Friday, July 31, 2009

Sharing a cold one!

Today the President met with a Boston Police Officer and a Harvard Professor to patch over what at best is a series of miscommunications, and at worst an insight into the sorry state of racial relations in the good old USA. To help us steer clear of these minefields, the choice of beer of each of the participants has now topped the list of popular discussions into just what everyone involved was thinking when they did what they did and said what they said to get themselves into this mess. The fact that there was a choice sours the whole thing in my opinion, an over-orchestrated press/photo op to show what regular guys they all are. Well, I'll throw my choice of beer for the day into the mix - with some trepidation about what it might "say" about me. What kind of beers do Masters of Wine drink anyway? Do they ever lower themselves and their exalted palates and fussy noses to such a common beverage? Absolutely! In fact so much so that our evening nightcap (or pre dinner warm up) had its own moniker, the PCA, short for palate cleansing ale. The PCA was a nightly ritual practiced almost religiously by my mates during the first and second year courses - a moment to get away from the maniacal focus we all had on wine and just enjoy something on its sheer merit. For the moment we were free from any responsibility to know everything there is to know about what we were drinking, and we able to simply drink'em up. No disecting hop contents, yeast strains, brewing techniques, and on and on ad nauseam. We just "had" them, cold, drank'em down like background music while we talked about how we thought we did that day.
So, like the policeman, the professor and The President, I too had a beer today, but mine I will assume, under much more enjoyable circumstances, or at least with a whole lot less pressure. And while I am a lover of many craft type beers, artisan, micro and the rest, today on a summer sail on the windward coast of Ohau it was a simple, refreshing Corona, served avec citron vert (field stripped with the bottle cap because we didn't have a knife) and squeezed into the bottle before inserting it to provide the crisp hint of refreshing and lively zip it needs. Served ice cold, at the "sand bar" in Kane'ohe bay with A BLTTA (bacon,lettuce, tomato, turkey and avocado) from the little market on Kailua Beach - I can tell you it doesn't get better than this!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Les Alps!

Well it was a tough weekend for the veterans! Tom Watson, after playing 71 holes of golf missed a long putt to win The Open and truly make history in one of the greatest comebacks of all time. In the end, Cink was too much in the playoff, and Watson's incredibly exciting run came to an end. But second place ain't bad at nearly 60, and my hat's off to Tom!

In the tour, the first stage of the Alps into Verbier might be telling the same story, as Alberto Contador poured it on in the last climb in a burst of incredible climbing power and ability to leave the Peloton eating his dust, including 37 year old Lance Armstrong. The difference is that this one's not over, and anything can happen in the final week. Lance is in second by a little more than a minute, and there's still a lot of race left!

Tuesday the race starts in Switzerland, over the Hors Category climb of the Col du Grand-St-Bernard and into Italy where they will descend into the Aosta Valley. This is one of the most amazing wine regions I have ever visited, and I love the wines not only for their unique character, but for the gritty tenacity of the people who still grow grapes and make wine in some of the highest vineyards in the world on the steep slopes of the high Alps.

2008 Le Cave du Vin Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle Vini Estremi Vallee d'Aosta, About $20 - While we generally work only with estate grown wines, La Cave du Vin Morgex et de La Salle is a cooperative that bucks the trend. Founded in 1983 in an attempt to rescue viticulture from becoming extinct because of the sheer labor involved to grow grapes in this extreme environment, over 90 growers united to cultivate the Prie Blanc grape, an obscure variety that is indigenous to the Vallee. The growers here look at you with incomprehension if you ask if they farm organically. Here in the high Alps, traditional farming never left; it is simply how they have always done it. The system of trellises used on the steep terraces is called pergola bassa, or low pergola, and they have been used for centuries. La Cave winemaker Gianluca Telloli explains that the low pergola helps protect the vines from wind and deep snow in winter, and allows every ounce of energy from the sun to be captured to help in the ripening of the grapes in summer. By keeping the vines close to the close to the ground, heat is stored and reflected. Stone piles scattered throughout the terraces look haphazard but serve the same purpose, gathering and reflecting heat to the vines.

As for the wine, it is a truly unique white with aromas redolent of white flowers. Crisp and light yet persistent, with just a tinge of spritz. It is as pure and clean on the palate as the alpine environment where it is grown. Delicate nuances of pear, melon, and sea salt flavors are delivered with a stony minerality that comes from the sheer rock where the vines are grown. It has great intensity and finishes with bountiful acidity and very fine length. Sip it on its own, or serve it with salads, charcuterie and anti-pasti, shellfish or mild fish or a poached chicken breast with lemon and herbs.

2005 Caves de Donnas Valle d'Aosta Rouge, about $24 - This is another incredible wine carved out of the rocks of the Alps; Dried cherry, mid weight and with charming old world rusticity. While this is the work of a cooperative, it is work featuring the utmost attention to detail. The vineyards lie on the hillsides of the Dora Balthea on steeply terraced slopes. A blend of 85% Picotendro (Nebbiolo) with a bit of Freisa and Neyret, this is a deliciously rustic red with perfumed dried cherry, cloves and bits of leather. Reminds me of an incredible dinner I had when skiing in Cervinia at a place called La Niege D'Antan, drinking all local wines I had never had before, incredible multicourse dinner culminating with a veal Val D'Aostana, double thick chopped, split and stuffed with Fontina cheese, all melty in the heat of the chop, and crisped parma ham and sage to set it off. Superb!

Renardat-Fâche Cerdon de Bugey, about $24 - The tour leaves the lovely Valle d'Aosta via another HC climb over the Col de Petite St-Bernard and back into France and the Haut Savoie. This is a truly iconic wine region with unique wines from little known grapes. The small French town of Cerdon lies in the shadow of the Alps, an it is here that Alain Renardat-Fâche makes his unique Cerdon de Bugey. This is a pink sparkler made from Gamay and Poulsard grapes using the tradiotnal method of aging the wine in the bottle and disgorging like Champagne, but it's a lot less money! It has moderate sweetness, but is not cloying or heavily sweet at all - just like eating fresh berries - naturally low alcohol makes it a perfect choice on a warm summer day as an aperitif, or after dinner for a refreshing nip that won't do too much damage!

To buy the wines, visit us online at 56 Degree Wine

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Bourgogne Rouge and Chinese!

Watching The Tour, enjoying a bottle of 2006 Roty Bourgogne Rouge "Cuvee de Pressonnier", about $33 - who says all Burgundy is expensive? The wine is from Rotys' holdings in the Pressonnier vineyard which lies partly in the appellation of Gevrey Chambertin, part in Bourgogne. Some growers separate the two, making or selling the Bourgogne as such, and the Gevrey under the Village level moniker. Roty declassifies the Gevrey to Bourgogne to make this favorite of mine: delicious, spicy and lively, with some dark fruits, good juicy acids, still fresh and youthful and crisp even. With an hour or so, it begins to reveal a little more of what's wrapped up down deep in this moderately priced Burgundy. More dark fruits surface, as well as more weight and richness and a flavor profile that says "solid Cote du Nuits".

Drinking instructions: Buy a case plus six bottles, hold the case 1-2 years, then open and enjoy over the next 2-3. Drink the other six in the meantime with an hour decant! Terrific tonight with pan fried pork dumplings followed by chicken in a black bean sauce with baby bok choy. Grilled Tuna or Salmon, chicken, pork, a skirt or hanger steak al la French Bistro with pan jus wine shallot reduction, frites and a green salad wouldn't be bad either! Buy it, click here and search on Roty.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tour de France - Along the Kimmeridgian Trail

Today the Tour is close to the halfway point and continues its meander through the French countryside starting in Vatan and heading northeast to St. Fargeau. A fairly flat stage and a day for the sprinters, the route winds just north of some of the best places in the world for the Sauvignon Blanc grape in the villages of Quincy, Reuilly, Sancerre and Pouilly sur Loire. Tomorrow, it drives on, starting just east of the village of Chablis, where the Chardonnay grape morphs into one of its most mineral, racy and intense expressions anywhere.

During this swing it follows a narrow vein of ancient fossilized seafloor that pokes up in England and then again here in France to create well drained marly limestone soils and some spectacular conditions for grape growing. Like all hallowed wine grounds, the wines of this area are the synthesis of millions of years of geological evolution, a specific climate, and the perfect match of grape varieties and wine making tradition. The soils impart their own signature to the wines, amplified and focused like a laser by the cool continental climate to create wines of unique character, quality and inimitable style: some of the classic of the wine world.

While Sancerre and its neighboring villages are technically part of the Loire Valley, it is closer not only physically to Chablis (110k) than it is to Vouvray (188k), but also geologically. Chablis, in a similar manner, is closer to Sancerre (110k) than it is to Puligny Montrachet (145k), and the argument can be made that these two villages, along with those surrounding them, share a common bond that runs deep. To see the route click Google Maps. For a few recommendations of wines along the route, read on! For more information on the wines visit us online at 56 Degree Wine.

Bring on the oysters! The lemony acidity and crisp clean nature of these wines make them the penultimate companions to chilled seafood, and in particular oysters and clams on the half shell, an experience perhaps best captured in Hemingway's' "A Movable Feast", where he describes the sensual joy of this combination and its effect on the soul:

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.” Ernest Hemingway, A Movable Feast

Wednesday: The Loire Valley and Sauvignon Blanc

2008 Domaine Adele Rouze Quincy Sauvignon Blanc, ORGANIC - The wines of Quincy have never been looked upon with the same amount of cache as those from its northeast neighbor, Sancerre. That may change as this offering from Adele Rouze is exacting and pure Sauvignon Blanc from organically farmed vines with perfumed aromatics, zippy pink grapefruit and citrus notes. Fresh and ready to drink now.$20

2008 Florian Mollet Pouilly Fume "Tradition", Loire - The entry level Pouilly Fume from Mollet trumps most vineyard designates from other producers. 100% Sauvignon Blanc, it is light and crisp with fresh grapefruit notes, hints of gooseberry and stony resolve, this is seafood-perfect wine with wonderful acidity. $19

Thursday: Chablis

Chablis is home to some of the greatest Chardonnay in the world. Crisp, mineral, flinty and focused, the wines here are the result of perfect synergy between the mineral soils, focused into laser precision by the cool northern continental climate. Its vineyards follow the Burgundian quality chain from Bourgone Blanc, up through Village level, Premier Cru and on to the sublime Grand Crus. Nearby there are some lesser known regions making great wines like Saint Bris and Chitry, offering exceptional value in not only Chablis-like Chardonnay, but Sancerre-like Sauvignon and some lovely racy fresh Pinot Noir as well. Look for Olivier Morin and Domain Groissot and you won't be disappointed. A couple of Chablis that I love not only for sheer quality, but for their value as well:

2007 Gilbert Picq Chablis "Vaucoupin" 1er Cru - On my last visit to the cellars of Gilbert Picq I was absolutely stunned by the brilliant quality of these small production, handcraft wines that truly capture to cool, mineral, focused intense. The other mind blowing thing (aside from the numbing cold in the cellars in February) where we tasted village level wine all the way back to the 80's that were delicious like only fine old Chablis can be. Lovely stony white fruits, sea shells, citrus and minerals on a big boned frame resolves with superb acid balance. $31

2008 Chablis Gilbert Picq - In another terrific vintage for the region the 2008's I have tasted seem to have the minerality and racy acids of the 2007, plus a little more heft and concentration that makes them very appealing! The '08 Picq is another in a great series of wines I have loved from the grower. Delicious now, if you have the patience this wine will age and improve over the next decade and more if properly stored. Amazingly only about $20, making all the better!

Next stop: Alsace!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Tonight dinner at Culinariane in Montclair (Walnut and Pine Streets) - Joe Bembry's neighborhood restaurant - lucky guy! Tonight we took advantage of his standing bi-weekly reservation, and it was as great as ever. I love this restaurant, not just for the food, but always great service, beautiful glassware, and they don't even blush when we come in with twice as many wines as diners!

First wine was the '95 Rodez Empriente de Chardonnay 1995, a family owned small grower who have been in Ambonnay for nine generations. The wines are now made by Eric Rodez, who before coming full time to the family business went off to make his mistakes on someone elses' dime. In this case, it was the prestigious house of Krug. Well Eric learned a thing or two and brought this knowledge back to his own property and proceeded to adapt what he had learned with special regard to making the highest possible quality wines from his holdings in the Ambonnay terroir. The wine was superb; creamy, lovely and mature, moderate to fairly quiet bead, some brioche, toast and even a hint of yellow fruits. Perfect! Joe says he used to go with smaller bubbles intentionally prior to '96, after he looked for a more pronounced mousse, but not too much. I stayed with the bubbly through a corn fritter amuse bouche, in a mild onion cream sauce - sweetish, fried, needed after long day of tasting, and half a main course portion for an appetizer (cheerfully accommodated) of Shrimp, heads on, over baby bok choy, fried rice, plus one of Bill Adams' fried oysters, crispy and light, horseradish creme, micro greens, shredded celery root maybe in the sauce? All very good.

Next wine was Volnay 2002 Les Chevrets, Jean Boillot et fils - medium ruby color, lovely, smoky sweet red cherry nose, still a little primary; supple, good flavors and aromatics, and fairly accessible, but ideally needs time to fully unfold as the nose is leading the palate, maybe 4-6 yrs more? Still grippy in mid palate, but so fine boned!

Cos d'Estournel 1970 - good color, ruby garnet red, very mushroomy, dark heavy earth tone, some oxy muddled notes on nose and palate with some dark cocoa powder bitterness and dried porcini notes. Just a little past in my opinion, but still worthy! Solid and dark if a touch tired - Thanks Bill!

Next course a huge double cut pork chop (yabadabadoo!) rubbed with coriander, with cabot cheddar cheese grits , broccoli rabe, pork jus. Perfectly cooked - so many get
pork wrong, especially this thick. Had it with perhaps THE perfect wine for this dish, Grange des Pere 2005 - elegant, fine, layered, balanced with exotic north African spices, cardamom, coriander, plus a hint of herault garriuge, subtle, and a whiff of Bordeaux cedar/cigar box again subtle, some noted a hint of eucalyptus, I didn't get it, more like herbs de Provence? What a wine - had opened significantly since we tasted it in the afternoon. I have to get some mags of this! Long, complex, absolutely singin' in harmony with this dish!

Climens 1971, Sauternes - Barsac: Wow! Medium deep gold, perfectly evolved and still fresh; off dry, fine, hint of creme brulee, what can I say, simply great - goes on forever! Layered tangerine, nectarine, lime, orange blossom, vanilla, spices. Palate is clean, persistent, sure it has plenty of sugar but is "off sweet" on the palate and not cloying at all, re-corked 1994 at the Chateau. Beautiful wine, thanks Gino! Lots of life left here, glad you have a few more bottles - call me when you open them! We all loved this wine, a little research shows we aren't alone, with this quote from Michael Broadbent: "Ambrosial, in the class of '29 and '49, grapes with perfect pourriture noble harvested in four tries between 8 October and 3 November....last tasted Oct 2001 at the Chateau, will continue to age for another quarter century. *****" Michael Broadbents' Vintage Wine, p. 193, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

For more info on Culinariane, click click here

Tour de France - Languedoc to Barcelona!

Lance Armstrong in the Yellow Jersey? Not quite, but only by a nano-second after a great team time trial on Tuesday and a bit of heads up riding the day before by the wiley veteran. Today the Tour continues its swing south through the Languedoc - Rousillon towards Perpignan on Wednesday, dips a toe into Spain and travels through Cataluna Thursday, and heads north on Friday to Andorra and into the mountain stages of the Pyrenees over the weekend. While it has been a bit more exciting than anticipated in these opening stages, the race will most likely be determined by who survives the mountains, and the first of these challenges begins Friday as the tour enters the Pyrenees. It also passes through some lesser known regions with some excellent wines - so follow along! A selection of these wines will be open to taste all day Saturday and Sunday July 10th and 11th while the shop is open. For additional information or to order, please feel free to call us at 908.953.0900, email us at or visit us online at 56 Degree Wine.

Languedoc: Banyuls et Coulliere and Coume del Mas

Coume de Mas is located in the southwest of France, not far north of the border with Spain, where the Pyrenees Orientale meet the sparkling Mediterranean sea. Here, steep terraced vineyards of mainly Schist soils bask in the warm southern French sunshine, moderated with mountain air to cool the vineyards. The winery was founded in 2000 by Philippe Gard and his family, who have now put together an estate of about 12 hectares with many parcels of old vines. The steep vineyards have to be worked by hand, a few can be plowed by horse, and the vines are tended organically wherever possible. The vines are literally growing in rock here, struggling for every ounce of essence they can extract to create concentrated, lovely wines. The dry wines are made under the Appellation of Collioure, the sweet wines are appellation Banyuls. To learn more and to see more photos visit the Coume del Mas Website and Blog by clicking here.

Coume del Mas "Schistes" 2006, Collioures - Deep, dark saturated, with spice, black fruits, from 30 Parcels of old vine, 100% Grenache Noir. Hand-sorted, de-stemmed and fermented in stainless steel for about 5 weeks, pressed and then 8-9 months back in tank before bottling. Dark, spicy and deep, with mineral tones from the schist soils, hearty and solid. Lamb and grilled meats come to mind - burgers on the grill wouldn't be out of place here either!! About $32 per bottle.

Coume del Mas Banyuls Galateao 2005 - Deep and dark and saturated with lovely black fruits and sweet plum with a hint of rasiny ripeness. Though it is fortified, it is not as liquorish as a Port, more wine-like and balanced, with lower alcohol, it works with many of the same foods - it's especially good with chocolate! About $40 per 500ml.

Cataluna: Gramona Cava

Gramona Gran Cuvee Cava 2006 - Cava is a traditional sparkling wine made in Cataluna, not far from Barcelona. It's a blend of Xarel.lo, Macebeo and Chardonnay in equal parts and fermented in the traditional method in the bottle. While some of the mass produced brands can sometime be dull and uninspired, there are a number of small growers making lovely, fresh and exciting Cava, Gramona being one of our favorites. Crisp and fine, with lovely small bubbles, fresh and lively on the palate. Great aperitif or with all kinds of seafood, shellfish and appetizers. About $19.50 bottle.

The Pyranees - Madiran

The tour leaves Catluna, goes through Andorra and then into the Basque Country of the western Pyrenees. The region of Madiran has made wine since Roman times, with wine making becoming even more important with the arrival of Benedictine Monks from Cluny who built an Abbey in the 11th century. It is known for gutsy, rustic country reds made from Tannat, blended with Cabernet Franc (locally called Bouchy) and Cabernet Sauvignon , which as the joke goes, is blended in to "soften the Tannat".

Chateau Laffitte-Teston "Reflets du Terroir" Madiran - French country wine at its finest, this rugged blend of 80% Tannat, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc is full of fragrant aromatics and solidly structured fruit. Leather and mixed berries with meaty notes of and spices, coolish and firm, with solid mouth filling tannins. Classic bistro wine for classic bistro fare, enjoy this now and over the next four years. Just add steak or lamb chops on the grill, a tossed green salad, and frites - presto! You're in France! About $18.50.

Monday is a rest day - they'll need it after the Pyrenees - then on to the Loire Valley, Chablis and Alsace! Don't forget to watch the action live on Versus!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tour de France - Stage Four

Tour de France – Stage 4,
Wednesday July 7, 2009 – Montpelier, Languedoc-Rousillon

Today’s stage from Marseilles to Le Grand Motte, through beautiful Provencal countryside and the villages of Les Baux de Provence and Arles, proved to be much more exciting than anticipated. Windy conditions and smart riding allowed a small group of attentive riders, including none other than seven time winner Lance Armstrong, to join a move by the Columbia team on a sharp turn and ride away from the pack to finish 39 seconds ahead of the next group. With this, the tour leaves Provence (not to return until the killer stage up the infamous Mont Ventoux) and swings to the south and west into the heart of the Languedoc-Rousillon. This is one of the most ancient wine regions in France, with history that begins with the Greeks in the 5th Century BC, continuing with the Romans next, and nearly unabated since.

The hot, dry, sunny Mediterranean climate makes it easy to grow grapes, but it has a mixed history as far as quality goes. Its ease of growing grapes encouraged mass production of wines of lesser quality to be made, and much of the region became sadly known as the home of oceans of plonk. In the last 20-30 years, the shift has been away from the wines of the past with a drive towards higher quality, a change that has not been without some fairly significant social upheaval, but the result has been a bigger focus on quality over quantity.

Wines from this region are mainly grown from heat loving southern Rhone varieties, the major red wine grapes including Grenache Noir, Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, with seemingly omnipresent Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot making the scene too. Whites include Grenache Blanc, Picpoul, Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier, Chardonnay, Chenin, Mauzac and Clairette Blanche. The main reputation here however is for hearty full-bodied reds that range from rustic and traditional to slightly more modern in their approach. The following are just a couple of suggestions, although there many many fine AOC’s and VDP’s to choose from. The Granges des Pere is one of the greatest in the region, a “neo-Classic” if you will, with a cult following the world over. The next two “Cellar Defenders™ are indicative of all of the improvement in quality the region has seen, creating a wealth of wines that are delicious and affordable without giving up the soul and character of their terroir.

To quote Joe Bembry: “Domaine de la Grange des Peres is famous. - famous for being clearly the best Domaine in the Languedoc-Rousillon? Yes, it’s unquestionable. But also fame comes in the form of the Laurent Vaille, the former physiotherapist turned wine wizard. His tutelage under Gerard Chave and Francois Coche-Dury gave him the tools to become the legendary figure he has now become. Starting in 1992, this winery has gone from “on the map” to “off the charts”, wowing not only the wine press, but all who taste the wines. They are that spectacular…Just last week, the wine press bestowed them with their highest scores yet for the 2005 vintage. But as you know, you can’t drink a score. And because we were able to secure the wine before the rating, we are able to offer these rare, wonderful wines in both 750ml bottles and 1.5L magnums.

2005 Domaine de la Granges des Peres – Granges des Peres – A big rich blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Mourvedre that defies logic with a balancing act of jammy dark berry fruit and savage, meaty, gamy…at the same time. A wine that will age magnificently in a cool cellar, but is truly hard to resist right now. Available in both 750ml and also a few extremely rare magnums. $94/bottle – buy 6 bottles or more pay only $79.50, MAGNUMS - $185 net. *Wine arrives Thursday July 9th.

2005 Domaine Salitis Cabardes Cuvee Premium - Surprisingly regal effort for a wine from the not-so-sexy appellation of Cabardes, this deft blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah & Grenache is really beautifully made. Rustic edges accent the supple flavors laced with red fruits, raspberry, pepper, game and solid length; this is made for red meat with a sturdy framework of tannins and wealth of fruit. Fire up the grill! $18 - $16.20 by the mixed case.

2007 Domaine Sallies Marselan Vin de Pays, Languedoc - Reminiscent of a Cru Beaujolais with a bit more structure, this offering based on the Marselan grape has uncommon origin. A crossing between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache, the Sallies has pretty blue fruit tones, plums, minerals and fine tannins. Tasty stuff for chops and big enough for roasts, enjoy this now and over the next year or so to enjoy all the lively fruit. $13

For more information or to purchase these wines visit us online at 56 Degree Wine or call 908.953.0900

Stage Five – Thursday July 8th - Le Cap d'Agde - Perpignan - Watch it on Versus Channel or online at Le Tour De France

Sunday, July 5, 2009

What I'm Drinking

Fourth of July pig roast! Drinking 1999 Ronchi di Ciall Bianco (Ribolla Gialla, Verduzzo, Picolit), clean, youthful, none of the oxy wildness of Radikon or Gravner, textural - great with the apps.

Then on to Sinskey Vin Gris 2008, quintessential summer quaff! Then the carving of the pig and Monsalvat Priorat 2000, this is even better than I remembered it - time in the bottle has not been wasted! Silky, deep, roasted notes, dark earth and dark fruits, mouth filling and long finish.

Finally we raided Stu's cellar for a 1976 Dr Fischer Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Beerenauslese - gold hue, lovely lime citrus and baked apple nose and palate, creamy, lively and fresh "off-sweet" at this stage of maturity, delicious - and Quintessence from Coume del Mas, Banyuls - dark, sweet, winey - alsogreat but drinking in the shadow of that great Riesling. Had it with s'mores over an open fire! Perfect!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Le Tour de France Commencer! - Provence and the Côte d’Azur

Every year for the last few years I have gone through the moral dilemma of whether or not I am going to watch the Tour de France, and every year I get sucked back in. Like all major sports these days, it has its problems - but there is something about the technicolor Peloton juxtaposed with the classic French scenery whizzing by, the crazy fans, grueling climbs and life endangering descents that truly make this one of the greatest sporting events in the world. Pastoral farms and picturesque villages contrast with dizzying shots of the Pyrenees and the Alps as helicopters and motorcycles cover the race with vertiginous camera angles. The race is one big love affair with the French countryside; eachday as unique and different as the Alps are to the Loire Valley. Add to the normal pre-race buzz the return of record seven time winner American Lance Armstrong, and the stage is set for an exciting Tour. I'm in!

This year it begins in Monaco on July 4th, then to the South of France and Provence, Languedoc, a quick jaunt in and out of Spain and into the Pyrenees for the first of the big climbs. Then up through the Center of France, pastoral plains, fields of grain, through the vineyards of the Loire Valley, Chablis and to Alsace. On to the east of France, back into the high mountains and the Alps, a stint in Switzerland, through the Val d'Aosta in Italy, back to France, more mountains, and into the Haut Savoie, with an hors category final climb of menacing Mont Ventoux before the last day in Paris. Twenty three days, twenty one stages, over 3,500 kilometers.

The whole spectacle reminds me of everything I love about France, how each region is beautiful and unique in its climate, geology, and topography, and how the French love and respect of the land is inextricably interwoven with their traditions and incredible cuisine and wines.

This year I am going to follow the tour vicariously, highlighting each region with a couple wines from upcoming stages so you can travel along the route and live and experience some of the flavors of the regions as you watch the race unfold. Stay tuned!

Stages 1-3: Monaco, Cote D'Azur and Provence

Stage one of the Tour begins rather tamely in the Principality of Monaco on the sparkling Mediterranean. A city better known for Formula One, Grace Kelly and Casinos than wine, it should be a dramatic and glamorous backdrop for the start of the race. Stage 2 (187 kilometers) meanders through the Cote D'Azur, beautiful scenery, and while not well known, there are some very interesting local wines. Stage 3 (196.5 kilometers) entering Provence - land of lavender, sun, and wine. To celebrate the commencer du Tour, the wines of Chateau Pibarnon perfectly capture the soul and character of Provence and the south of France where they are grown and made.

Chateau du Pibarnon is located in Bandol just east of Marseilles where stage three begins. The property is high above the sea, an absolutely gorgeously rugged, rocky amphitheater of vineyard that owner Henri de Saint Victoire purchased in 1975 after visiting and falling in love with it at first sight (and taste). I visited the property back in 1999 and still joke that if I didn't have another appointment later that day I might still be there! I arrived with pal Robin Kelly O'Connor and got the full tour of cellars and vineyards - and then to a private vertical tasting of 10 or so vintages of the red and several of the Rosé, which amazingly ages well.

The 2007 Bandol Blanc is a blend of Clairette (40%), Bourboulenc (20%), with Marsanne, Roussanne and Petit Manseng making the balance. It is fresh and lively with good weight and a mixture of white flowers and hints of peach and apricots. Bouillabaisse, meaty white fish, or all on its own on a lazy summer afternoon! $30/$27 by the mixed case.

The 2008 Bandol Rosé is 50% Mourvèdre and 50% Cinsault - with a lovely coral/salmon hue - hints of raspberry and strawberry and flowers on the nose. On the palate it is refreshing, but also has a bit more complexity than your typical quaffing pink - without being heavy of weighty at all it has lively, layered flavors - perfect with grilled Tuna, Salad nicoise, all kinds of olives, saucisson, grilled vegetables and appetizers too! $26/$23.40 by the mixed case

The 2005 Bandol Rouge is mainly Mourvèdre, which thrives here in the high hills, rocky soils and Mediterranean climate. It is deep and dark, brooding, with earth tones, black cherry,and spices, dense, yet with balance, power and elegance at the same time. Perfect with lamb, game, roasted and grilled meats of all kinds. Accessible now, it will age an improve through 2015 plus! $48/$43.20 by the mixed case.

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Next Stages 4-5: South from Provence to the Languedoc-Rousillon