Category Archives: Food

The Passion of Chateau le Puy

 

Jean Pierre Amoreau’s family has farmed grapes naturally on the same Bordeaux estate since 1610.  As far back as 1868, Barthelemy, Jean Pierre’s great-great grandfather questioned the need to use sulphur dioxide as an antioxidant and instead, founded the aging on lees method which is still used today to add richness and texture to the wine.  In 1924, the Chateau stopped using any chemicals and watched their vines continue to thrive.  In the mid-sixties, Chateau le Puy became one of the first Bordeaux estates to produce organic wines and in 1990 implemented biodynamic farming methods, something that has been adopted by many California producers.

After more than 400 years of winemaking, the passion is still evident in eighty-year old Jean Pierre, his wife Francois and son Pascual, as we met at Quince in San Francisco last week to taste ninety years of the best Chateau le Puy Emilien vintages and pair some current releases with a wonderful lunch prepared by Chef Michael Tusk.

After surveying the eighteen available vintages dating back to 1926, we began with the current release, the Chateau le Puy Emilien 2016  which expressed earth, red fruit and mushroom on both the nose and palate.  It had the structure of a much older wine.  “You will find that my younger wines taste old and my older vintages still taste young and vibrant,” said Jean Pierre, preparing us as we progressed through past decades of his flagship wine that consists dominantly of merlot with some cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec and a hint of carmenere.  Since no new oak is used at Chateau le Puy, the Emilien is aged in used barrels and centenary foudres for 24 months.

Jean Pierre enjoys a nice bouquet and the earth and spice aromas of the Emilien 1989 were off the charts. The roundness and complex flavor profile was highlighted with balanced red fruit on the finish.

Jean Pierre Amoreau and son Pascual

As we ventured into the older vintages, Jean Pierre offered more sage advice, “Wine is like marriage.  If it is not good from the beginning, it will never be good.”  While the Emilien 1961 had qualities of baked red fruit aromas and flavors, I found a subtle floral quality throughout.

Three other vintages of the Emilien caught my fancy: the 1955, 1944 and 1926.  The 1955 had a light garnet, almost caramel-like color, smokey aromas and flavors with some lingering hints of orange. 

Due to WWII, the 1944 vintage was produced by Paule, Jean Pierre’s mother and is a superb wine with bright fruit on the palate.

The 1926 vintage was very special because, well, it’s a 1926. With a steely mineralogy on the nose, there were savory elements that were as integrated and balanced as one might imagine.

Lunch began with Tsar Nicoulai Cavier serve with smoked eel, brioche, brown butter hollandaise paired with a Marie-Cecile 2015, simply the finest pure semillon wine that I have ever tasted with incredible aromas of pear and complex, lush flavors that honor the palate.

The Chateau’s Barthelemy, described as an emotional wine, is produced from a single field-blended plot called “Les Rocs,” planted with 85 percent merlot and 15 percent cabernet sauvignon  Six vintages of the Barthelemy, ranging from 2001 to 2014, were paired with diverse dishes from Charcoal Grilled Maine Lobster, Duclair Duck Lasagna with fois gras sauce to something defined as Lamb in Diverse Preparation with freshly dug potato and black truffle. Pinching myself to determine if this

Chateau le Puy vintages: 1926-2015

extraordinary Monday afternoon was real, I enjoyed vibrant aromas, balanced flavors and a rich mouthfeel that supported and enhanced the exquisite cuisine.

For dessert, a chocolate soufflé, served in a small copper sauce pan, was paired with a Retour des Iles 2012, another Chateau le Puy wine with a fascinating story.  From each vintage, the family selects a few barrels to be boarded on a brigantine ship named “Tres Hombres,” and sets them out to sea for eight to ten months.  Apparently, the salty winds and swells of the ocean water provide a unique aging process.  

In describing the Retour, Jean-Michel Brouard from Terre de Vins said, “A unique experience which reveals very round wines with almost exotic aromas, and a symbol.  That of an estate in the same family since 1610, and at the forefront of modernity.” His quote aptly describes the family and the thought and energy that they give to each vintage.

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Calistoga Culinary Getaway

 

Not having spent time in Calistoga for years, I recently stayed a few days to discover some wines and enjoy the vibrant, emerging local restaurant scene. The following is a small taste of what we enjoyed.

Breakfast options includes Sarafornia, an old-style cafe with classic comfort food or Bella Bakery for those seeking coffee and an artisan

The Grade Cellars “Sea Fog” Sauvignon Blanc

pastry.  My favorite for atmosphere and menu was Sam’s Social Club east of town, where I enjoyed an omelette of cultivated, wild mushrooms, gruyere cheese, black truffle oil and scallions.

We had the opportunity to taste two local sauvignon blanc releases; both impressive, but very different.  The 2015 Petit Coquerel

Le Petit Coquerel Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc ($20) had shades of grapefruit on the nose and during the long finish with a dry crispness in the middle.

From the producers of fine Calistoga cabernet sauvignon, The Grade Sauvignon Blanc “Sea Fog” 2015 ($28), barrel-fermented in all neutral oak, delivers a pleasant acidity with degrees of citrus and stone fruit flavors and a soft wet stone finish.

Lovina Restaurant

Formerly Calistoga Kitchen, Lovina is a new restaurant in the old building at the corner of Cedar Street and Lincoln Ave.  The new creative ownership team identifies with being a uniquely suited, diverse group of friends. The menu is also diverse, with vegetarian friendly and gluten-free options available.  Uniquely good was the Grilled Cheese with Chestnut and Celery Root Soup and the Warm Duck Confit Spinach Salad, which we shared along with a special Chicken and Dumpling Soup.

Lovina is open Thursday through Monday for lunch/brunch and dinner.  Their wine list features a variety of North Coast selections and they celebrate “No corkage Thursdays.”

Visiting the historic Chateau Montelena Estate always reminds me of their 1973 chardonnay release that led to an Independence Day

1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay

for California wines after winning the famed 1976 Paris Tasting. The 2014 Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Chardonnay ($58), is aged ten months sur lee in oak with no malolactic fermentation. I found complex aromas, crispness and a rich finish of stone fruit and spice flavors, all welcomed by my palate.  The earthy 2014 Chateau Montelena Zinfandel ($39) also stood out with coffee bean, chocolate on the nose and jammy, ripened fruit flavors throughout.

We first discovered Brannan’s by accident, seeking a place to have lunch in town, and were

Bar at Brannan’s Restaurant

delightfully surprised by their imaginative small plate dishes.  I joined co-owner Ron Goldin at a recent event while chef Colin Curtis prepared farmhand (vegetarian-based), briny (seafood) and chow (the meats), small plate dishes that included Curried Crab Tacos, Moroccan Lamb Chops, Salt and Pepper Scallops and Wild Mushroom Risotto.  Appetizers like Smashed Avocado Toast and Ahi Poke Spoons added to the feast. In an older building on Lincoln Ave., Brannan’s has a large, historic bar, full array of cocktails and an ever-changing menu.

Over thirty years ago when Rich and Carolyn Czapleski purchased the land for their Canard Winery, they got a call from Robert Mondavi, urging them to retain some of the oldest zinfandel vines in the Napa Valley,

Canard old vine zinfandell

dating back one hundred years.  Today, the dry-farmed vineyard continues to produce the 2013 Canard Zinfandel ($45), a balance of strength and elegance.  Smokey flavors of raspberry and spice lead to a rich mouthfeel through the finish.

I tasted the Fairwinds 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve ($110) deep inside the extensive cave system at Fairwinds Estate Winery. It originates from the volcanic soils of the local Kenefick Ranch Vineyard that sources Bordeaux grapes to many top producers. The fruit flavors are intense and opulent, but nicely balanced with the complex spice elements that dawdle on the finish.

Tasting in the caves at Fairwinds Estate

For another special dining experience, I recommend the highly reviewed Solbar, at the Solage Spa, east of downtown.  Fresh dishes classically prepared by chef Massimo Falsini like Tamales Bay Mussels, Petrale Sole Tacos and Steak Frites appear on Solbar’s lunch menu. Seasonal Cheeses and Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras begin the ever-changing entrees like Sautéed Wild Steelhead with Foraged Mushrooms and Crispy Liberty Duck with Abalone-prosciutto ragu.

Aside from health and recreation, the Calistoga experience offers an array of fine wines and prodigious culinary choices at all levels.  For a get-a-way, it has it all.

 


Pairing Imagery

 

Life is good. On a Tuesday evening, I explored the emerging Dogpath neighborhood in San Francisco, was introduced to young entrepreneurs and enjoyed a sublime dinner at Studio Table hosted by Jamie Benziger to introduce her new tier of Imagery wines.

After discovering that we were neighbors in Santa Rosa, Jamie, 29,  and I discussed her new endeavor.  She was passionate and articulate in describing  her wines and their target markets. Yes, she is the daughter of Joe Benziger who started the Benziger winery thirty-five years ago.  The children, however, don’t get special treatment and are expected to earn any role that they play in the business

New Tier of Imagery wines

Jamie’s story is one of a young woman who grew up in the wine industry, went off to study at Loyola Marymount University before transferring to Sonoma State to study wine marketing.  She has paid her dues inside and outside the family business, including a stint in New Zealand, and is now partnering with her dad to create tasteful, affordable, food-friendly wines intent on broadening the palates of the next generation or anyone seeking a good value enhancement to their next dinner party table.

By all accounts, she has succeeded. From my perspective, the pivotal needs of her market have been addressed:  artistic labels,(c’mon,

how many of us have purchased wine solely for the label art?), screw caps that fit the modern lifestyle better than corks, affordability

Jamie Benziger

($16.99 per bottle) and complex wines that leave you with that “big bang for my buck” feeling.  Let’s speak to the wine in the context of the food pairing with comments by me and Chef Ben Roche.

 

First Course

Wine: 2016 Imagery Sauvignon Blanc

Winter Nicoise — “a hearty salad of frisee, scallops, and potato cream to complement the minerality and citrusy acidity of the Sauvignon Blanc.”

The sauvignon blanc blends 20% muscat from Lake County.  In the New Zealand-style, I found floral notes on the nose and  balanced, fruit-forward flavors with hints of grapefruit and a soft mouthfeel.  I enjoyed it solo as an introductory wine and with the scallops in potato cream.

Second Course

Wine: 2016 Imagery Chardonnay

Butter-poached vegetables, buttermilk and Buddha’s Hand  — “a buttery-but light dish with a floral touch bring out the mineral-forward quality of this unusual Chardonnay.”

The blended chenin blanc adds to the crispness and citrus elements of this wine that paired well with the vegetables.

Third Course

Wine:  2016 Imagery Pinot Noir

Pancetta & Leek Quiche with cabbage and caviar — “rich, caramelized pancetta and eggs from the land and the sea make this Pinot Noir sing.”

The addition of 20% petit verdot to pinot noir is unusual, but here it adds structure and body while softening the tannins for an accessible wine.  A terrific value.

Pancetta ans Leek Quiche was cabbage and caviar

Fourth Course

Wine: 2016 Imagery Cabernet Sauvignon

Duck Breast with cherry, mushroom, spinach — “earthy, savory flavors, bright cherry puree and robust duck come together for this big Cabernet.”

The enhanced spice element from the blended 15% petit sirah is evident throughout and there are soft “code blue” and cherry notes on the palate.  It would be difficult to find a better cab under $20.

Fifth Course

Wine: Port

Hazelnut Brownie with goat cheese and raisins — “a rich and savory dessert, finished with olive oil and a sprinkle of flakey sea salt, help the chocolate and dried fruit notes of this delightful port shine”.

This is a Sonoma County non-vintage blend of zinfandel, petite sirah and touriga nacional that is shipped direct to consumer.  The high 18% alcohol level was balanced and paired well with both the sweet and savory aspect of the dessert.

Studio Table is located in the loft and working studio of artist Heather Day. She has partnered with Michelle Wei and Chef Ben Roche in creating a unique, artistic fine dining concept with stated goals “to challenge expectations and create conversations.”  Jamie’s wines, with the design representation of a drop of paint running

Imagery wines at Studio Table

down the label, matched the elegance of the table with Heather’s hand-painted menus.

These are the finest $16.99 food-friendly wines that I have tasted in a long while.  The new tier of Imagery releases will help to grow interest in wine through good taste, quality and value.  I recommend that you try them.


Tasting “Sonoma Strong”

 

Sonoma County has experienced tragedy from the recent fires.  There was loss of life and property and we all see areas of scorched earth where beauty once prevailed. The land will recover and the community has begun the healing process with an outpouring of community support.

Staff at Merry Edwards Winery

Thanks to the efforts of firefighters and other public service personnel, most of the landscape remains unchanged, including our famous vineyards.  Sonoma County is open for business and the experience of great wine, food and natural beauty is very much intact. The following recommendations are intended to deliver it all for a memorable day-trip.

The first stop is a late morning reserved tasting at Limerick Lane Cellars, named for their street of origin, on property south of Healdsburg.  Since the Limerick Lane

Limerick Lane Winery

Zinfandel Russian River Valley 2012 (94-pt) placed #12 on Wine Spectator’s 2015 Top 100 list, their wines have become recognizable and highly rated. Currently, visitors can enjoy the 2015 Russian River Valley Zinfandel, the 2015 1910 Block Zinfandel (94-pt),a specialty field blend and the wonderful 2015 Syrah Grenache, a Rhone blend with a pinch of petite sirah added.

There are a plethora of good lunch opportunities in trendy Healdsburg, a few blocks north of Limerick Lane  Two of my favorites are The Shed, offering a delightful farm to table menu and Barndiva, with aesthetic patio dining.

Leaving town and traveling west, Healdsburg Road, passing over  Highway 101, soon intersects with the iconic Westside Road that weaves through the heart of the Russian River Valley.  Not all estates along Westside Road are open to the public,

Patio tasting at Gary Farrell

but MacRostie Vineyards, Gary Farrell and Thomas George Estates offer special tasting experiences that focus on cool climate chardonnay and pinot noir.  All of their single-vineyard releases feature noted local vineyards like Olivet, Durrell and Wildcat Mountain

They all offer a broad menu of tasting experiences, held in modish settings, that are

Gary Farrell Chardonnay Durrell Vineyard 2013

both exceptional and pricey.  Indulge yourselves while enjoying fine wines like the 2014 Gary Farrell Durrell Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Valley (94-pt). Reservations are required at each.

The continuing drive along Westside Road is a virtual feast for the eyes, passing through gorgeous redwoods, oaks and vineyards like Allen, Bacigalupi and Bucher that source grapes to many of the valley’s producers.  As with previous vintages, the medium-bodied 2015 Williams Selyem Westside Road Neighbors Pinot Noir, sourced from these and other nearby vineyards, has a rich mouthfeel with berry and spice flavors that pair well with my palate.

Hacienda Bridge

Driving south along Westside Road requires crossing the one-way Hacienda Bridge that affords splendid views of the Russian River. Soon, Westside becomes Wohler Road moving south to River Road, toward the Highway 116 wineries.  This is a good time set your GPS for Merry Edwards Winery on Gravenstein Highway North (116) near Sebastopol.

With consistent great releases from an iconic winemaker, poured in a private setting,

Merry Edwards Winery is unsurpassed. The free tasting treats you to more highly-rated single vineyard pinot noir, chardonnay and something more.  The 2016 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley, as well as previous vintages, is arguably the best sauvignon blanc in California. Stable ratings in the mid-nineties and multiple appearances on Wine Spectator magazines Top 100 Wines List substantiates it’s reputation. Several lees-stirrings and the addition of sauvignon musque adds richness to the complex flavor profile of stone and tropical fruits with expressive mineral notes on the finish.  The golden color and floral aromas alone earned a reserved place in my small cellar.

Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc

Another nearby option is Dutton-Goldfield, serving more chardonnay, pinot noir and the rich, balanced 2014 Dutton-Goldfield Cherry Ridge Vineyard Syrah, using forty-percent whole cluster grapes from a warmer vineyard to create a soft, velvety texture.

Zasu at the Barlow, featuring pork dishes, Jamaican food at Revibe or seafood at Handline provide options for an early dinner in Sebastopol.

Sonoma wineries are surely open for business and many are dedicating profits to help fire victims.  Come enjoy some of the finest wines on the planet and help Sonoma County rebuild itself.  Your taste buds will thank you.

 


Wine and Cheese 2017

 

At a recent visit to the Sonoma County Artisan Cheese Festival, we were strolling through the books section.  Pointing to a book entitled, “Cheese and Wine: A Guide to Selecting, Pairing and Enjoying”, by Janet Fletcher, I declared it as the best book of its kind on the market.

“So you like that book’” a woman said, as she approached us, “well, I wrote it.”

Janet Fletcher has written for several magazines including Bon Appetit and Food and Wine. She is a food columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and has written

“Wine and Cheese” by Janet Fletcher

several books such as the aforementioned.  “Cheese and Wine” lists cheeses throughout the world, in alphabetical order.  For each, it provides pronunciation, type of cheese (cow, goat, sheep), country of origin, information about the cheese’s history, taste, and texture and, finally, wines that work.   It was a pleasure to meet Ms. Fletcher and tell her firsthand how much I appreciate her writing.

Her book was in full use as I prepared for another cheese and wine tasting to support ArtStart, a local Santa Rosa-based non-

Janet Fletcher

profit that supports high school artists by providing work opportunities in creating public murals and other projects.  There would be repeat donors participating, so this year’s event must be unique and different than earlier years. The following menu highlights the adventure in store for this years guests.

#1: 2014 Bollig Lehnert Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Spatlese (Mosel/Germany)

Comte – France (raw cow’s milk)

During a recent visit, I discovered that Comte’ is the largest selling cheese in France.  Made from co-operative diaries using milk exclusively from large Montbeliard cows,

Comte’

I enjoyed the smooth texture and brown butter flavors.  Comte’ is a perfect balance between sweet, salty and tart.

I chose a reliable favorite, the 2014 Bollig Lehnert Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Spatlese, to pair with the Comte’.  Don’t let the long, fancy name intimidate you.  This rich riesling, from the Mosel region of Germany, is available at some wine shops and on-line for about twenty dollars.  My first taste of this wine, over a decade ago, served as an introduction to the mineral/metallic/petrol/wet stone flavor of a fine German riesling.

Bollig-Lehnert Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Spatlese 2012

The German word spatlese (spat-LAY-see) literally translates to “late harvest,” but should not be confused with the late harvest dessert wines produced in California and the Pacific Northwest.

Montbeliard cows

With regard to flavor and richness, Spatlese riesling sits between the more austere Kabinett (ca-bin-net) and sweeter Auslese (aus-LAY-see) styles, the later equal to our late harvest wines.  The Bollig Lehnert is always distinctive, but never overpowering.

#2: Auteur Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2013 (Sonoma)

   “Mount Tam” – Cowgirl Cheese Co. (pasteurized cow milk)

This is an all-Sonoma County pairing that features a complex, non malolactically

Auteur Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2013

fermented California chardonnay from respected winemaker Ken Juhasz, with an elegant, buttery triple-creme cheese with earthy mushroom flavors. Cowgirl Cheese Company, maker of the popular “Red Hawk,” dedicates this cheese to Mount Tamalpias in Marin County, a popular place to harvest fresh, wild mushrooms, abundant this year due to heavy rainfall.

Many of the vineyards within the Sonoma Coast appellation are located at higher elevations, above the fog line, producing

Cowgirl Creamery “Mt. Tam” triple-cream cheese

distinctive flavors.  This chardonnay is austere with mineral elements that did not compete with the creamy cheese, but added hints of orange peel and honeysuckle to the mix.

#3:  2013 Seasmoke “Southing” Pinot Noir (Santa Rita Hills/Santa Barbara County)

#4:  2012 Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Yamhill Cuvee (Willamette Valley, Oregon)

Monte Enebro – Spain (pasteurized goat milk)

Point Reyes Toma -Sonoma County (pasteurized cow milk)

When it comes to pairing cheese with pinot noir, the opportunities are so abundant that

Sea Smoke Pinot Noir “Soutwihing” 2013

I can’t restrain myself.  To show the range of pinot noir, I selected one from the southernmost appellation, the Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County and the Yamhill appellation in the most northern region of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, both premier releases awarded 92-points from Wine Spectator magazine.

Sea smoke Cellars produces three low-yield pinot noir releases

Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Yamhill Cuvee’ 2012

each year, available to a few select restaurants in southern California and allocation list members only.  The 2013 “Southing” expresses smokey flavors of red fruit, cinnamon and vanilla that pairs well with both cheeses, especially the dense, buttery and herbaceous flavors of the Monte Enebro.

Monte Enebro cheese

Equally creamy and buttery, the Point Reyes Toma was new to my palate and a good fit with the caramel and mocha notes expressed on the finish of the Domaine Serene Pinot Noir.  The Monte Enebro is available on-line through sites like “Igourmet,” while the Toma is seasonally available at fine cheese shops.

Known primarily for fine pinot noir releases, Domaine Serene

Toma

recently received accolades by placing a new chardonnay in the third spot in Wine Spectator’s list of the most exciting wines of 2016.

#5:  Tablas Creek Vineyard Tannat Paso Robles 2010

Rogue River Creamery “Smokey Blue” – southern Oregon (certified sustainable cow’s milk)

This was, by far, the most difficult pairing of the event. Tannat is a rare French grape

Rogue River Creamery “Smokey Blue”

that is generally used to give texture and deep earthy flavors when blended with other, more fruity varietals.  Tablas Creek of Paso Robles, arguably the finest producer of Rhone wines outside of the Rhone Valley, released this 100% tannat that has been in my cellar for five years, softening its harsh tannins. Luckily, I found this seasonal, gluten-free “Smokey

Tablas Creek Tannat 2010

Blue” with with deep earthy flavors of hazelnuts, caramel and candied bacon, one of the few cheeses that could stand up to this aged tannat

#6:  Hall “Eighteen Seventy-Three Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Napa Valley)

Abbaye de Belloc – France/Basque (pasteurized sheep’s milk)

Rutherford-based Hall Wines, in the Napa Valley, annually produce some of the highest rated cabernet sauvignon in California.  I knew this wine had been given a 93-point

HALL Cabernet Sauvignon Eighteen Seventy-Three 2103

rating by Wine Spectator, but did not expect that it would be included in their top 100 list of 2106 releases.  The “1873” retails for $80 per bottle, a moderate price for Hall Wines whose other cabernets range from $100 to $280 per bottle.

Surprisingly, my research of Abbaye de Belloc, a sheep’s cheese from the Basque region of the French Pyrenees Mountains,

Abbaye de Belloc

described it to be a good pair with cabernet sauvignon.  It is made in the Abbaye de Notre Dame de Belloc by monks and contains milk exclusively from the red-nosed Manech sheep, who look like a round bowl of fuzzy wool with skinny legs protruding out the bottom.  This cheese has a rich, buttery, fine texture with caramelized brown sugar flavor.  It is

Red-nosed Manech sheep

dense with a creamy, off-white color and the wine seems to have a “liquefaction effect” that breaks it down, nicely coating your tongue and throat.  It is somewhat difficult to find, but the effort is rewarding.

Thanks, again Janet Fletcher.  A desire to support ArtStart is my motivation and “Wine and Cheese,” among other books, gave me the choices to assemble another pairing event.  We will do it again next year.  Meanwhile, I have discovered some new and unique cheeses to enjoy with my wines throughout the next year.

 

 


A Tasting in Chateauneuf-du-Pape

 

The opportunity to experience the extraordinary blends in France’s Chateauneuf-du-

vineyard in Chateauneuf-du-Pape

vineyard in Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Pape is a rare treat for anyone serious about wine.  Blessed with near perfect terroir and climate, the area is always in the discussion of the world’s best appellation.  Nearly all the 280 wineries in Chateauneuf-du-Pape are owned by small families, not the case in Bordeaux or Burgundy.  There are thirteen grapes approved for the appellation by the governing AOC, which also requires that they are all hand-pruned, hand-picked and essentially dry-farmed, allowing two irrigations per season during drought years.  The famous “La Mistral” winds blow 100 days per year, a benefit during wet vintages and a challenge in dry ones.  The production of rose’ or sparkling wine is also prohibited in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, allowing winemakers to focus on the best blend of grapes that most align with the terroir.

Translated “the Pope’s new castle” or “Chateau of the Popes,” Chateauneuf-du-Pape became a significant winemaking region in the 14th Century after the papacy was relocated to the town of Avignon.  The “Avignon Popes” appreciated their

Chateau de Vaudieu

Chateau de Vaudieu

wine and were first to promote viticulture in this area, 10 miles northeast of their palace residence.  It’s esteemed terroir has continued to produce superb local wines for eight centuries and is still revered today. With all the acclaim that Chateauneuf-du-Pape gets, one would expect them to be promoting tourism.  They do not. It is authentic, a relatively small area with family farmers doing what they have done for centuries, create near perfect wines.

October was a busy month for winemakers, following up on the recent harvest.  It was off-season and our time was limited, so we chose Saint Charles Cave,in the heart of the village, for our first tasting. Located in a 13th Century cave, Saint Charles represents

Tasting in Saint Charles Cave

Tasting in Saint Charles Cave

many of the producers and offers selections of the best the region has to offer.  In addition, it also houses the La Cour Des Papes Restaurant that could extend our experience through mid-afternoon. Sitting on wooden benches in the cave, our young, knowledgeable host began to take us through his selection of wines from the region.

The Château de Vaudieu is one of the genuine 18th Century castles left in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, operated by the Brechet Family since the mid-1980s.  Described as “a real mosaic of terroirs,” the vast vineyards of the Chateau represent very distinct micro-climates and elevations. Our tasting at Saint 3efcc0ec2827a487028818f55a178c90Charles Cave began with the Chateau de Vaudieu Blanc 2012 ($32), a mostly grenache blanc and roussanne blend that expressed a complex bouquet and rich citrus and mineral notes on the palate.  The varietals were fermented separately in oak and stainless steel to form a dry wine that would be a perfect pair with seafood or shellfish.

The grenache dominant 2011 Clos Saint Jean Chateauneuf-du-Pape ($35-40), our second pour, is a classic wine from the region, full-bodied, dry, herbal with deep fruit and savory flavors. The grenache is aged in cement tanks while the syrah, clos-saint-jean-chateauneuf-du-pape-rhone-france-10675487mourvedre and bits of other varietals get the benefit of oak.  Brothers Vincent and Pascal Maurel took over the winery from their father in 2003 and have produced very good vintages since.  Robert Parker awarded this one, that I found online at klwines.com, with a 92-point score.

Covered by the famous diluvial red pebbles that protect them from the dry climate and La Mistral winds, the vineyards at Chateau Maucoil are said to consist of all chateau-maucoil-chateauneuf-du-pape-rhone-france-10293833tChateauneuf-du-Pape soil types.  The 2011 Chateau Maucoil Chateauneuf-du-Pape ($30-40) is an old vine grenache dominant blend that adds 20% syrah, 10% mourvedre and cinsault, very fruit forward and balanced.  This wine is produced only when the vintage is good and the 2011 was a very good one.

Our next wine was a big, earthy release, the only one created by the Barrot Family, long-standing growers producing 5,000 cases annually on 16 hectares in the appellation, divided among 24 different parcels.  The 2011 Domaine Lucien Barrot et Fils Chateauneuf-du-Pape ($50), with 80% grenache, 10% syrah and five percent each cinsault and mourvedre, is made whole cluster, fermenting in large cement vats before aging up to 36 months in oak. Significant aromas of spices, herbs and earth are followed by deep, dried cherries and anise flavors of great length.

Their family has farmed the land since the 17th Century, but Domaine du Pegau was 160164lformed in 1987 by father, daughter team, Paul and Laurence Ferard. The grenache dominant Domaine du Pegau Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee Reservee 2013 ($70), our next wine,is produced whole cluster and was the most masculine wine that we tasted. Aromas of ripe fruits and pepper precede rich, earthy flavors with soft tannins on the finish.  All the major periodicals rate this wine in the 90-95 point range.

From another family with local roots dating back to the 17th Century, the Chateau de la Gardine was established in 1945 by Gaston Brunel, producing great red Rhone blends and a special roussanne-dominant white, the Chateauneuf-du-Pape Château de la Gardine Cuvée des Générations Marie-Léoncie 2013 ($30).  The 60-year old

The "Gardine Bottle"

The “Gardine Bottle”

vines lay atop limestone soil and, with early rains followed by a warm 2013 summer, the roussanne was allowed to fully ripen, creating a rich, buttery texture and full flavors. Although there is no malolactic fermentation, the wine is fermented and aged in new French oak. Many wineries in Chateauneuf-Du-Pape can be identified by the shape of their unique bottles and this wine is exclusively released in the “Gardine bottle,” broad at the bottom with long, narrow neck. Counter to tasting wine in the States, it is tradition in Chateauneuf-du-Pape to end with a white blend and this one was memorable.  Approximately 70% of the Chateau’s wine is exported, so these wines can probably be found with a little effort.  The group was enamored by all six wines and immediately discussed shipping a case home to the US. Soon, our practical sensibilities prevailed and we settled on a 2011 Chateau Maurcoil Chateauneuf-du-Pape to accompany our lunch.

Lunch at La Cour Des Papes was both distinct and memorable. Firstly, the large dining table is in the chef’s kitchen and guests are welcome to stand, roam and question the chef while he is cooking. The partly set menu in French was intriguing with dishes described as “filet de Canette e au marine au soja et champignons” or “Hachis parmentier d’epaule d’agneau et sa sauce de Chateauneuf-du-Pape” that were translated fullsizerenderto “Filet of female duckling, pickled and raw with soy beans and mushrooms” and “Shepherd’s Pie with lamb and Chateauneuf-du-Pape sauce.” I opted for the raw duckling entree and “Cabillau” or codfish with butter and saffron as my “plat” or main course.  Our chef, Julien, was not only patient with our questions, but serenaded us with song and entertained us with his humor throughout the entire meal that included a rich crème brûlée’ dessert.

La Cour Des Papes also offer cooking classes where patrons can learn new dishes that they prepare for their own meal. Our once in a lifetime luncheon was a bit extravagant but the Browns Valley Fork and Cork Society, six people strong, saved their pennies and were ready.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape and other nearby towns located between the cities of Avignon andimg_3780 Orange boasts nearly 8,000 acres of vineyards and produces as much wine as any other region in France.  Those lucky enough to visit the area will be rewarded with beauty, history and the ability to purchase these remarkable wines at local prices.  They are a bargain as long as you drink them locally.


Wine Pairing Challenge

 

Pairing wines with a special dinner is challenging, but fun, especially when it supports a good grassroots cause.  Having lived in the coastal community of Pacifica, south of San Francisco in the early seventies, we still have DSCN4282friends there, many of whom are involved in a long-standing  non-profit organization called “Pacificans Care.”  Made up of all volunteers, the group raises funds to support various projects that enhance the city, aesthetically and culturally.  Participating in a wine pairing dinner to support them seemed like a worthy endeavor.

When I was informed that the chefs would be serving a herbed pork tenderloin as one of the courses, several wonderful pairings came to mind.  Depending on sauces and other ingredients, pork tenderloin can be complimentary to a range of varietals, from chardonnay to syrah.

However, this menu flavor profile was so diverse that it made selecting the wine difficult.  For example, the pork tenderloins were wrapped in prosciotto inviting a medium-bodied pinot noir or bolder syrah, but was served with an apple chutney that would normally favor a chardonnay.  With any challenge comes an opportunity to be

2013 Selbach-Oster Zeltlinger Schlossberg Riesling Spatlese

2013 Selbach-Oster Zeltlinger Schlossberg Riesling Spatlese

creative, to do something unexpected, then hope that it all works.  Let’s review what we chose and why.

Appetizers

Cheeses:  Garrotxa (Spain) raw goat’s milk

                    Raclette (Switzerland) cow’s milk

Wine:        2013 Selbach Oster Zeitinger Schlossberg Riesling Spatlese    

                    Mosel (Germany)

Asked to select an introductory wine paired with cheese, we settled on an all European pairing that began with a highly rated, rich 2013 Selbach Oster Zeltlinger Schlossberg Riesling Spatlese from the Mosel region of Germany. A style of German riesling, Spatlese, translated, means “late harvest” but cannot be confused with our late harvest sweet dessert wines.

Garrotxa

Garrotxa

Among the styles of German riesling, Kabinett is more austere, less fruit forward, pairing well with food, Spatlese is more rich and creamy with a soft minerality and Auslese can be compared to our later harvest dessert wines.  The medium-bodied Selbach Spatlese came to my attention when Wine Spectator magazine rated it 93-points, citing complex flavors of red peach, apple pear and anise.  I felt that the rich minerality and petrol nuances of the wine helped express the creamy Garrotxa from northern Spain and Raclette, the national cheese of Switzerland

1st Course:  Cream of Mushroom Soup, Creme Fraiche, Parmesan

                         Crisps     

 Wine:            2013 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc (Russian River Valley)

Creme fraiche, a French cultured cream available at most  markets, adds richness to soups and sauces. In this instance I anticipated enhancement to a soup that was already creamy. Needing to avoid  rich, buttery

2013 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley

2013 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley

chardonnay or other acidic white wines, this was actually are easiest choice.

The Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County is, arguably, one of the good food wines ever produced.  The flavors of the 2013 vintage, fairly austere not to compete with the richness of the soup, still express white peach, pear, citrus and melon on the palate preceded by floral aromas.  Awarded 93 points by Wine Spectator magazine, this sauvignon blanc is a “foodies” dream and was a perfect pair with our first course.

2nd Course:  Shaved Fennel and Herb Salad with Baby Radishes

Wine:   2009 Can Mayol Loxarel “Gran Reserva de Familia” Brut

               Nature Penedes (Spain)

                 

This pairing definitely took some “risk-taking” and was, without a doubt, the evenings most unique. Although a sparkling wine, this is not a Spanish cava produced in the “methode champenoise” because there is no dosage.  Dosage, pronounced with the accent on the second syllable, is a sweet mixture of wine and sucrose added, in small measure, to each bottle designed to enhance the flavor. French champagne, Italian proscecco, Spanish cava and other sparkling wines made in the “methode champenoise” have dosage.  Those with none are known as “brut nature” wines and generally have a more herbal flavor profile that compliments food.

The 2009 Can Mayol Loxarel “Gran Reserva de Familia” Brut Nature originates from the Penedes region, south of Barcelona, which is the oldest wine region in Europe. It consists of Xarel-lo grapes, common to the sparkling and still wines from Penedes and is aged 51 months on its lees, using the dead yeast to add texture.

2009 Can Mayol Loxeral "Gran Reserva"

2009 Can Mayol Loxeral “Gran Reserva”

In awarding this wine 93-points, Robert Parker described fennel as one of its flavors which was enough for me to take a chance on the pairing.  Our guests were a little surprised at the choice of a sparkling wine, expecting champagne flavors, but the “brut nature” complimented rather than overpowering the salad.

Although this 2009 vintage was the oldest wine we served, it was recently released, six years after harvest.  This is an extraordinary amount of time in comparison to wines produced in the states, that age 20-24 months.  European wine maker’s comfort with extended aging is primarily based on financial reasons. Most European wineries have been family owned for centuries whereas those in the states commonly are owned by the bank and the pressure to get the product to market is higher.

3rd Course:  Herbed Pork Tenderloins, Apple Chutney, Honey-Roasted Carrots

                          with Tahini Yogurt, Potato Stacks

Wine:              2012 Williams Selyem “Foss Vineyard” Pinot Noir RRV

Pork pairs well with a range of wine varietals depending how it is prepared.  This specific recipe was difficult because the pork tenderloins were wrapped with prosciotto, favoring syrah or other deep red varietals, but the apple chutney and honey roasted carrots would prefer a rich California chardonnay.  I settled for a specific medium-bodied pinot noir from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County that, hopefully, would balance this complexity.

2012 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir "Foss Vineyard" Russian River Valley

2012 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir “Foss Vineyard” Russian River Valley

Williams Selyem is one of the state’s finest producer of Burgundian-style pinot noir and cool-climate chardonnay.  They have estate vineyards, but mostly source grapes from some of the finest vineyards in the Russian River Valley and beyond.  The nearby west-facing Foss Vineyard benefits from afternoon sun after the morning fog has lifted which results in some of the warmest soils in the valley, allowing the grapes to fully ripen for bolder flavors.

The elegant flavors of pinot noir can pair with complex flavors, including prosciotto and chutney if it also has rich texture and solid structure such as the 2012 Williams Selyem “Foss Vineyard” Pinot Noir RRV or equally fine releases from wineries such as Roar in the Santa Lucia Highlands and Loring Wines in the Santa Rita Hills appellation.

 

Dessert:  Bittersweet Chocolate Truffle Cake

                   Rogue River Blue (Oregon) with sage honey

Wine:       2007 Val du Vino “Opportunity” (Amador County)

                   2009 Longoria Syrah Port (Santa Ynez Valley)

Dessert was the easiest pair of the evening, adding my favorite Rogue River Blue from southern Oregon with sage honey as an option to the chef’s wonderful truffle cake.  Rogue River Blue has a rich and creamy texture that lacks the bite of most blue cheeses and is always a good dessert alternative.  It is exclusively a fall cheese and I had

Rogue River Blue

Rogue River Blue

some difficulty finding it in March.  After some effort, I finally was able to purchased some through a unique online gourmet cheese source call amazon.com.

Our two aged port-style dessert wines spanned California regions, from Amador County in the North to Santa Ynez Valley in the South.  Personal favorites, the 2007 Val du Vino “Opportunity” is a true port, sourced

2009 Longoria "Vino Dulce" Syrah Port

2009 Longoria “Vino Dulce” Syrah Port

from Amador and aged eight years in French oak and the Longoria “Vino Dulce” Syrah Port from Santa Ynez Valley both express rich flavors of dark berries, spices of vanilla and pepper and, of course, chocolate.  They can and did pair equally well with the chocolate and the cheese.

Everyone had fun, a good cause was supported and we all discovered more about the wonderful partnership of food and wine.