillsides.  Valais, in fact, holds some of the highest altitude vineyards than any other wine region in Europe.  I had some simple, fruity whites made of Fendant (commonly known elsewhere as Chassalas) and Johannisberg (commonly known as Silvaner) as well two rather thin Pinot Noirs (one from Chavalier Bayard, the other unnamed)—decent fruit but wholly unsubstantial with regard to character.  I also sampled a Syrah, which had a very animalistic tone to it—furry, bloody and even a bit chewy.  The producer was Orsat—the same as the one I alluded to in my last posting.  Though it was certainly spunky and appealing, it had a universal flavor.  It spoke less of Valais and more of Syrah in general.  In this way, I was actually drawn to the Pinots more, purely due to the fact that they fit in with the food and its environment.  (The food, by the way, was a simple breaded perch from Lac lu Monde served with tartar sauce and pommes frites.)

Yesterday, I happened upon a ‘vinotheque’ in town called Espace Provins where a German-speaking woman named Cecile Pernet (who knew no English) and I (who knew, well…next to nothing), haphazardly bumbled through a hilarious wine tasting in some variation of French.  For the whites, Cecile walked me through the 2008 Grand Metral Fendant (above all floral and fruity, not high in acid or structure), the 2008 Grand Metral Chardonnay (rich brioche, hazelnuts and ripened apple fruit, a touch of lime zeston the palate), and a blend of Pinot Blanc, Marsanne, Heiola and Amigne in the 2008 Matre de Chais Vielles Vignes, which proved to be the most interesting of the dry whites, giving off a briny character of olives, wet stone and oak spice.  It demonstrated aging potential and was reminiscent of some of the Italian whites I have tried from Campania—savory, salty, and needing fleshy fish.

The reds were similarly drinkable.  Rather light and fruity introductory reds to start—one of Pinot Noir and the other of the Humagne Rouge variety—perfect for aperitifs, fish and light cheeses.  We then moved on to a more serious Pinot Noir.  It had a little age on her, as it was from 2007.  It smelled of the earth, wet soil and mushrooms.  It reminded me of Burgundy, which is always a good thing.  And though it lacked the overall structure and complexity to rival with that comparison, its acidity and tannin told me it would hang in for several more years.  It was interesting how going back to the other reds after tasting this one made them appear so much more jammy and sweet on the nose!

I finished on a sweet note—an exceptional note, really.  It was the 2005 Maitre de Chais Grains de Malice.  This dessert wine was the product of Marsanne and Pinot Gris.  It wore a lovely, dark golden robe in the glass.  On the nose, one might be surprised at the savory, briny olive bite it presented.  I was.  For what followed was almost unbelievable.  It was so honeyed and sweet, though the clean-up on the back palate declared it had a good balance of acid.  Salty then sweet.  Sounds obscure in a wine, but really it’s no less fantastic than kettle corn or salted cookies and cream ice cream (just had that at the Little Man in Denver—oh…my… god….good).  So that’s what exceptional Swiss wine tasted like.  Well, exception deserves a place in the suitcase (note: I write this from the plane, hoping it is not breaking below me in the baggage section all over my clothes).

Though I only tried a handful of wines, I learned that although I walked away with only a glimpse of Swiss viniculture, the glimpse was promising.  And while I would gladly carry some Swiss wine in my store, should it eventually be imported and brought into Colorado, I will continue poring over the sensational global wines we do already have access to (an incredible amount I am so thankful for considering we are a state in the ‘middle’) and not continue to pine for that which I cannot have… right now, anyhow.


Refosco: rosé with a little funk.

cycling, food pairing, Italian Wine, Wine Travel

As many of you know, I am sucker for interesting rosé.  Well, rosé of all kind, really… but the ones that cause a pause—that demonstrate considerable complexity—really steal my heart.

One such wine found itself in my glass last night at Napa & Co. in Samford Connecticut—a brief overnight away from New York City.  The rosé was a 2008 Bastianich from Friuli, Italy.  Though I often reserve the terms ‘pretty’, ‘elegant’ and ‘fun’ for rosé, this was quite another animal altogether.  It was made entirely of the Refosco varietal–a grape that finds itself in northeastern Italy, Slovenia, and Istria.  Rather than delicate, such as traditional rosés from Provence for example, this hearty rosé had guile—a presentation of earthy fungi, minerality and briny bitterness on the finish.

In short, she had some funk.


This rosé called for food.  Seafood.  Perhaps lobster, seared scallops or king crab.   I was struck by its almost orange-tinted, deep rose-colored hue.  It was not a fragile creature to pass by the sun-kissed hours of summer.  This muscular wine was built to last for years in the bottle.  In fact, a little research about this wine revealed that four to ten years or so allows this wine to come into a very floral expression.  A curious rosé this one was…

I am having difficulty finding out if I can get it in Colorado.  The importer: Dark Star Imports, out of New York, doesn’t seem to make it so far west.  But we’ll see… In the meantime, now, if I ever see Refosco rosé on a menu again, I know what I’ll be getting into…gladly.

barbaresco…eh, it’s okay…

cycling, food pairing, Italian Wine, Wine Travel

The 1995 Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano di Nieve was more than just okay.  It was riveting.

This might be the best wine I have tasted this year.  It was one of those wines that managed to make you a little emotional, stop your breath, drown out the sounds…

I was sipping this wine with five others at Barolo Grill in Denver on 6th, one of my favorite eateries in town.  We were enjoying a six-course meal, which incorporated the white truffle we brought back from Piemonte.  With the Giacosa, wewere first served an asparagus dish prepared with an egg sunny side up and cream sauce with a sprinkling of truffles on top.  Following, we had a pasta dish with fresh porcini mushrooms and truffles.

Ryan Fletter, the sommelier who poured this wine and organized such a lovely dinner, was visibly vibrating with excitement.  He had a preview of the Giacosa a few weeks back and was beside himself in anticipation of our reaction.  He reminded us all that over 80% of our taste was in the nose.  A good wine, you can pore over for minutes, even hours, before bringing it to your lips.

This was the perfect example.

Drawing that glass to my nose made my knees go weak (luckily, I was seated).  A complex arrangement of fungi, leather, minerals, and spice vied for primary attention.  Within minutes they all relented to collapse into one another, blending into a harmonious bouquet.  On the palate, all was confirmed, and the acid was incredibly balanced and pronounced.

For Piemonte, 1995 was not an incredible vintage.  But it was not disastrous either.  The lesser producers vary in quality, but top producers, like Giacosa, were more than able to make incredible wines.

Holding that last sip in my mouth, I resisted the final swallow.  Wines like these you don’t want to say goodbye to… wines like these may you feel lucky…wines like these reignite your passion for the vine.

Luckily this wine’s finish was much like a good high school love—the kind where you try to get off the phone and get some sleep, but it takes minutes on end… The initial goodbye is more a preparation than anything else.  It lingers and fades, allowing you to absorb its fullest expression… its unforgettable impression on the senses.