euro scribbles on the cutest place on earth: eguisheim, alsace.

french wine, French Wine Travel, organic wine, Wine Blog, Wine Travel

I have taught classes on Alsace many times, explaining this magical place from what I had read in books, seen in pictures and learned from others’ experiences. Never could I have prepared myself for what I saw with my own eyes.

The Haut-Rhin department of Alsace, south of Strasbourg and certainly the best area for grapegrowing, is stacked with cute then cuter villages, one after the next. Not a mile goes by before you enter another enchanted little town. They love their flowers! You feel immersed in them as they drip from each window box, dangle from street posts and erupt from hundreds of pots around town. The uneven two story houses glue together were off all shapes and colors, held together by hand hewn logs. As though a community of munchkins or oomp loompas conspired to create a paradise to call home, it felt I was walking through a candyland dream.

Every step inspired a genuine need to shout ‘cute!’ or ‘adorable!’. Even I was sick of me after an hour or so. We walked around the town of Colmar to get our bearings. Everyday townspeople and tourists alike filled the streets, strolled past the markets, took boats down the canal and dipped into shops. There was a terrific energy to this second largest town in Alsace. We had a little tarte flambee and continued our tour. We noticed the time, and worked our way back to the car to make our appointment with Emile Beyer in Eguisheim, not 15 minutes away.

When I say Christian Beyer was one of the more gracious and generous people to walk the earth, I fear I still underestimate him. He greeted us in his home and presented to us an itinerary of sorts. “First, I take you around the village? It’s okay? Then a walk through the winery? Then into my vineyards for a look at the various vines? Then we will come back to taste? Finally, my wife and I want to take you to dinner? It’s okay?”

Yes. Yes, that is okay. It truly is above and beyond anything I have had a winemaker offer to do. Especially when he doesn’t really know us at all.

So we were off. He took us through this old village of Eguisheim and discussed its history. He has carried the torch of a winery that has been in the Beyer family for 14 generations. You can tell this is something he values very much. Being the youngest of 4 children, it is a wonder that he was so fortunate to end up with this estate. And curious, too. Why didn’t his two older brothers or sister take it over themselves? It is a question I don’t ask, but I suspect it is to do with the French law/tax that doesn’t make inheritance so glamourous. You have to want it. And that, Christian does.

He walks us through the old church and steeple. He explains the significance of the medieval decor and preserved relics, one that depicts a picture of the fortunate souls who wait for the second coming.. and those of the less fortunate who are impatient and therefore left with empty goblets.

As we continue down the windy, cobbly roads, it is all I can do to laugh outloud. Everything appears perfect in this village. Elder women swing open their colorful windows to wash between the woodwork and shout a friendly ‘bonjour!’ Children giggle as they play hide and go seek. I even catch a teenage boy wink at a young girl as he hops on his bicycle. Seriously people. That’s the land I was in for 24 hours.

Christian points out thinks I would never have noticed–old German sayings etched in the brick, the dates of establishment above each doorway, and even the massive nest that are wedged into chimney shoots beneath large storks that represent mascots in their land. Yep. Storks.

The smiley sausage girl bids us good day, the girl next door sweetly motions to her fromage. My senses are tickled and beyond overstimulated. But sensory stimulation is a drug to me. There is a reason I went into wine, you see.

As I hear the church bells sound and observe a peaceful fountain in the town square, I go to pinch myself, but it makes no difference. It all is still there after I mentally utter: ow. This is a place where people live. I have set a new goal in my mind: move to Eguisheim one day, even if for only a few months.

After a tour of his winery, his incredibly variant vineyard sites (that are managed organically) and a sampling of his wines (all of which are far above their price in terms of quality and length), we head back to our simple, lovely hotel: Auberge Alsacienne, just up the road from the winery. We change quickly and walk with him to a little brasserie in the town square. Here at Restaurant Caveau Heuhaus you can see Chuck Berry’s old companion, Jimmy Bock, playing up a storm in their cabaret.

The menu is very traditional, the food is good, and our hosts crack open a Riesling from their Pfersigberg vineyard. The acid was incredibly fresh– a youth entering its teens, this Riesling has a way to go. Most of their single vineyard Rieslings, in a good vintage, can go well beyond 20 years. The other day we visited Zind Humbrecht, one of the region’s best (if not BEST) producers, and although we didn’t get a chance for a formal tour, it was still very apparent in their lineup that this longevity is not so surprisingly uncommon in Alsace from great growers.

Our jolly old times had to come to a close eventually, which was probably good as a little too much eau de vie ended in a colleague terribly mixing his French with Spanish–shouting ‘señor’ at the waiter… as I nearly died. Our (‘amigo’) hosts were only to quick to understand our American shortcomings when attempting a second language. I admit, it can be difficult to recall words well when your brain has been wired with one second language already. It seems I know more Spanish now than a few years ago, merely because I am exercising it to understand a third one.

In the morning I wake, breathe in the wet cobble stones on my run, and take in the scent of the dew that clings stubbornly to the vines on the the hillside vineyards underneath the threatening glare of the rising sun. I am definitely sad to leave this wonderland. Thankfully, next on the plate is a another day or two with my guy followed by the most amazing wine region on the planet: Burgundy. After an aperitif of Champagne to begin this trip, followed by remarkable whites, I am craving a little red…

By the time I am back from my run, the ever more stubborn sun consumes the remaining dew, takes the rose glass effect down a notch, and I am ready to press onward with this unbelievable ride.

Geeking out yet again: 7th Annual Wine Geek Dinner 2012

Biodynamic, Bubbles, cheese, cooking, Uncategorized, Wine Blog

This has been the second year I have been fortunate to attend the incredible Wine Geek Dinner, put on by my dear friend and part owner of Elysium Fine Wines, Trevor Martin (aka my Lopez de Heredia dealer). Each year he slaves away for literally days before this event, prepping the dishes and scribbling like a madman on his tattered menu that is scotch-taped to his kitchen cabinet. He goes to such lengths to pull this off in a way that might have you thinking you were surely at a 3-star Michelin restaurant rather than a humble garden level apartment in the Highlands. While he is busy ordering a 7 lb wheel of the stinkiest Muenster months out, our job as the lucky few guests is to pair his six course creation. At this point we strive to find bottles that are either quirky, thought-provoking and/or dusty.

What I found most interesting this year was that out of 13 bottles, we only had 2 reds. Bubbles, oxidized wines, old whites and fortifieds were coincidentally what all us geeks wanted to play with this year–it is a trend toward whites that I have been observing this whole last year. I am curious as to what that’s all about. I thought it was just me, but it most certainly is not.

I always love to give a little play-by-play to those who are curious. So here you are, my friends. Le menu avec les vins:

Image

Puff Pastry, Fava, Asparagus, Mushroom-Meunster Cream, Baby Shoots

’93 Nikolaihof Vinothek GV & a ’06 Helfrich Grand Cru Steinklotz Riesling

My eyes feasted on this first course as much as my tongue–the first ever in the history of WGD to be 100% vegetarian. An absolute cinch with the ’93 Nikolaihof Gruner Veltliner, this garden fresh starter was met with remarkable acidity and depth. This defined a truly sensational pairing, where both the food and its wine were made even more incredible when fused together. It was though my mouth became a magnifying glass. Such bliss.

The Riesling was outstanding. More than anything, it held its own with a rather tricky dish when one think of the vegetal compounds that can mess with wine. It was not enhanced, perhaps… but more importantly, it was not hurt by the dish. It was exquisite from the first taste to the last.

Butter Poached Lobster, English Pea Puree

1990 Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle Alexandria Rose

It is always such a treat to sip on old bubbles, especially when it is as lovely as the Grand Siecle. A honeyed salmon hue, the bubbles were far from gone. Tiny and fierce, those bubbles raced to the surface with awe-inspiring persistence.

 

                                         Garlic Pork Sausage, Flageolets, Chicory                                                                                                

                                ‘09 Clos Cibonne Tibouren Cotes de Provence                     ‘                                                 ’98 San Lorenzo Verdicchio 

Holding the hyperbole, this was still one of the best plates of pork and beans I have ever tasted. This homemade sausage brought out a little fruit that was silent on its own in the legendary Tibouren– a grape that inspired Andre Roux to rip up the Mourvedre in the ’30’s for Tibouren’s natural place in Provence. It had geek all over it. Very cool wine. I could stare at that playful label all day long. The ’98 Verdicchio was one of my contributions. Man, that was cool. This wine spends 9 years on its lees in steel and cement, then an additional year in the bottle. One might be shocked it sees no wood. Picked only in the best years from vines that bear a couple bunches of fruit, this wine only amounts to 2700 bottles. We won’t see it again until 2001 is released… in a couple years.

Colorado Rack of Lamb, Grains, Spring Vegetables, Mache, Natural Jus

’04 Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Brunello di Montalcino & ’82 Borgogno Barolo Riserva

Need I say much? This lamb was cooked to perfection. The Brunello was a bit young–but honestly, who cares. It was pretty lip-smacking with its sexy strength. The Barolo? I am biased, see… That is my birth vintage. I am quite proud of that fact. I have been lucky to try this one before about a year ago. Both times have been remarkably different, but both so very good. It reminds me that wine is very much a living, evolving thing. Unpredictable and multifaceted.

Les Fromages

A.E. Dor Pineau des Charentes 50 year

Stuffed to the brim and aching, I couldn’t resist the assortment of cheese to mop up a beauty of a fortified he had on the table. We began to open a couple others as cheese turned into strawberry crepes. We try a 2004 Piazzano Vin Santo, a 2006 Tre Monti Casa Lola Passito from Emilia Romagna and finally a ’92 Scheurebe from Lingenfleder in the Pfalz. Scheurebe, by the way, is the illegitamate cross of Riesling with some unknown varietal, according to a fellow geek. Very technical.

We are all a little starry-eyed at this point, but we don’t care. The name of the game is total, ridiculous indulgence for one night a year. And what a way to do it.

an evening with travis scarborough: a washington francophile at heart.

washington wine, Wine Blog, Wine Education

Just a few short days ago, I was invited to attend a dinner at Bittersweet hosted by Scott Thompson, the owner of Sauce Distributing. By his side was a winemaker I have wanted to shake hands with since the moment I learned of his project in Tukwila, Washington: Travis Scarborough of Scarborough Wines. Bearing a name with such weight and distinction, I can safely say he has done the family proud.

Every now and again, a wild hair can go a long way. That is precisely how this winery started—a crazy, far-flung notion that perhaps he had what it takes to make wine in a way no one really had in Washington. He wanted to make it, well, a little more Euro. By that, I mean that he wanted to put terroir and the variety itself up on a pedestal, not obscuring its sensational self with filtration or gobs of oak. And so he did, along with buddy Darryn O’Shea who has recently left to take on his own new adventure.

A native born Napa boy, Scarborough recalls moving to Washington in order to spread his wings. He was a full time accidental bartender/beverage manager at a French restaurant while working full time as a distributor as well when it occurred to him that he had a few more hours in his day to take on winemaking. Who needs sleep? Overrated when you are a young, ambitious buck! After a recent visit back home, he was disappointed with the vogue ‘hang time’ and new oak that sat between him and the wine. However, he was inspired to give winemaking a try. All his readings of Cornas and Bordeaux had him thinking there was a need for something a little different in the Evergreen state.

And so, it began with a garage. And it still goes on in a garage of sorts. He picks his plots with utmost scrutiny. As he said, land of his own would be a very sweet thing… but it ain’t cheap. Not every day do I come across garagistes with such passion and true talent as Scarborough. But man, he has it. The following are a few sips from that night…

2009 Desolation Chardonnay

If you think you know domestic Chardonnay, you will need to recalibrate your perception. Herein lies a wine that saw ½  used oak, ½ stainless steel for fermentation then reunited in used barrel on contact with their lees for 18 months. Racked only twice, this wine gains its rich bodice from that lees intervention that occurs. No malo—something Scarborough is quite quick and proud to point out. The balance is exquisite. Truly silk on the palate.

2009 Midnight ‘MSG’

They like to kid about the normally spelled GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) blend that goes into this red. I have to say. I have had many from both Washington and California. But not all are as memorable as this one. Harvested from young, rocky vineyards in Yakima Valley, this wine is a combination of 40% Mourvedre (giving it some beautiful aromatics of crushed rose, blueberries and smoked game), 40% Grenache (providing some heat, tart cranberries and rich ripe cherries and raspberry), and 20% Syrah (a nice touch to give it a little structure and presence across the board along with some distinctive notes of black pepper). While were having this wine, he discussed the importance of barrel integrity—how he meticulously tests each one after every racking. He gets to know them very well—as well as the wine. This is a detail that is often overlooked but critical in Scarborough’s opinion.

2009 Royal

A blend of Merlot (32%), Cabernet Franc (25%), Cab Sauv (24%) and Petite Verdot (19%), this blend is built to make you swoon. At least, it got me to that night. Deep plummy notes and cocoa hug the core, but interlaced are dark petaled floral tones and red, ripe fruit. It is an easy wine, but not overly simple. Scarborough feels it is best out of the gate, whereas some others need a little time to come out of their shell. I would have to agree that of the lineup, this was the chattiest that evening. A crowd pleaser without being compromising in character or elegance.

2009 Main Event

This one is made to age…and impress. For the big red drinker in your life, this is how you introduce them to Scarborough and his style of winemaking. For although it was the heaviest hitter of the evening, this red by no means crosses the line that so easily turns these hefty boys into flabby, uninteresting men. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (76%), Merlot (16%) and Petite Verdot (8%), Scarborough says if the Royal was his ‘Right Bank’ red, then this would be his ‘Left Bank’ alternative. I have always gravitated towards the right, so I must admit, I was a little more into the Royal. That’s how it’s supposed to be, though. Ask me to retry these in 5 years, and I bet I go the other direction.

But honestly? It was the Chardonnay and MSG really won me over. At least that night.

Thankfully, nutty notions such as Sacrborough’s get our country to move forward with creative, dynamic and diverse winemaking. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for a big, fruity oak bombs of wine (I think?). But they verge on all being clones of one another. One cannot discern if the wine is Central Coast or Mendocino, St. Helena or Walla Walla. And that’s a problem. What’s the point in the end? The most resonant thing Scarborough said that night was this: “I want to taste what the vineyard and vintage will do from year to year.” Take the good with the bad—that is life and that truly is the meaning of bottling a vintage.

Some people like to tease me that I am a Francophile. Truth is, I derive as much pleasure from wines like those of Scarborough, as I do those across the pond. The common denominator is that I can smell a sense of place…and passion. It is that personality I remember that makes an impression on me. The fact that there might be more in Europe at this point is just how it is. But damn, I get excited when I can discover how Washington, California and Oregon truly ‘taste’ through thoughtful wines like Scarborough’s.

the beauty of the half bottle.

Wine Blog, wisconsin

Bigger is better. At least, that was what I learned growing up in the country farms turned ‘burbs of Wisconsin, where every other mom drove an SUV and weekends often involved a trip to Sam’s Club for behemoth tubs of cheese puffs and frozen lasagna. Little did I know that my life would see the full spectrum–from Jumbo packs of processed food to the current locavore fanaticism that has consumed culture. When I was young, my options were red, yellow or green when it came to which apple I wanted in my lunch. Now, I can choose from Jazz, Pink Lady, Honeycrisp or Gala. To know the difference isn’t so much an art as it is an expectation. Bulk items no longer refer to 20 pack bundles of Ramen; they now involve pretty plastic bins of nuts, grains and flour in hopes to reduce waste.

Out of habit, my first years of college had me reaching for a huge cart at the store, as though I were feeding an army. But with time, and a stint living in New York City, I slowly changed my ways, as did the world around me, it seemed. Hand baskets became vogue, as did shopping only for what you needed for the next 48 hours. Fresh, local and artisinal is the way now. And while it is certainly healthier, it seems, my pocketbook is happier, too. I don’t waste so much in the pantry waiting for the next Depression.

This got me thinking about wine. How often, like me, do you find yourself pouring excess wine down the drain. At once berating yourself for the vino abuse, whilst simultaneously a little proud your restraint has resulted in less fuzzy morning conditions? Or perhaps it is merely a reflection of the A.D.D. we all seem to share these days thanks to the internet, HD TV and video games, resulting in several half-opened wines due to a certain meal, mood or time of day. Whatever the reason, I hate knowing that wine was wasted.

That’s why I am growing more fond of the half-bottle. These 375 ml of goodness are perfect for so many reasons. My love for them really began in New York. People might grab a half of bubbles just to start out a celebration without a full commitment to a bottle. Maybe it was for a quick slurp in the cab ride on the way to an event. Others just needed a dab for a dish as they sipped on the rest while cooking.

When I am by myself for dinner, it forces me to not even think about going beyond 2 glasses–a decision that will undoubtedly have me waking up at 3 in the morning like clockwork (what the heck? early onset menopause?). Or, when I am with my guy, we can have a first course with white and our main course with red. It allows real geeks to try a couple wines with a dish just to see how different varietals pair.

Another great reason for buying half bottles, you can taste a wine that might typically cost you a day’s pay at nearly half the price. This is an excellent way to try Burgundies, Bordeaux and Barolos from a variety of subregions and producers that would otherwise be extremely difficult to afford with any regularity. With Christmas dinner, for example, we had a 2000 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Reserva for only $25 (regularly $45 for the 750 ml) just to have another option on the table that was interesting with goose. It showed deepened notes of caramelization, sandalwood and cherry tobacco.

Getting impatient for that 07 Chateauneuf du Pape? Grab a half bottle. They age faster and are starting to drink beautifully. I just had a Lucien Barrot CdP for only $15 that was outstanding for the dollar! Same with the 07 rhone style Cigare Volant by Bonny Doon–an absolute gem right now in the half. The full is damn fine…but a baby. Friends don’t let friends commit infanticide.

There are dozens of other reasons a half is ideal: picnics, camping, stocking stuffers, they are cute, great candle holders, perfect for olive oils, homemade dressings and balsamic. 375’s are a great way to explore a world of wine and half the price.

At my shop, here is a short list of what you can stock up on. For the months of February & March, resolve to learn more via 375s at 5% off a cute little bottle. Build a little 6 pack, and you will get 10% off!

2009 Perez Cruz Cabernet (Chile)- $7

2009 Roger Champault Sancerre (France)- $14

2002 Lopez de Heredia Cubillo Rioja (Spain)- $18

2007 Lucien Barrot Chateauneuf du Pape (France)- $15

2010 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand)- $9

2010 Alberti 154 Malbec (Argentina)- $9

2007 Bonny Doon Cigare Volant (California)- $21

2007 Cargisacchi Pinot Noir (California)- $20

2008 Hitching Post Pinot Noir (California)- $20

NV Chartogne-Taillet Champagne 1er Cru (France)- $29

NV Gruet Rose & Blancs des Noirs (New Mexico)- $9

2008 Hurricane Ridge Merlot (Washington)-$13

2008 Selbach-Oster Riesling Kabinett (Germany)- $14

2008 Raspail Ay Gigondas (France)- $20

euro scribbles: the start of a great swiss adventure…

travel, Wine Blog

I am tongue-tied. The thought of rewriting my experience has me at a loss, for words always fail me when I depend on them to relay what my eyes have seen, ears have heard and tongue has tasted. Alas, I will give it a meager go, and tell you a story about my time here in Switzerland…(well, mostly in Switzerland).

It began with a horrid transatlantic flight, where babies were screaming, a fifteen pound bag fell on my head, the earphones were blasting to a high volume every 45 min or so to be sure I was sufficiently damaged by arrival and a couple sleeping pills that not only failed at their only purpose in life but  rather left me extremely anxious searching for the nearest exit when at once I remembered I was 5 miles high for the next seven hours. Tap, tap, tap…

Two hours of sleep and a transfer in London, I arrived in Milan a sight to sore eyes. But I could care less. There is no amount of awful travel that will keep me from an adventure. Really, it wouldn’t feel as gratifying if it were so easy. Right?

We hit up one of Jonathan’s favorite Italian restaurants the first night: Dal Bolognese. It was right next door to our hotel: Principe di Savoia. Walking in, you might have thought it wasn’t such a brilliant find. We were there alone in an overstaffed restaurant. Music was nonexistent. The waiters watched like hawks for our next move. ‘You ready is order?’ ‘You need a water?’ ‘You are have question?’ Yeesh. I was paranoid while eating my caprese to use the funny looking balsamic vinegar pourer-thingy for fear I would pour it incorrectly or too much… and they would see it and correct this ugly american.The caprese was mediocre at best this time of year, but I should have known better. For one thing, the waiter gave a disapproving look, yet couldn’t find a way to explain. For another, who has heard of fresh tomatoes in January. For the life of me, though, I couldn’t read their menu! And they could scarcely translate. It was safe.

By the time the next course arrived–their famous tagliatelle bolognese–I understood why it was Jonathan’s favorite. Wow. It was amazing. Perfect proportion of meat to sauce to noodle. Deliciously al dente. I looked up and saw that, as if with the snap of a finger, the large room was full of people. Many business men in suits carrying on their meetings with a meal as well as couples, girlfriends, etc. It was a happening place. Now, I couldn’t wave down a waiter if I was topless.

We washed it all down with a 2006 Castello Romitorio Brunello di Montalcino. It had been a long time since we had wine from this lovely Tuscan region. A hearty Sangiovese seemed like a perfect idea with our hearty bolognese. And it was. Though it smelled of infanticide with a hint of potential first thing out of the bottle, it opened up a bit with some time bringing on alpine notes of red berry fruit, a medicinal throw nack to luden’s cherry cough drops and even a little minty. This and the likely suspects of leathery, tart cherry, cocoa dust.

Day 2

At the Gare Centrale di Milano, we waited for the train to Geneva and munched on a ham and cheese sandwich at the cafe. It was 7:30a and coffee was a non-negotiable. A few bites in, I politely reminded the server of my coffee. But he had not forgotten. It was apparently not appropriate with my savory option, so I had to wait until I finished. I wolfed it down fairly fast. However, my sweet fiancee took his sweet time (he is NOT a coffee addict). Apparently, I also had to wait until he was done as well. So all I succeeded in doing was getting a belly ache and a disgusted look from the staff. Alas, I was finally given my heroine.

We passed by some incredible little towns. One of which, Stresa, I have concluded I must return to one day. It was a quaint hillside village overlooking the alps and Lake Maggiore. Apparently it is home to some noteworthy jazz festivals, gardens and religious monuments.

Coming up on Geneva, with Lac Leman off to the left, I saw a lonely swan floating along. What was she doing there? I searched, suddenly determined to find its mate. But there was no other. A little research, and I learned most swans, the largest of the duck family, travel in flocks. Not this one.

A light lunch at the world’s weirdest hotel out by the airport and near the large sports expo center–The Starling–and I learned the meaning of the expression ‘wine is cheaper than water in Europe’, as I begrudgingly handed over $46 for a salad, a cup of soup and water (the water alone at $7). Yep, at an airport hotel.

Walking to dinner, we passed through an awesome little street in downtown Geneva–Rue Chapponiere. If you should ever visit this grand city, I recommend you check it out. I know I surely will! A little wine shop and delicatessen with meats hung high sits on the corner. It is called Il Monte Bianco. And it is my dream shop. If only we could sell meat and wine under one retail roof in Denver without all the rigamaroo. Across the street is an adorable regional restaurant called Au Petite Chalet. A couple doors down we watched some people dig into some traditional grub at La Trois Fondue, and we eye-balled the yummy fare at Post Cafe. An idyllic street we were happy to stumble upon.

We decided to play fancy and have a cocktail at the Four Seasons. Fancy it was. I decided it needed 2002 Laurent Perrier to pair the moment. Heavy laden with wood, diamond-covered women and Patek Phillipe watches on wrists (hell, even the dogs wore fur), it was candyland for the untrained eye.

We went to one of our favorite spots for a bite: Bistrot du Boeuf Rouge to get back to reality and find that the sub $50 wine bottle still exists. We enjoyed oysters, beef tips and perch from Lac du Monde. This is a cozy place full of black-rimmed intellectuals, laughter and laid-back hearty fare.

Follow me to St. Moritz in upcoming blogs…

24 hours with Terry Theise.

Wine Blog, Wine Education

There are about 5 people in the whole industry I have ever wanted to meet. They are my ‘celeb’ equivalents to Oprah, Madonna and the ‘Bieb’. They are more than famous. They are the bedrock of my career and passion for wine. Though Jancis Robinson may always hold the number one spot in my heart (what a badass), Mr. Theise isn’t far behind. For it is he who has possibly turned me onto wine in a way that is more applicable than any other wine hero in my book. See, Terry Theise helped me find the language I needed to discuss it.

Words are possibly my fondest fetish. I was maybe seven, and I remember laying on my itchy pink bedroom carpet by the teeniest little Mickey Mouse nightlight (I had to pretend I was afraid of the dark to petition for that one) in order to read any number of books, whether Boxcar Children, Laura Ingalls Wilder or Shel Silverstein. I used to write ridiculous picture books and try to sell them at school, thinking I might get on Good Morning America or something.

That never happened.

I did, however, have a string of incredible teachers (who in hindsight were very much a product of the ‘60’s) imbue unto me a love so great for well-strung words, I nearly slept with the Thesaurus every night. I believe it was the author Julia Alvarez who once said that she writes in English not because it is more marketable, rather, there are so many words in our language that are never used. Something to that effect. It’s so provocative and encouraging for a writer that our own language is so untapped…or un-stretched, rather.

I took it pretty far—a grad degree and a couple papers to prove it. But the more political and theoretical it got, the more I began to drift from the aesthetic that had anchored my passion in the first place.

Over wine, I would lament my failed choice of Academia—with a BIG ‘A’. I sat in my little NYC apartment and drank $10 wine. But still, no matter the cost, I found myself researching them more than I did Lacan or Freud. They took my imagination to a place that was more tangible. I could taste the evidence of words in my glass.

Suddenly, my fuzzy life came into focus. There is merit to learning how to articulate the enriching moments of life. Outside the window, taxis honked, people were running to catch a subway and a dog peeing on a tree was being pulled by his impatient owner to hurry up. And there I was. Sniffing away. Marveling at the garnet hue. Seeing the legs slowly dribble on the bowl. Smelling grandpa’s cherry tobacco, the leather saddles of my aunt’s horse stable, a walk in the Wisconsin woods when I was ten and the raspberries I used to pick with my ma. I thought about the family who made the wine I was drinking—their generational longevity and involvement, their standards, integrity and hard work. The vintage—when it rained, how much was lost, when it was picked, if they stomped them in a celebration. The soils, the sunlight, the rivers that cut through… I thought about the meal I am eating—its own particular personality, and how it changed with the wine.

And then, I explain it to others.

I tell of the time I saw a dozen bins get rejected in an instant at Pride. How the cutest little old lady in the world (hand shaking with each delicate, slow pour) threw down an impressive amount of alcoholic liquid before 11 a.m. at Saint Cosme. The time I saw the final Piemontese grapes come in on the sorting table at Vajra: the hard to find Freisa varietal. The musty, mineral smell of the chalk caves of Champagne. The humble meals at home where friends and I have contributed homemade food, time honored wines and singular conversation.

Wine has managed to enrich my life in a way that has been so rewarding, because it’s not just about my own selfish harvest of happiness. I can help others learn how to better open their own senses and minds to its endless stories. Wine’s endless words. When you understand a piece of life better, you tend to enjoy it more. People find this when they return from a trip. Napa isn’t so intimidating anymore. Italian reds kinda make sense.

Like Theise, it is difficult not to get enraptured with grower Champagne and small production, traditional farmers. They keep it real to the region and don’t seem to topple over one another for an arbitrary rating to keep them motivated to put out another vintage. They are, as he said, transparent in their ways and honest. And you can taste it.

We mostly had wines from the 2010 vintage. A really weird vintage, to say the least. Mouth-ripping acid that had to be tamed with de-acidification measures (and apparently if anyone tells you otherwise, they are lying, for everyone needed to turn down the naturally high acid) and unusually high sugars as well. It is a vintage for the true acid freak. I believe that I learned I am not as ‘freaky’ as I thought. Even my palate needs a little TLC. And by that, I mean sugar. Or oak. Or malo. Or lees. Anything to take that edge off! I am eager to see what they become, though. They were more than promising. I fear they were a bit shocked coming into the state just days ago. They seemed edgy and wound—like a nicotine addict going through withdrawals. They need to chill out. Right now, they conjure an image: running with scissors, like that one memoir. I bet they turn a corner in about a year and surprise us all!

Like Theise said, there’s really no other vintage to compare it to. It is a lone ranger. A rebel without a cause. A question to be answered.

My short time meeting Terry, listening to him discuss wine and his love for wine with the metaphoric prowess of Shakespeare, I was inspired, as I always am. I am humbled, completely and totally in the face of true talent.

And so, I continue to drink, contemplate and spread the good word about wine to those who will listen, raise a glass and approximate sensual density in life one more sip at a time.

A handful of tasting notes in a very Terry style:

2010 Hirsch Gruner Veltliner #1—A trip down the rabbit hole, its characters are never-ending, they play on the tongue for a very long time, showing both light and dark features. It’s playful and not too seductive. Fun but slightly mocking.

2010 Nikolaihof Gruner Veltliner ‘Hefeabzug’—A term they have trademark which refers to the time these wines spend on their lees, the Hefeabzug has long since won my heart. It is quite simply all I ever really want at the end of the day: a wine that is just serious enough, showing vastly beyond its price tag, precocious, smart and possibly one of the more serenely intense wines I have ever experienced under $25.

2009 Hirsch Riesling Heiligenstein—An impressive showing before it even makes it to the tongue, this Riesling is possibly best described as Terry put it, “Like it emerged from a Wiccan ceremony.” And it felt like that. It was blowing a little incense, a smoky shady tone that was mixed with dark places yet positive omens. It had seductively sweet flavors, but it had a tart bite, expressive yet reserved. It was dry. So dry. But tricky for all its blossomed, ripe fruit.

2010 JJ Christoffel Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett—This one was so unusual. So enticing. It put me somewhere lush. A damp garden. You might imagine it came from Great Expectations. Overgrown vegetation. Basil, mint, sweet peas and mineral rain dew. Deep yellow fruits were pregnant with ripeness. More extract and body. But still, like this vintage is showing, it changes mid palate. It becomes a porche of sorts. You feel its anatomy, its engine, it angular ways. You simply feel these more. They aren’t as untouchable as Riesling can often be. They aren’t necessarily less austere. They are still difficult to describe. But they evade superficial descriptors and rather are felt on the palate.

You must feel this vintage. It is paradoxal. It is profoundly unique. And it has a sense of humor despite its very promising future.

bootcamp diaries, day 3: mother nature’s rotten ways.

california wine, Wine Blog, Wine Education, Wine Travel

My final full day on Spring Mountain I woke up early and followed my nose to the Schweiger’s home just across the road from Paloma. Coffee and a delicious homemade breakfast awaited me. I, along with a few others from the group, sat around and talked shop. One guy runs a Wine Styles store near my hometown in Wisconsin. I was happy to hear the industry was beginning to boom in the midwest.

I admit, a little jealousy set in when I learned that those who were staying on at Schweiger for their morning group project might be harvesting grapes. No one was really picking at this point anywhere else, but knowing I’d be spending my morning at one of my favorite wineries: Pride Estate, I couldn’t get too green with envy. Especially when I learned, that we too may be crushing a few…

Pride had received a shipment of Chardonnay from Carneros for their base tier label. While they have a one-acre block they devote to their 100% estate grown Vintner Select Chardonnay, they source fruit for their other label– I believe the only wine they source fruit for, in fact. But as the bunches rolled in, gasps began to fill the autumn air. The grapes they had checked up on just the week prior—grapes that were beautiful, golden and only days from peak ripeness—were now rotten and botrytis-affected. Heaps of them, all sad and ugly.

In that moment, I realized that I don’t think I could quite handle being a winemaker.

All that time that went into pruning the vines in winter, cultivating the soils in spring, praying through budbreak, holding one’s breath through fruit set, trimming the canopy, dropping the fruit in order to get your babies to the day when they could be transformed into wine. And then, to see them all decay after a few days rain.

We went through the motions, picking through the masses of mold on the sorting table, chucking pound after pound of bad grapes until finally we were told to stop. They had to make a decision if this was worth the time or not.

Alas, it was not. The grapes were refused.

Just like that, profit margins change, allocations change, wineries lose money, farmers retrace every step and wonder if they should have picked a week from ideal ripeness. It all changes with a little rain.

Harvest is all about letting go of control. You can cross every T and dot every I but still, in the field, it’s up to the almighty Mother Earth if a grower is going to have a stressful harvest or not. On that mountain, though, I was explained something that I will always remember. A ‘bad’ vintage does not mean you will necessarily have bad wine. A bad vintage means that a farmer will really have to exercise his/her knowledge when it matters most—throughout all the stages. Good vintages lend themselves to novices. Fruit set and harvest are crucial, though, and if rain, hail or frost occurs, you need to have about 10 backup plans and the confidence to execute them at the right time.

What separates the boys from the men (or the girls from the women) when it comes to viticulture, is truly knowing what is best for those vines.

For Pride, it was about making a difficult call with grapes they hadn’t nursed along the way, but they had picked from an excellent source. That they had lost them to rain was no one’s fault. Chardonnay in particular is a very small berried, tight clustered varietal. Once excessive water gets in there, good luck. The best thing they could have done at that point was turn them away. Bad wine will only compromise the integrity of an estate. To sell wine at prices that don’t meet their quality standards is not something an honorable winery would do. I had great respect for Pride that day. I saw how hard that decision was. And I thought of the source of their grapes as well—a very reputable winery. What would they do with the loss?

I believe around Napa and Sonoma in general, there will be a bit of shared loss this year. But I can assure you, the wine that comes from this vintage will be terrific if you trust that the grower knows how to bring it full circle from the bud to the bottle. This vintage will draw a line between hobbyists and true artists of the vine. And I witnessed the latter everywhere on Spring Mountain—blow drying wet grapes each morning, sacrificing fruit so berries had a better chance of ripening, training the canopy differently, etc. But once that mold comes… man… there’s just nothing anyone can really do. You pick and hope for the best. Or you let them go. A season’s work. Done.

We did some other things that day at Pride, learning how to add nutrients to barrels that were undergoing fermentation already, keeping the yeasts sustained with additions. On the mountain, some were more focused on natural yeast fermentation, while many still believed inoculation was really best for the full maturity and control of product. ‘Divergent in thought’ should have been the subtitle of this trip, so many of the winemakers held tight to their way of thinking. And the funny thing was? No one was right or wrong. Not to be kindergarten teacher about it, but really, you could taste their various philosophies and methods in each and every wine.

After a really great afternoon at Terra Valentine, all our groups convened at Vineyards 7 & 8 for an eye-opening formal tasting of 16 wines from different Spring Mountain producers. Many were from the 2007 & 2008 vintages, so we could truly ‘taste the terroir’, as it was so uniquely expressed in each individual wine. These wines were so different from one another, but one thing they shared: a deep minerality that just can’t be found in most California reds to this point. It was this rocky note, this undercurrent, which spoke to them all and gave the region a distinct flavor. Spring Mountain contains over 25 different soil types (of the world’s 34), not to mention each vineyard describes a totally different typography and geologic feature, whether river, sun exposure, aspect or soil series. It’s not too surprising they built an entire program to demonstrate just that: their variant timbres. Some were very earthy (Cain Five and Guilliams), powerful and rich (Fantesca and Vineyards 7 & 8), fruit forward and elegant (Paloma), classic and stately (Keenan and Pride), amongst so many other personalities. None of these wines were heard over the rest, rather they all spoke with intention and integrity.

My time in Spring Mountain was unforgettable. It was my first taste of Napa…my first taste in a vineyard. And though I am not sure emotionally I have what it takes to give it all up for the secateurs, I more than ever desire to work on the farm for a true harvest start to finish. Or longer…

Gluten in some wines?: Why celiacs may not need to cross wine off their list just yet.

Wine Blog, Wine Education, wine news

I just had to share the following email correspondence between a customer and myself regarding gluten in wine. Surprisingly, I have not had to confront this question until now. I always assumed it was gluten free, as my celiac customers would buy their GF beer and a bottle of vino. Turns out, that’s not always true. The good news is that it takes a very, VERY rare and sensitive celiac wine lover to be affected. Read on…

 

QUESTION:

Dear Ashley,

I have read that a lot of wines will have gluten in them due to a wheat based paste they use to seal the barrels.  Also, some will even get cross contaminated from barrels being reused after making of barley based spirits.

What do you know?

M.

ANSWER:

Hey M.,

Thanks for the question! I have many celiac customers. All of them drink wine. If any amount of gluten (from clarifying or pre-barrel treatment), it’s so low it doesn’t affect any of them. We are talking LESS than 1 parts per million (ppm) in most cases, though it can be as high as 20 ppm, if you are extremely sensitive. Even ‘gluten free’ foods/beverages can have a small amount but not enough that it can’t declare itself GF. It does seem, however, that it is mostly linked to wine clarification and barrel sealing. Therefore, logic tells me stainless steel tank fermentation or concrete barrels would not have any gluten, or at least the lowest levels comparatively.

I am not a doctor, so I hate to tell you it’s totally fine. That said, you are likely in the clear. The best way to know is just by emailing the winery if the information is not readily available on their website. It may be a pain in the butt, but if you are severely reactive to gluten, it at least allows you to continue drinking wine if the liquid in question is, in fact, gluten free! And some wines DO claim to be ‘gluten-free’, at least according to: http://www.glutenfreefox.com/articles/gluten-in-wine.html.

Here are some other great sites that should help you decide if it’s right for you!

http://www.gfreefoodie.com/is-wine-gluten-free-the-answer-from-a-gluten-free-wine-drinking-foodie/ –This one was written by a celiac for the hopeful of heart. Very easy to read and gratifying if your end goal is to justify a continued relationship with wine.

http://switch2glutenfree.com/misc/is-wine-gluten-free/ –Very pro-wine as well. Includes a personal testimony from a winemaker who has a wine-drinking celiac wife. Even gives links to learn more about barrel production and wine clarification.
http://celiacdisease.about.com/od/glutenfreefoodshoppin1/f/Is-Wine-Gluten-Free.htm– Fairly cut and dry. Thumbnail explanation. The basic facts.
http://www.everydayhealth.com/blogs/the-/does-your-wine-contain-gluten– A hard-nosed opinion by a doctor who specializes on the topic. (Apparently, according to her, I should be taking wine consumption down to 3 glasses per week. I’m in trouble…)

Good luck and stay healthy!

A.

coercing cool weather with chinato.

denver restaurants, Italian Wine, Wine Blog

Ah, it has started…the subtle shift of the sun’s intensity. The almost imperceptible drop in degrees in the early morning hours. The beginning of Fall.

I was born for Autumn. I savor it from these first few sips all the way past Christmas, when I am told to put away the earth-toned apparel and welcome the drab gray tones of dreariness. Homemade peach pies are yummy, don’t get me wrong, but they only really serve as practice for my pumpkin and apple pies coming up.

I believe I finally know why I am so fascinated with this season. I am utterly addicted to sensual saturation. From the collage of colors, the rich smells of harvest, the layers of textured clothing to the flavors of warm spiced food and the marching of holidays, one after the other. I am in love with this nostalgic, sensually gluttonous season. It truly speaks to my choice career which allows me to revel in precisely that.

So when last week I was teased for pulling out the Christmasy Chinato too early, I couldn’t care less. I sensed a hint of harvest ‘round the corner, and I was ready to start sippin’ it up!

Chinato (pronounced Key-Nah-Toe) is one of my favorite post-dinner digestifs. But it was not always so. In fact, it was only about two years ago that I was introduced to this herbal concoction. At the time, even knowledge that the base was Barolo couldn’t convince me of its allure. My palate was only beginning to categorize ‘light wines’—basically your standard red, white and bubbles. Aperitifs, digestifs, liqueurs, cordials, spirits and fortifieds were in another category altogether. It was rather hit or miss. Admittedly, more the latter than the former. Everyone kept saying I would eventually develop the ‘taste’ for sipping wines. But for now, this fine crafted wine just seemed to be a Jagermeister imposter.

I am still a far cry from peaty Laphroag Scotch Whisky… but I am coming around slowly but surely.

I was at Colt & Gray a couple weeks ago when the bartender encouraged me to give it another shot. This time, it didn’t taste like Jager whatsoever. Rather, the Roagna was incredibly layered, complex and elegant. I was instantly hooked and had another glass at Frasca the following week after work by the producer Borgogno. I am anxiously awaiting the Cappellano’s arrival as the season progresses, for not only was that my first introduction to this sensational styled wine (or, at least, that’s what I think NOW), but it was the world’s as well.

Possibly more interesting than Chinato itself is its history.

What is now considered a fine fortified wine, was once the product of local alchemists in Serralunga d’Alba. Back in the early 1800’s, Dr. Giuseppe Cappallano, a chemist by trade and a wine lover by nighttime, was determined to unveil wine’s therapeutic qualities, for he felt them to be real. Before he became a pharmacist, he was a foodie. Combined with his natural interest in chemistry, he was fascinated in learning the effect various ingredients had on the body. Wine, he knew to have incredible health benefits in and of itself (in moderation of course). So his focus was to pull these three passions together and create a medicinal digestif.

Cappallano set about taking the best wine of the region, Barolo, and infusing quinine bark, cloves, wormwood, cinnamon as well as various other alpine and oriental herbs, whilst fortifying it with a local neutral spirit. Before long, it was a household cabinet item, as it cured stomach aches, common colds, headaches, flu and promoted healthy digestion post-dinner. It became appropriate as an aperitif on the rocks as well as a common token of regional hospitality when hosting a guest.

 

Unfortunately, the sheer cost of Barolo has made this digestif harder (and more expensive) to find. Few producers even bottle this for market anymore. But the several that do, really rock it. You need to go out and get a bottle. Now. Throw a chill on it, I don’t care. But join me in this effort to appreciate a rare art of wine production.

Here are the ones I can whole heartedly recommend:

Cappallano Barolo Chinato—Because you should always give credit where credit is due. Still Frasca’s all time favorite on the market. I am anxiously awaiting its arrival, as I know I will truly appreciate it this time around!

Roagna Barolo Chinato—A brighter style, most suitable for summer if you are going to be like me and just go for it. A blend of 33 herbs infuse these amber-hued sips of loveliness.

Borgogno Barolo Chinato—A bit warmer on the palate, the exotic spices really pop! The spices are actually divided into 3 categories and infused separately so as to not overpower one another and rather sing in unison once bottled. A blend of 39 different herbs.

 

Tasting the 2011 Tour de France.

cycling, french wine, French Wine Travel, Wine Blog

My kind of Tour de France...(from: http://brealhappy.blogspot.com/)

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

-Normandin-Mercier

-Paul Beau

-Prunier

-Maison Surrenne

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

-Planat

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

-Courvoisier


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!!