Category Archives: Wine Destinations

If it’s Wednesday we must be in Vukovar

In Hollywood films, “the bad guys are always Russian and named Elias,” says our AMA Waterways tour guide in a mixed tone of defeat and humor. Our tour begins in Croatia, within its 88,000 square kilometers along the Adriatic Sea. We are off the beaten tourist path except for the beauty of paprika farms that we drive past.

Our bus rides alongside sunflower fields of beauty in juxtaposition of the bullet-riddled buildings we passed far East of Croatia. We are headed to Ilok, to the city for wine tasting, coincidentally on a national holiday – August 5 – a day commemorating the Yugoslav Civil War of 1991-92. You can still see the effects of the bombed buildings, as with each election, empty promises of repair are meant to lure voters to what is commonly known as a corrupt government. Vukovar’s Baroque architecture is a promise of a rebuild of a city, and it is clear that this renovation is ongoing.

Symbols of resistance are everywhere we turn: Hiding places where there are ground-level doors, the water tower, a symbol of resistance. Graffiti on a yellow building in Serbia showcases an image of an angry man. The heaviest fighting took place in Vukovar. A war-ravaged neighborhood where on a drive you see many homes decorated with bullet holes.

The Croats arrived in the 7th century and by the 12th century, the state entered with Hungary. The Ottoman invasion of Europe in the 16th century claimed almost all of Croatia, and by the 17th century, the Austrians liberated Croatia. By the end of World War I, Croatia was part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Enter the dark period, also known as World War II, when Croatia declared its independence by committing bad deeds to the Serbs in a Nazi collaboration. By 1945 Croatia was socialist and the red star was its symbol of resistance in the fight against Nazi’s and Fascism.

Ilok & Vukovar - county of Vukovar-Sirmium Statue

In this city, a statue symbolizes the first democratic elections. In 1991 the war began  in the republic of Serbia; Croatia fell under UN protection and later liberated on August 5, thanks to Operation Desert Storm.

Today, Croatia is a parliamentary democracy with a prime minister and president that serves two terms of five years each. Today there is a woman president with no jurisdiction; basically she is a “floor plant in the office,” our tour guide admits.

Unlike its wine, the politics of Croatia are hard to swallow; luckily I am here to taste wine that began thanks to the Roman, Marcus Aurelias, who wanted to plant grapes here. Croatia’s region began with 80% grasevina – and Italian reisling.

The wines I taste in a 15th century castle’s hand-built cellars at Ilok (Nikolar Ilok) are crisp in minerality and the whites in particular are enjoyable on this late summer day. Aged in 7 years young Slovenian oak barrels grown in Venice, Italy, much of this wine was destroyed during the 7 years of war when Serb’s occupied Ilok.

 

But the wine is so tasty that even Queen Elizabeth has a few boxes of 1947 Croatian wine in her cellar. She got these bottles only because the wine bottles were hidden behind brick walls, as pictured, below.

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My tasting notes at Ilocki in Croatia, where a bottle of Podrumi is $5.

#1 – Gratavina (Italian Riesling) 2014

A dry-greenish to hay color, definitely a summer wine that surprises with its buttery flavor.

12% alcohol

#2 – Traminac 2014 has a color more golden than the Gratavina, with a strong floral bouquet of roses. This wine is so delicious it is like sipping honeysuckle, jasmine and rose. It offers a longer finish than the Gratavina. I’m sold, if only I knew where to purchase a bottle in the U.S.

12.5% alcohol

 

#3 Kapistran CRNI 2013 is made from grapes that grow in a region where hunters flock. This is a cabernet sauvignon Frankoka with a dark, very dark, in fact, ruby red color and aroma of berries and currant. This wine is best served with Gouda cheese, wild boar, deer meat and Hungarian Goulash.

12.5% alcohol

 

 

 

It is difficult to swallow the hard history of Croatia, but its wine production goes down easy and with a pleasant, lingering finish.

 

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More than Goulash, Hungary has Boar’s Blood?

Although quite tasty, there is more to Hungary than Goulash. For one, there is a huge wine production, but this isn’t new. And neither is the communication of Hungarian wine, still referred to as boar’s blood, or at least blended wines. In the U.S. we typically hear the same blends referred to as “table wine”, “Meritage”, or “Bordeaux blend”.

Historically, wine has been the favored choice over water for hydration, so it’s no surprise that the 3,000 Celtic people who lived in Hungary made wine. Most of the Hungary-wine produced was white, at least before the mid-19th century. In fact, 1686 marked the time when the Turks left and Bosnia monks arrived. German-speaking settlers brought white grapes, but over time, the Serbs switched to red.

To put things in perspective on Hungarian wines and their prestige, know this…Queen Elizabeth drinks Cabernet Sauvignon from Villany. I found this out while on an AMA Waterways River Cruise from Budapest to Bucharest. Tasting in Villany, I had the great pleasure to taste foreign wines in a cave. The first chardonnay comes from a village outside of Villany. This white wine was a favorite of mine —un-oaked and made in stainless-steel tanks.

Wine tasting in Villany surprised me, with its 22 historical wine-producing regions. These fun facts satiated my curiosity almost as much as the wines tantalized my palate. For instance, in the northern region of Hungary, the Tokaj wines are made from white grapes discovered by the French King… from a 15-million-year-old leaf!

Yes, the history of wine production is long in Hungary.

I hadn’t known that the second best known wines hail from nearby Belgrade, Serbia, and that in the 19th century, the Phylloxera outbreak left the majority of vineyards dead. From the point of re-planting, red grapes began to grow in this area…Oporto to be exact, which is the Portuguese wine in Villany.

When the Turks tried to seize Hungary for 25 days, the Hungarians thought they were gonners – they could live or die. So, on their last day, they were happy when their women brought good red wine from the cellars, from barrels to buckets.

The Turks saw the wine trickling down on the Hungarian beards and white shirts. These Hungarians drank too much, and as a result, felt strong — strong enough to fight. The Turks thought they drank boar’s blood and they ran away.

Moral of this story: drink wine in fight or flight.

While tasting, I discovered the 2014 rose would have tasted best mixed with soda water. With an aroma of strawberries and its coppery rose color, this wine seemed to have gone into secondary fermentation – a bit fizzy. It’s blend of 3 sources, including blue cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon did not impress.

Finally I tasted the first of four reds, a ruby color that made me feel regal. It had a faint aroma of currants, a very good tannin structure and medium finish. It proved a medium to light bodied wine, “real blood of Villany Hills” —  an Oporto from 2013.

The second red – again a ruby color – offered a deeper berry aroma and still light, definitely a pinot noir. It was an enjoyable medium bodied wine, a 2011 blue francish with 14% alcohol, originally from Austrian region – Nazi days – when payment was made with blue francs.

Our third wine had the same ruby color – with high alcohol and low acidity – so its shelf-life is less. I got the aroma of a band-aid and obviously disliked this 2011 blend of 40% Oporto, 40% blue francish – seed of sour cherry – and 20% cabernet sauvignon.

Here’s toasting to Attila the Hun and history.

The cheesy little planet of Napa Valley

Ever since I arrived to my new life in Napa Valley, California, I’ve felt like I’ve been living on another planet. The people are of a different nature than what I’m used to, having lived my whole life on the East Coast.They’re not European, but the landscape has a strong Burgundian familiarity. So, it was fitting to take a seat at Beringer Vineyards for a cheese and wine tasting with Janet Fletcher (pictured below), publisher of “Planet Cheese.”

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The stars aligned for me to sit in on this tasting event that began with a West Marin Nicasio Valley Foggy Morning cheese made with cow’s milk. To match the intensity of this delicate, young farmstead cheese, we each received a pour of 2013 Luminus Chardonnay, Oak Knoll ($38) made with grapes from north of Napa on a flat vineyard that allows even ripening and balance of fruit. The nose on this Beringer white offered apricot, and flavors of mango.

“This is a good aperitif wine,” stated Janet.

Its crispness brought forth a slight intensity, and I agree: it is a great wine to start off an evening. The cheese brought the wine forward, and so we moved forward to the next pairing.

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Point Reyes Farmstead Toma has been around for almost 8 years, hailing from Marin County. This is another farmstead cheese, which means it has its own cows. Its commonality is with Gouda, and would go well with beer and lots of wine choices. We enjoyed a glass of 2013 Private Reserve Chardonnay, Napa Valley ($46) made with grapes grown on vineyards in Yountville. The cheese was moist and creamy…butter aromas and crème fraiche taste, while the wine offered a nose of pear, pineapple and intense elegance. The cheese didn’t stand alone. It was a good match.

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Next, Vella Mezzo Secco of Sonoma County was served with a Beringer 2012 Quantum, Napa Valley ($65) made with grapes from vineyards of Howell Mountain and Saint Helena. This is a Bordeaux-style blend of earthiness from cabernet sauvignon (70%) grapes, merlot, malbec, petit verdot and cabernet franc. A nose of deep chocolate, smoke, dark berry led way to good tannin structure and a silky finish of baking spices. The cheese was drier than the rest, with more grain and deeper flavor…made from raw cow’s milk. Its aroma was on the nutty side, but I also detected a brown butter scent.

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Number four on the list was Bellwether Farms Blackstone, which is a new cheese on the market made from cow’s AND sheep’s milk of Sonoma County.

Bellwether Farms Blackstone with Beringer 2012 Steinhauer Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon  was my favorite of the tasting.

The rind has ash on it, which adds a peppery aroma to the already buttered, peppered lamb scent. Paired with a 2012 Steinhauer Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain ($110), the earthy, jammy, pie filling flavor was amazing. Aged in 95% new French oak barrels, notes of dark chocolate/mocha, toast level of perfection and cigar, cedar offers a glimpse to its age-ability of 15-20 years to which this wine might be laid down.

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Last pairing: Bleating Heart Cheese Fat Bottom Girl, made with sheep’s milk from Marin County and paired with a 2012 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($165). This wine is made for private reserve from grapes of Howell Mountain and Saint Helena. This is Beringer’s most sought after bottle, according to Janet. The cheese is dry, almost brittle, and like the cheese, this wine was not my favorite. Or at least it needed to be decanted.

At the onset of this tasting, our group of 35 to 40 in attendance was instructed to start with the cheese, then chose the wine. But know this… You will never get a “horrible pairing” of cheese and wine. It’s simply that some cheeses are better when served with a particular wine.

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I would attend another of Janet’s classes, if I can find one with an opening. If the below schedule of sold out classes is any indication, she is a popular speaker, author and cheese guru. Check it out:

Single class: $65
Monday, March 7:  SOLD OUT Mambo Italiano
Monday, April 4:  SOLD OUT The Hills Are Alive! Alpine Cheeses from France and Switzerland
Monday, May 2: Best of the British Isles
Monday, June 6: SOLD OUT Locavore Night: Notable Newbies from Northern California
Monday, July 11: SOLD OUT Bubblemania
Monday, August 8: Artisan Cheese & Craft Beer: Seven Slam-Dunk Pairings
Monday, September 12: Blue-Ribbon Winners from the American Cheese Society
Monday, October 3: Cabernet Country: Great Cheeses for the King of Reds
All 8 Classes: SOLD OUT Grand Tour

Weekend in Burgundy: Les Deux Chévres 

If history and wine cannot be separated, then Burgundy is a prime example. The monks are the common denominator, who from the 6th century until the French Revolution were largely responsible for the development of the Burgundy viticulture that we know today. As of 2015, the vineyards and wineries of Burgundy and Champagne, mainly the climate and terroir, are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage sites. What this means to the businesses in these regions of France is yet to be determined. Burgundy, in particular, is a conglomeration of small villages unable to accommodate hordes of tourists, but more exposure to the area’s history is no doubt going to highlight a tourist’s visit.

View from my room
View from my attic room.

One of the best areas to explore Burgundy is in the heart of the world’s most expensive Romanée-Conti vineyard at the foot of the Combe de Lavaux: Gevrey-Chambertin. This wine village is a seven-minute train ride from Dijon, and among a few gites and hotels, the luxury inn, Les Deux Chévres, is but a short car ride to a five-star experience. For the couple who manage the 10-rooms within this inn, it is an all-encompassing life commitment.

Guests filter in and out for a night or two, seven days each week. For innkeepers/owners Paul and Jolanta Thomas, a schedule of rising at the crack of dawn and resting at midnight is common. As the precursor to running this inn, the couple endured a three-plus year renovation during some harsh winter months, roughing it with no windows or heat, and working with a crew that spoke a different language. The biggest challenge began within the start of renovations, when Paul had to exit the country to tend to his folding U.K. business. The stress took its toll on Jolanta, who continues to suffer from migraines and isn’t as relaxed as her husband or the guests to which he offers pours of wine with an open heart and obvious passion to be in Burgundy.

Les Deux Chévres is the story of two stubborn goats: Paul, a lawyer from the U.K., and Jolanta, a Polish woman determined to follow-through a challenging renovation. Its lure is its location in Burgundy, where some of the world’s best wine is available (a bottle of grand cru can cost 500 euros), and where Les Deux Chévres is a bike ride away from the grand cru vineyards and wineries.

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Breakfast on property at Les Deux Chevres.

Cobblestoned streets connect the grand carpet of vineyards viewed from the windows of this peaceful property. The only noises heard are the morning cock-a-doodle-doo’s and dinnertime clink of wine glasses as the village restaurants set outdoor patio tables. Although winters may be harsh, the area’s grapes thrive on the baking hot sun of summertime and its cool nights. In July, the grapes are pea-sized, but soon enough ready for harvest.

There are 10 guestrooms and a converted attic space a circular staircase away, where the aroma of fresh-cut wood is telltale of the new construction and the window view looks out to vineyards that roll up and down through Gevrey-Chambertin. Artist Joyce Delimata’s artwork of the vineyards are sold in the boutique shop in the reception area.

A tasting

A day visit to Chateau Villars Fontaine Le Cos du Chateau, only 10 kilometers away, offers a flight of tastings, beginning with a 2010 Les Jiromees from Cote de Nuits, with a mushroom nose. Winemaker Bernard Hudelot is a legend in Burgundy, known for making wines that can last 30 years or more. The finest wine tasted is a 2012 Gevrey Chambertin Grand Vin De Bourgogne. This pinot noir is less fruit-forward than California pinot noir, as Burgundy is all about terroir. Tres bon. Another great sip is a 2013 Puligny-Montrachet Vielielles Vignes made from Chardonnay grapes in the area (did you know that 60-% of Burgundy’s overall production is white wine, most of which is Chardonnay?). A floral aroma dominates the subtlety of beeswax and offers a rich mouthfeel with mineral complexity and lingering finish. The 1994 tasting can only be described as awesome, and a 2006 offers layer of licorice and baking spices. Worth noting is that some Burgundy reds are aged 48 months in new French oak barrels, spending two years in one barrel before switching to a new one for another two years.

Dinner is best served down the road from Les Deux Chévres, at Chez Guy, beginning with a Cremant Bourgogne de Champagne and a plate of green olives and thumb-sized popovers. The chef’s amuse bouche is a beetroot mousse topped with pine nuts and eye of bread topped with celery cream and caviar. Oh, yes.

Back at the inn, there is information about an upcoming wine school for visitors who would like an introduction to Burgundy wine, and in particular the wines of Gevrey-Chambertin. With 600 hectares under vine, Gevrey is the largest and most important wine producing commune north of Beaune, boasting no fewer than nine Grand Cru wines to its name. Today, there are half-day courses available in the luxurious 19th-century salon of Les Deux Chévres. Wine instructors include Mark Fincham, the only English winemaker in Gevrey-Chambertin, and one of the few making wines biodynamically; Sandrine Lanaud, who has a degree in molecular biochemistry, yet devotes her life to the subject of winemaking in her native Burgundy; and other members of the team include Matthieu Aravantinos, chief taster for Les Deux Chévres, and consultant Tim Magnus, qualified WSET Level 4 – just below MW.

For an English-speaking tour guide, U.S. historian Kelly Kamborian is the best, and works with Les Deux Chévres to offer some of the best tours of Burgundy, including a photo stop at Romanée-Conti. Check out her video on The Story of Wine and Burgundy: www.theburgundyshop.com/historicaltours

For more information about wine education and a stay at Les Deux Chévres, visit www.lesdeuxchevres.com. Note: Featured image is a drawing by Els Baekelandt.

 

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The story of two goats

In 1694, the famous French writer and poet Jean de La Fontaine, wrote his final series of Fables, and one of them was about two goats. The story did not actually call for goats – it just needed two nimble and agile creatures with perfect balance and a head for heights. Can anyone think of a creature more apposite than a goat? Probably not, and nor can we. And this is where the problems start. Because de La Fontaine was writing about the unfortunate consequences of a refusal to compromise. Always topical! To illustrate the point, both of de La Fontaine’s protagonists were prepared to be crushed to death on the rocks below, or swept away in the raging torrent – rather than let the other animal cross the bridge first.

But this was only a Fable, you say – the goats were only used to convey the message that compromise is a better option. However de La Fontaine was the most famous poet and writer in France, and his works were published around the world. And so anyone reading the Fable, would come away thinking – what complete clots these goats must be. And so it has been ever since. In every country where the Fables have been published, there is a saying or expression associating our breed with stupidity or obduracy. We have been made into fools. For this reason, we have decided to respond.

We need to recognize Monsieur de La Fontaine’s tale for what it is – a poorly researched negationist fabrication! Strong words you say! – but we reply : how would you like to be held to ridicule for 300 years, and repeatedly put on a par with the mule in terms of cognitive functioning?

On behalf of myself Archimedes, my mate Tensy, our 674 million cousins (not to mention 1.4 billion of our Chinese friends in the Year of the Goat!) – we invite you to read the true story of The Two Goats at www.lesdeuxchevres.com

– Archimedes and Hortensia

Toscana Resort Castelfalfi and a taste of Poggionero 2012

Poggionero 2012 was a good vintage for this authentic Tuscan wine, grown on one of the most beautiful estates I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit in Tuscany: Castelfalfi. The breakdown of grapes are 50 percent cabernet sauvignon, 40 percent merlot and 10 percent alicante. Twelve months in barrels resulted in this ruby-colored, depthful taste of Tuscany’s terroir translated into elegance and sophistication. Sipping on this wine brings back memories of my visit during a chilly spring Easter weekend, where I enjoyed dinner in La Rocca Castelfalfi, a castle that hosts a Michelin-star restaurant/chef.

On my way to Castelfalfi, the winding road was almost invisible due to the distant fog. The weather’s uncooperative nature led me to drift in imagining myself meandering along the pathways that tied the estate together like the wrapping of a luxurious gift. All I was able to view was a peek of exquisiteness in the surrounding view. And that was good enough for the moment. The scene of rolling vineyards and Tuscan farmhouses pressed against a sleepy blanket of misty air was almost too beautiful to bear, to the point where my eyes moistened in thoughts of reality; this scene was not digitally-enhanced. The following day, as the fog unwrapped to a glorious definition of resplendent landscape I witnessed from my Hotel Tabaccaia terrace, I began to understand the succinct and sensory title of being under the Tuscan sun.

Olive treesOlive and Cypress trees at Castelfalfi Resort in Tuscany.

From Florence, the drive to Resort Castelfalfi is approximately one-hour, and the conversation about the habits of wine drinkers in Italy versus the U.S. revealed just what I imagined — that drinking wine is part of a culture in Italy, while in the U.S. it is an indulgence triggered by the need for social lubricant.

In Italy, a child grows up drinking wine diluted with water, which educates the palate for tasting wine to its fullest potential by the time of adulthood. In fact, as part of a debut into adulthood, in Italy, participation in a wine harvest is a ritual experienced for youth “coming of age.” With this concept in mind, I cannot help but wonder if what I taste at Castelfalfi might only be tastier had I been drinking diluted wine as a young girl growing up in the U.S. Alas, I was not in the U.S., but in Tuscany, where I plan to return time and time again, if not for the wine, but for the olives and oil, as well as the incredible Italian dishes and friends I made along the way.

Three must-visits in Venice: Tea Time at The Metropole, Harry’s Bar & the Caffe Florian

From the moment we unpacked our suitcases upon check-in at the Metropole Venice, we had one mission in mind: get to Harry’s Bar for a Bellini. This was a recommendation that became our obsession. We hadn’t known exactly how special the experience would be, or how delicious a homemade Bellini could taste. The ritual of sitting at the bar, watching the homemade peach juice pour into the cocktail shaker while two bartenders dressed to the nines pour our expensive, but worthwhile Bellini, and then pose with us for a keepsake, was time well spent. This is a tourist-y act to do, and not for the Millennial Generation, but for the Boomer Generation, it’s right up our alley. (OK, so maybe I’m a Gen X’er.)

It was easy to run off to the various alleyways of Venice and then return to our spot on the waterfront at Hotel Metropole. Convenience in location is everything, and we were able to catch a water bus from the steps of our hotel, head to Lido for pizza and local red wine, hop a boat back to San Marco, run left from Hotel Metropole to the residential area of Venice to explore, sip a Bellini at Harry’s Bar to the right, and mid-day, head for a sip of Oriental tradition: tea time in the Oriental Bar at the Metropole Venice.

Tea Time Metropole

I arrived at the tea room for a ceremony in tasting amid soft music and candlelight. The scene was set and I was relaxed before my first sip. Two tea-time experts catered to my curiosity explaining to me that green tea is meant to brew for three-to-four minutes and is best served with fish, while white tea is steeped at 70 degrees for five-to-seven minutes. Black tea is steeped at 90 degrees for five minutes and is best served with caprino cheese and beef seasoned in a savory blend of Italian herbs. The Oriental Bar collaborates with the French company Dammann Frères from October to March in offering a tea ceremony of 30 most famous blends in the world. These blends include Olong, Ceylon O.P. Kumana , green Genmaicha tea, Nepal Himalaya Shangri-La, Darjeeling Superior, Assam Superior and Yunnan Celestial.

Next stop: Caffe Florian, a historic landmark of Venice.

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We weren’t sure what to order: coffee or a cocktail? So we ordered coffee liqueur cocktails as a compromise. Three words: Worth. Every. Penny. The interior design alone is worth a visit. Fortunately, it’s location is a short walk from Metropole Venice and we were able to freshen up before and after our activities. One particular activity that was educational and special was a tour we signed up for through Walks of Italy for a Legendary Venice Tour. From the Doges Palace to St. Mark’s Basilica, it was thrilling to hear the background stories stepped in artwork, interior design extraordinaire, and spaces that one could only imagine filled with dukes and nobles of the past. You can’t get this type of experience unless you’re with an expert tour guide.

Aside from the tourist attractions, it was our off-the-beaten path experience of turning to the left of Hotel Metropole to walk through the residential area. This experience made the entirety of our visit to Venice well-rounded and worth a toast to accomplishing many activities, sips and tastes into a few short days.

What I learned at IWINETC 2015 in La Champagne, France

I only drink Champagne on two occasions, when I am in love and when I am not.

– Coco Chanel

I stand in the cellar at Champagne Collet in Aÿ, in the heart of the Champagne region, where one million bottles a year are produced. The historic cellars which were once a refuge during war are now home to some of Champagne’s finest caves, where millions of bottles age for our eventual palatable pleasure. As an attendee at the International Wine Tourism Conference 2015, held this year in La Champagne, France, I was honored to receive a hands-on education in Champagne making and tasting.

“The bottles are placed in a 45-degree angle, necks down in the pupitres,” our guide explains, and the riddler turns the bottles every one to three days over a period of several weeks. Referred to as “remuage,” the process of riddling was invented by Widow Clicquot of Veuve Clicquot fame. Today, most Champagne bottles are riddled mechanically, but the ridge-lined shape of this particular Collet bottle does not fit within the parameters of the machine and must be turned manually.

Champagne Collet's Esprit Couture Brut
Champagne Collet’s Esprit Couture Brut, 

A bottle of Esprit Couture was bestowed upon me, and I recently had the pleasure of sharing it with friends. This is a Champagne crafted entirely by hand from start to finish utilizing Collet’s finest crus in a blend of 40 percent Chardonnay (for elegance and finesse), 50 percent Pinot Noir (for depth and structure) and 10 percent Pinot Meunier (fruit flavor).

This particular Champagne is aged for a minimum of five years within Collet’s chalk cellars.

Upon sipping this amazing bubbly, there was no doubt it was just that… fine effervesces gave way to vanilla and floral aromas with a taste of minerality and citrus blended perfectly for the palate.

Perhaps it is in the crafting of a selection of grapes from twenty vineyards in La Champagne, but the delicate aromas and flavors, like melting roses on my palate, wins my praise once I sip Collet’s privee rosé dry Champagne. This is a blend of pinot noir and chardonnay grapes with a bit of pinot meunier for its fruitiness, aged four years in a century-old chalk cellar.

The next morning, my tour on the Champagne Trail continues with a half-mile-long stroll on Avenue de Champagne in Epernay, where I walk on top of 200 million bottles of bubbly. Or so I’m told.

Thoughts about taste and terroir dominate my mind as I reflect on my journey through the wine regions of France. Author and scholar Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett once conducted research on sensory pleasures in food, citing the fact that “Wine is alive”— “It matures over the years and changes even in a few hours. It is an event. Even a single taste can be like an act in a play that is as long as the life of the vintage.” I would have to agree.

To view Collet’s video on Champagne’s tradition, click here.

Wines of Lanzarote

Lanzarote, a UNESCO designated biosphere reserve and one of the seven paradisiac Canary Islands off the coast of Spain, is ever spring-like. One might describe it as the Hawaii of Europe. But, does this weather create an interesting wine? A grapevine needs stress, and this is usually accommodated with cool nights and warm days. In Lanzarote, trade winds cause stress, and in an effort to protect the grapevines, the use of volcanic stones are arranged in a scallop shape as a barrier to the direction of the wind, as pictured above.

La Geria is where you’ll find vineyards that grow some fabulous grapes: Malvasía, Listán Blanca, Diego or Muscatel, the latter a late harvest. This winery creates some interesting DOC Lanzarote wines, including some tasty white wines that pair well with the fish and shellfish of the island. But you may want to try out a red wine — a red tinto once macerated with the branch of the grapevine — to go with some goat meat or black canary pork. This black Liston is not my favorite taste, so I’ll stick with the whites and dessert wine. But I did only visit one winery, and there are 18 in Lanzarote, 13 notable wineries.

I would have never known such beauty existed in a land that emerged so long ago (500 B.C.) if I had not been so tired of the cold raw winter in Paris. Lanzarote offers a sunny escape for Europeans who do not want to travel far. I stayed at the luxurious Arrecife Gran Hotel & Spa, a tall skyscraper next to the beach, and a resort that has nothing to do with the César Manrique design throughout the island that incorporates the lava stones and landscape within interior design, but it was central and convenient.

The coastline is one to absorb, and my sights were set on the peculiar sight of “Calima,” a blanket of fog-like dust of Africa that wades across the sea to filter what would be a perfect view of Morocco. The structures I view as I tour the island are of mountains dusted with lichens that provide food for the island birds. The flora of Lanzarote complements stretches of white, gold- and black-sand beaches from the north and south, all connecting to impressive views of rock formations knifing out from the waves. And then there’s Timanfaya, a national park in the Fire Mountains open for touring since 1972, covered with voluminous volcanic structures and a breathtaking scene where a trail of camels offer humpback rides for the ultimate view of a vista extraordinaire. You can also taste dishes cooked in the heat of the volcano.

Visit Lanzarote. Seriously, it is worth your time.

Walnuts, vin jaune and Comté cheese

Not all wines are created equal. In 1990, Jean-Michel Petit tasted his first vin jaune in Pupillin, located in the Jura region of eastern France. By 1997, he had bottled his first barrel at Domaine de la Renardière, located on rue du Chardonnay. Today, he has 65 barrels filled with the grape of the region: savignin. To make vin jaune, these grapes are plucked late harvest to transform their structure in a unique process to the appellations of Arbois, ultimately producing a deep yellow wine aged anywhere from 5 to 50 years in old oak barrels.

Siting a vineyard on a slope offers better sun exposure, Jean-Michel explains, but as I stand on the highest point looking down at the bowl of vineyards in the Jura region of France, my thoughts connect the past to the present. In fact, this land was once underwater and has left behind fossils we easily find among a pile of rocks near the vineyards. Oyster shell imprints are indicative of the soil structure similar to that of the fine wines of Chablis and even some areas of Champagne, but with added limestone instead of chalk.

With both flat vineyards and sloping, Jean-Michel, owner of Domaine de la Renardière, has the best of both worlds: New World and Old World. He gets to grow grapes and make wine in the old tradition, but incorporate modernity at his will.

“If you know good basics, you can grow grapes,” he states during a tour of his property that has been in existence since the 13th century. He grows five grapes on his land: the original chardonnay and pinot noir, and the regional ploussard, trousseau, savignin, the latter to make the Jura’s unique savignin jaune.

In the last year, Jean Michel’s vineyard has been utilizing biodynamic methods, partly dictated by the lunar calendar. There are certain days when, he says, “it is best to stay indoors all day.” On these off-lunar days, work on the vineyard is on hold. At this time, the buds are about to break open.

Savignin jaune intrigued and distracted me from Jean Michel’s introduction to his white and red wines our group tasted straight from the used oak barrels. I wanted him to get to the point, which was the process of making yellow wine that can be grown only in this Jurassic soil. This wine is not aged in a cellar, but in an attic inside barrels never topped off. In a strange development that has not yet been scientifically explained (nor will it ever be to protect its AOC status), a veil of yeast forms on the wine, which protects it from oxidizing and adds intense aromas and flavors. Forty percent is lost in the barrels, and once in its unique-shaped bottle called a “clavelin,” vin jaune will keep for 6.5 years. Once the process is over, Jean-Michel sells his used barrels to a whisky producer; the whiskey will then acquire some vin jaune to its recipe.

Finally, we are offered a pour of vin jaune. Its aroma of sherry and walnuts surprises me, and sipping it surprises me even more so, as this wine tastes nothing like sherry. It offers intense acidity and tastes like a deeply concentrated 15-percent alcohol white wine best enjoyed following a meal with a plate of Comté cheese and some walnuts. It also pairs well with curry, dark chocolate and sausages, or so I am told. In fact, it was suggested to add a little in an omelet, and to make a recipe that includes chicken, mushrooms (morrels) and cream, with, of course – some vin jaune.

Bordeaux’s equivalent of Downton Abbey

Chateau Pape Clement

This is the back of the castle, where my rental car pulled in and I emitted an uncontrollable, audible gasp. The grandeur of Château Pape Clément is where you’ll experience church meets wine and feel like you’ve gone to heaven.

Part of this chateau’s structure dates back to the 16th century, during the time of Pope Clement V. But the vineyard on the estate, gifted to Pope Clement V upon his appointment as Archbishop of Bordeaux, has been around since the 13th century. As the oldest wine estate in the Bordeaux region of France, Château Pape Clément’s vineyard has survived phylloxera and two forms of mildew, as well as the French Revolution, the latter ending the relationship between church and wine. Today, both the vineyard and château stand strong and thrive in the commune of Pessac. Since the 1980’s, the château and its vineyards have been owned by Bernard Magrez, better known for his Luxury Wine Tourism brand.

Chateau Pape Clement15chateau pape clement tasting room5Chateau Pape Clement6

Inside the château, a grand entrance leads to the breakfast room where you are served “Downton Abbey” style while seated at an oversized dining room table. In this same room, an armoire carved in what seems to be Old World scrolls and patterns opens to endless bottles of wines crafted by Magrez. One bottle sits on a table inside a suite where guests can relax for the evening in the utmost comforts. This bottle is a 2011 Cotes du Rousillon “Mon Seul Reve” that bears the double key logo insignia “Les cles de l’excellence” and Bernard Magrez’ name in script. His signature is on the label, so there is no doubt at all Magrez is the producer of this wine. And if two signatures aren’t enough, turn the bottle around and you’ll see another signature and a picture of the man responsible for Luxury Wine Tourism, and a quote:

“I have devoted my undivided attention to this high-quality wine which reflects I believe the experience I have gained with my “Grand Cru Classic wine – Chateau Pape Clement.”

In 2009, Magrez’ Grand vin, Château Pape Clément was awarded a perfect 100 from wine critic, Robert Parker, a gift from the heavens, perhaps.

For my bottle of Mon Seul Reve, carignan, syrah and grenache grapes were blended together to make an elegant offering I enjoyed a month following my visit. Perhaps I waited to savor the experience, since it was decadent and memorable. The chateau and winery, papal shrine and vineyard/grounds are worth a visit to the Bordeaux region of France. Check out the clay holding tank the winery is trying out these days (photo above, right).

If grandiose wine tasting and accommodations haven’t sold you by now, the neighboring tasting room is where you’ll get to sample the celebrated Grand Cru Classic, which was made with grapes grown in Pessac Leognan of 53 hectares. The grapes are cabernet sauvignon, merlot and a small percentage of petit verdot and an even smaller percentage (1%) of cabernet franc. This is a bottle worth every single sip. In fact, you can craft your own bottle of blends on certain days/times at the tasting bar.

For more information, visit luxurywinetourism.fr