Monday, August 8, 2011

Cassis - A Mediterranean Gem

The region of Cassis, on the sparking Mediterranean coast on the south of France, is perhaps one of the most beautiful wine regions on earth. It is a popular tourist and vacation spot (about 20 kilometers east of Marseilles), with dramatic views of the sea, the mountainous cliffs (some of the highest maritime bluffs in Europe), and the beautiful rocky coves called Calanques.

It is also known for its delicious, if little known white and rose wines, and supposedly even tinier amount of red which I have never seen. The cliffs along the coast have been maritime landmarks for centuries, and this region has been occupied since the Ligures arrived in 500-600 BC, with the Romans not far behind. Cassis is also known for its stone, its quarries producing masonry for the quays of Alexandria, Algiers, Pireaus and Marseilles, as well as for the base of the statue of Liberty.

It is a tiny wine region, with only 12 Domaines making wine from 196 hectares of grapes. In some ways its beautiful location works against grape growing due to high land values that threaten the vineyards with development, and the stunningly beautiful cliffs and rocky outcrops that offer no room for expansion. There have been efforts to enforce strict zoning to protect existing vineyards however, and it seems that for now the tiny production of the region is safe. Soils are mainly limestone, with about 75% of the production white wine and the balance rose. Grapes for white include Clairette, Marsanne, Ugni Blanc, and Sauvignon Blanc.

At 56 Degree Wine we carry two producers: Domaine du Bagnol and Clos St Magdeleine, when we can get them that is! Not much wine is produced, and with local demand high, not much of that is exported. I look forward every year to the wines' arrivals, both the whites and especially the rose wines, whose arrival seems to herald the arrival of summer. The whites are crisp, clean, unoaked, but good body and character - perfect seafood companions! The Rose wines are dry, clean and aromatic, with slight variations from producer to producer and vintage to vintage, but are always among my favorites we stock. They are perfect with all sorts of appetizers, cured meats, grilled veggies, tapenades, salads of all kinds especially classic nicoise with seared tuna, and grilled fish like snapper or Bronzino.  There is nothing quite so great as taking a small boat along the coast, packing a picnique lunch, a few chilled bottles of Cassis Blanc and Rose, and finding one of the secluded coves with a pebbly sandy beach and spending a lazy afternoon. Another gem is La Villa Madie located at the foot of the cliff just next to Clos St. Magedeleine. To see a list of Cassis wines in stock, Click here.

2008 Clos Ste Magdeleine Cassis Blanc - ORGANIC / BIODYNAMIC - This is one of the most beautiful locations for a winery in the world, bar none! Perched on a bluff above the sparkling blue Mediterranean, they craft lovely Cassis Blanc and Rose from grapes grown in their own estate vineyards. The region is miniscule, only producing something like 40,000 cases in total, and would probably have disappeared altogether if it weren't for strict zonong that restricts further building.
Region: Cassis (Provence), France
Grapes: Marsanne, Ugni Blanc, Clairette and Bourboulenc
Farming: Certified Organic & Biodynamic
Drink: Now
Cuisine: appetizers, grilled veggies, cured meats, olives, tapenade, grilled fish or a salad nicoise.
ABV: 12.5%

2010 Clos Ste Magdeleine Cassis Rose - ORGANIC / BIODYNAMIC - the ultimate summer party wine! - This lovely, classic dry rose is from vineyards around the village of Cassis, literally a stones throw from the sparkling Mediteranean Sea.  It is made from 70% Grenache, 15% Cinsault & 15% Mourvedre, all local red grape varieties with the juice and skins pressed and macerated together for just enough time for the wine to pick up its lovely salmon color.  Gathering hints of red fruits and its tinge of structure before the skins are removed, its then fermented dry much like a white wine. Great served chilled with grilled seafood or poultry, all kinds of salads (nicoise - perfect!) seared rare tuna and all on its own on a warm night. Liquid summer!
Region: Cassis (Provence), France
Grapes: 70% Grenache, 15% Cinsault & 15% Mourvedre
Farming: Certified Organic & Biodynamic
Drink: Now
Cuisine: Light appetizers, poultry, seafood, salads
ABV: 12.5%

2009 Domaine du Bagnol Cassis Blanc - Comprised of 50% Marsanne, 35% Clairette and 15% Ugni Blanc, Domaine du Bagnol has fashioned a wine that is the epitome of fresh white from Provence.  The thing that separates them from the pack is the layers of flavors that unfold in the glass, making this stimulating wine on many levels.  Melons, white peach, honeydew with pears making an appearance as the wine resolves in a long finish.  Lovely cleansing acidity, a wealthy of juicy fruit and nice texture make this a perfect choice for seafood, shellfish, roasted chicken or as a great aperitif.  Ready to enjoy now so no need to wait.
Region: Cassis (Provence), France
Grapes: 50% Marsanne, 35% Clairette & 15% Ugni Blanc
Drink: Now - 2012
Cuisine: Seafood of all sorts -  seared or sushi style scallops, tuna, swordfish, rouget, fresh sardines, or as an aperitif with anti-pasti, olives, cheeses, saucissons, crusty bread.
ABV: 13%
Price: $27

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Night on the Town in Phily - Lec Bec Fin

Dinner with JB and a couple of friends and clients in Philly, with the night starting at a spectacular location high in the Liberty 2 Tower, replete with cloud to ground lightning from a squall line raging through downtown viewed from our perch just above Billy Penn's chapeau, and the full expanse of the Delaware to the 30th Street station as a backdrop. 

We started off with a 2000 Zind Humbrecht Heimbourg Riesling - Medium gold, nose of beeswax, petrol, lime blossom, and wet stones. On the palate baked apple, more lime and citrus, evolved and perfect and fresh, with firm minerality and more stony texture. From the ZH web site: "The Heimbourg of Turckheim is a small vineyard sloping 35% to the west, facing the east side of the Brand, then turning abruptly towards the south with the slope increasing to over 50%. Climatically, this hillside enjoys a lengthy period of evening sunshine, because thanks to its position facing the Munster valley, the vines are not in the shade created by the Vosges mountains. The west side is a late-ripening area, the grapes ripen slowly, always retain good acidity and develop noble rot late. The south side is naturally a lot warmer and early-ripening (the same goes for the Clos Jebsal), but always benefits from the wind from the valley which prevents the noble rot from developing too early.

The soil structure is a clay-limestone substratum (oligocene limestone and interbedded marl) where the yellow or white calcareous rocks are present in large numbers on the surface. We have chosen to plant the Pinot Gris in the upper part which faces west and has the poorest and stoniest soil. The Gewurztraminer lies just below, also facing west. The small south side was planted with Riesling in 1994. The wines produced on the Heimbourg are rich, opulent, often very spicy and affected with noble rot. The slower ripening of the grapes often produces more aromatic wines when young that its neighbor the Clos Jebsal."

After sopping up the last drops of the ZH in the posh environs of TK's apartment, we headed to Le Bec Fin for dinner. We started with a first Course of Pike Quenelles, Sauce American. Light, perfect, deceivingly rich yet delicate at the same time. With a lovely sauce served over fava beans all dramatically presented and assembled a table. This with a fantastic 2004 Puligny Montrachet Clos Mouchere Domaine Jean Boillot that started out great and only got better and better with a little time in the glass. In 4-6 years this lively, crisp but layered 2004 should be fantastic, and pretty good tonight!

Roasted Sweetbreads and Warm Shrimp, Sweet Potato, Burnt Orange Vinaigrette, Madeira Jus - Jean Boillot Volnay 2002 Chevret 1er Cru - JB had had a bottle or two previously that were off (oxidized) and so we were a bit worried, but this one was perfect: fresh, lovely dark cherry, beautiful fruit, still primary but having softened and just about to show some secondary tones (but not just yet), just beautiful, succulent, and pure, broadening and opening in the glass with time. The second wine was, of all things, a Janasse Chateauneuf du Pape 2009 Chaupoin - 100% grenache, ripe and saturated for sure but with floral fresh fruit tones amid all the power, and good acidity and fresh fruit tones underneath. Grape variety : 100% Grenache - stems removal : 80 % - maceration : 22 days , must pressing : once a day - elevage : 30 % barrels (1/4 new), 70 % vat - rendering : 25 - 30 Hl/ha - plantation : 1912 for the oldest part - keep time : 5 to 25 years. 2/3 in Foudre, 1/3 in 600 liter Demi-Muids. While the Burgundy worked best overall, seamlessly integrating with the sweetbreads, the sauce was pretty intense and the dish actually sort of held up to the Chateauneuf du Pape. 

Kombu Cured Wagyu Beef, Tasting of Potatoes, Labne au Poivre , Sauce Bordelaise - Mouton Rothschild 1988 - a wine I have had on a few occasions but not in the last 3-4 years. Every time I have had it it was still quite tight, reflecting its coolish "classic" Bordeaux vintage, with a tannin structure I worried would ever resolve and lose its almost greenish notes. Well it has finally come around, still fresh, with cedar and #2 pencil tones, earth, lovely structure, and the cool, balanced focus of a wine newly emerged from its shell. Beautiful!

Dessert Cart - Cheesecake, light and creamy and perfect, chocolate double dark gateau, rich yet not heavy, a fresh fruit tart, and a double espresso for the road. As much as I would have loved to, I passed on the invitation for cigars back at the ranch and headed east to stay at my sister in laws to avoid the slog back to North Jersey. Thanks lads for a great night!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Chaine Event at Matts Red Rooster

Great dinner with the Chaine at Matts Red Rooster in Flemington, with Summer Grillin' and Chillin' the theme. We had Chef/Owner Matt McPherson create a menu inspired by summers fresh, seasonal ingredients and worked the wines back from there to match. It was a great evening - superb food, great service, enthusiastic and appreciative crowd and the wines worked out ok too!! Thanks to everyone at Matts for a great job and to Celia for putting it all together! I really like this restaurant, the preps, the fresh local slant, the open kitchen and the BYO! Glad to be back for such a great event and have made promises to myself to come back more often! The menu and wines:

Reception - Chilled, Truffled Griggstown Chicken Liver Pate, Watermelon & Fresh Mozzarella Skewers w/ pickled red onions, Grilled Flat Bread w/ charred apricot chutney & roasted foie gras , Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho Shooters, A.B.C. (Avocado, bacon & crabmeat)

2009 Ameztoi Txakolina de Getaria - Who knew that a white made partially from a red grape could make a wine that is so devoid of color, yet so bathed in flavor intensity. Hondarribi Zuri (white grape) and Hondarribi Beltza (red grape) are grown on sandy, limestone soils in the heart of the Basque country near San Sebastian. Vinified in stainless steel tanks and bottled with a touch of natural residual carbon, this lively, zippy white has just a little spritz to it. I liken it to the most amazing grown-up limeade you'll ever encounter with the joy of effervescence. When at an authentic bar like Txikito, they will serve this wine to you in a tumbler, just as they do in San Sebastian. A special pourer is inserted in the top of the bottle and the wine is poured from high up to release all that frothy goodness in the glass. And while this certainly is a refreshing quaff, its also serious and complex wine delivering a multitude of flavors: fresh lime, sea salt, minerals, hint of mint

Region: Getaria, Spain
Grapes: Hondarribi Zuri (white grape) and Hondarribi Beltza (red grape)
Vini/Viti: Stainless steel cool fermentation
Cuisine: Light fish, seafood, apetizers of all types
Drink - Now
SRP: $22

First Course - Grilled Day Boat Scallop, Roasted local beet & horseradish compote

2008 Domaine Bzikot Bourgogne Blanc - From a great plot along the Puligny bench, Sylvain Bzikot tenderly cares for his vines in Huilleres. They lie right alongside those of Domaine Leflaive and the
vinification is just as exacting and meticulous as his village and 1er cru sites. He gently presses the wine and vinifies 1/3 of it in barrels (5% new) with the remainder only treated to stainless steel. This lends
texture but not oakiness. Clean and fresh on the palate, the Bourgogne shows Puligny-like characters of
apples, pears and stony mineral notes in the long finish. Superb now, but I suspect this little wine will live on and strut its stuff with flash for another four years.

Region: Burgundy, France
Grape: Chardonnay
Drink: Now - 2014
SRP : $28

Second course: Wood Fired Romaine Heart, Roasted Corn & Creamy Parmesan Dressing

2010 Mas de Cadenet Sainte Victoire Cotes de Provence Rose - In what is clearly the steal of the season,
this wine from the small appellation of Sainte Victoire is destined to be the stuff of legend. And rightfully
so... It's that outstanding. Usually, Provence Rose is light and crisp, the ultimate refresher on a hot day.
Although Sainte Victoire is not on the tip of most wine lovers proverbial tongue, it is very well known in
Provence for making Rose wines with grace. This is the most complex Rose I've had all year. Floral and
pretty aromatics of jasmine and strawberry lead the way to a palate filled with light cherry, watermelon,
white peach, sea salt and a very long and mineral finish. Possessing a lovely salmon color and lively
acidity, this is phenomenal wine to enjoy right now.

Region: Sainte Victoire, Provence, France
Grapes: 40% Grenache, 40% Cinsault & 20% Syrah
Vinification: Stainless steel tank (no oak)
Farming: Sustainable
Drink: Now - 2012
Cuisine: Seared Tuna, Shrimp, Soft Shell Crab, Grilled Chicken
ABV: 13%
SRP : $18

Entrée - Sous Vide New York Strip Steak, Finished on the wood fired grill, paired with cold smoked heirloom tomato, demi- glace and served with Summer Vegetable Skewers and Grilled sweet potatoes

2009 Domaine de la Janasse Cotes du Rhone "Cuvee Tradition" - A kirschy lovable Cotes du Rhone,
Domaine de la Janasse keeps the focus on ripeness of fruit and not on the wood. While this is certainly not a rustic CdR, it has magnificent fruit purity and outstanding length. Choosing to only put 60% of the wine in oak, and of that only 1/3 of the barrels new, they made the wise decision to use cement vats for the rest of vinification. A juicy, racy wine based on Grenache, but also containing Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvedre, the Cotes du Rhone Tradition lavishes the palate bing cherries, raspberries, jam and spices. A delicious wine and excellent Cellar Defender to enjoy now through 2015.

Region: Cotes-du-Rhone (S. Rhone,) France
Grapes: 55% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 10% Carignan, 5% Mourvedre & 5% Cinsault
Terroir: Red clay & crushed pebbly soil located to the north of Courthézon
Vinification: 60% French Oak (1/3 new) & 40% cement vats
Drink: Now - 2015
Cuisine: Grilled Steaks, Burgers, Roast Pork
ABV: 14.5%
SRP: $18.50

2007 Domaine Laffont Madiran "Cuvee Erigone" - This tiny Domaine (3.9 hecatres) produces one of the top wines from this little known region tucked into the Pyranees in the southwest of France. The Erigone (the name of the goddess seducced by Dionysus) is made from 80% Tannat and 20% Cabernet Franc grown in limestone and gravel soils. Vines are an average of 45 years old. They are detemmed, descending into wooden tanks by gravity, and undergoe a cold maceration for several days, then fermented with all natural yeasts and a veru long (5 weeks) maceration. Yhe wines then go into barrel, 2 and 3 year old, for 16 months. The wines go through malo in the barrels, and they are bottled with no fining or filtration. The results are big, sturdy wines with ample structure and the rugged framework they absorb from the region they are grown. SOlid, firm and chewy, with ripe tannins and well integrated oak. perfect for steaks, lamb, and game such as boar or venison. Drink now - 2016+

Region: Madiran, France
Cepage: 80% Tannat, 20% Cabernet Franc
Vinification: Wood casks, then 2-3 yr barrels for 16 months
Cuisine: Hearty fare - beef, lamb, game, stews, braised meats
Drink: 2011 - 2020
SRP : $18.50

Dessert: Peaches & Cream Bread Pudding

Cerdon de Bugey, Renardat-Fâche - This wine comes from a little known wine region with more obscure grape varieties. The small French town of Cerdon lies in the shadow of the Alps, and it is here that Alain Renardat-Fache makes his unique Cerdon de Bugey. This is a pink sparkler made from Gamay and Poulsard grapes using the traditional 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 heavy 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!
Region: Rhone, France
Grapes: Gamay, Poulsard
Drink: Now
Cuisine: Apertif or Desserts with berries or chocolate
ABV: 7.5%
SRP: $24

Mylestone Equine Event

A summer evening in the country for a great cause! Mylestone Equine Rescue exists to provide a home for horses who, having served there "useful" life, are headed to their demise. Mylestone provides a much better retirement plan - an organization I am more than happy to support! The evening was great - weather summery and warm, but cooler and drier than the week long humid heat wave we suffered. They served up lots of passed apps, followed by a buffet of barbecued chicken, cole slaw, salads, and other sides, followed by great desserts. 

The wines:

Gorleri Vermentino
Mahoney Vermentino
Lamblin Bourgogne Blanc
Relativity Chardonnay
Voillot Bourgogne Rouge
Sinskey PN Aries
Janasse CdR
Lioco Indica Red

Summer Fare

Wines of the day: Bzikot Bourgogne Blanc ($28) and Chinon Rose 2010 Gasnier ($15) - liquid summer! Paired with sashimi ahi, sliced medium thin and served with soy and wasabi, to start. Then on to Jersey corn, simply steamed and rolled in butter, heirloom tomato with sea salt and pepper - both so sweet they don't need anything else, steamed haricots vert with olive oil, sea salt and a squeeze of lemon, roasted farm fresh zucchini, onion, yellow peppers and and an unbelievable wild sock-eye salmon (also from Metro) roasted to medium-rare with thin lemon slices. 

Bzikot Bourgogne Blanc ($28) - A terrific value and spoiler wine for those who say all good Burgundy is expensive. Balanced, mineral stony Puligny-esque qualities make this a wine that drinks WAY beyond its meager Bourgogne Blanc status. But what else would you expect from this up and coming superstar? Drink now - 2015.

Chinon Rose 2010 Gasnier $15 - All Cabernet Franc from the heart of the Loire Valley. Light salmon, fresh, crisp, light and delicious! Perfect summer rose for a starter, or with grilled Tuna, slamon, all kinds of apps, salad nicoise. Dry, delicate, perfumed with hints of raspberry and strawberry. Grab it while its here, its as fleeting as summer itself!