Category: Drink in Culture



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Watching the snow swirl around the city from my fogged-up windows is mesmerizing. Beer is Yards “Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce”–very appropriate for the weather.
Time well spent.


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A delicious, modern-style, juicy Cab made by my friends Charles and Tony in a home winery. Loads of ripe cherry and plum with a toasty caramel undertone. Medium-full bodied with a silky texture. Proof that lovely fruit is grown in Maryland and skilled amateurs are capable of wonderful things.

Fine Wine?


A portion of my comments from a forum question about what constitutes “fine wine” on LinkedIn. This pretty much sums up my general philosophy on wine appreciation and belongs here as much as anywhere.

Fine wine doesn’t try to cowtow to our basest desires–it is what it is without compromise and doesn’t really care if you like it. A fine wine knows it is not for everyone but that it is for someone. It understands that its place is nestled on a retail shelf or wine list amongst myriad other products that exist under the same conditions just waiting for someone to chose it, love it, and cherish the memory of it long after it’s gone.

What is “fine wine” to you?

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All fine–all prices and styles


Lots of big stainless steel tanks at Domaine J. Laurens.

Stainless steel tanks at Domaine J. Laurens. That’s a lot of Blanquette!

The fabled Lady Carcas.

The fabled Lady Carcas at the gates of Carcassonne.

To the ramparts!

To the ramparts!

Continue reading


Medieval-Disney-Times

OK. So, there’s not really much in the way of wine made immediately around Carcassonne. But, it is really cool and it’s a nice (if somewhat illogical) place to settle in for a tasting lunch with a winemaker from 140+ miles away.

This was specifically chosen as just a fun place to spend part of the day, and it was that. The site of many a fortress dating back to Roman settlements in the 6th century B.C., Carcassonne (the fortified city) as it stands today dates to the mid 13th century A.D. and was restored in the mid 18th century. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but is more-or-less a tourist trap now (albeit a very engaging one) filled with souvenir shops, restaurants, and a Best Western (seriously, many of the one-time homes and shops of the city have been converted to hotel rooms). We all had fun exploring the city and I was taken with imagining what the lifestyle of a commoner in a largely self-contained and self-sufficient city must have been like. It all seems pretty idyllic…with the exception of the numerous sieges of the city endured.

Within the fortified city. What must life have been like in the 13th century?

Once convened at Brasserie le Donjon within the city, we settled in (with Jacques Calvel) for lunch and to meet with Raphaël Troullier of caravinsérail. caravinsérail is the umbrella under which Troullier produces three lines of wines from the Southern Rhône and the Côtes de Ventoux: the value-driven Vin de Pays de Méditerranée, “elicio”; the entry-level AOC Ventoux, “in fine.”; and the elegant AOC Ventoux organic terroir expressions, “cascavel”.

The elicio (Vermintino, Grenache/Cinsault rose, Grenache/Merlot) and in fine (Clairette/Bourboulenc, Grenache/Cinsault/Syrah rose, Grenache/Syrah) wines clearly expressed their freshness and immediately satisfying profiles exhibiting fine value. But, it was the cascavel (“Le Cascavel”: Grenache/Carignan/Syrah, and “Léonor”: Grenache/Syrah), the wines that put Troullier on the map, that resonated best, showing a richness, complexity, structure, and (most importantly) sense of place that far exceeded their estimated prices.

Raphaël Troullier prepares to present his wines at Brasserie Donjon in Carcassonne.

Raphaël Troullier prepares to present his wines at Brasserie Donjon in Carcassonne.

So, this ended up being a visit with a winery in the Southern Rhône while in a restaurant in the Western Languedoc. No matter, as Carcassonne was a wonderful site to visit, Mr. Calvel offered a palate-refreshing magnum of crémant, Brasserie Donjon provided near-deadly cassoulet, and Mr. Troullier graciously traveled nearly 300km to present his wines (as well as presenting us each with a gift of a jar of prepared figs—a local Ventoux specialty). But, this would mark only the beginning of a very strange day…

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The next morning brought us a bit South-West to Limoux. Here, through the veil of plane trees, hillside vineyards dominate the landscape punctuated by the rows of huge stainless steel fermentation tanks and billboards of giant co-op producer, Sieur d’Arques. I regret that I have no photos of the region on the whole as it is a curious mix of idyllic vineyards, hilltop villages, castles, suburban sprawl, and industrial wine facilities.

Limoux is reputed to be the original home of sparkling wine. Historical records detail the specific production and distribution of blanquette (“little white”) sparkling wines by the monks of the abbey of Saint-Hilaire in 1531. Without getting into the specific details of the composition and production of Blanquette and Crémant de Limoux wines, suffice it to say that they are made primarily with the Mauzac grape and largely offer simple and affordable satisfaction.

Some of the vineyard plantings of Domaine J. Laurens

Some of the vineyard plantings of Domaine J. Laurens

The fairly small Domaine J. Laurens was our destination in Limoux. Here we were greeted by winemaker/owner Jacques Calvel, a genial gentleman who would provide a happy and informative tour and tasting.

Jacques Calvel

Jacques Calvel

We got a quick look at some of the vineyards adjacent to the winemaking facility. The vineyards are planted with Mauzac, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.

Some of the Mauzac vineyards of Dom. J. Laurens

Some of the Mauzac vineyards of Dom. J. Laurens

The winemaking facility looked so small and innocuous from the outside, but it was like Felix the Cat’s Bag of Tricks on the inside:

The large stainless steel fermentation tanks are efficiently packed into a temperature controlled space.

The large stainless steel fermentation tanks are efficiently packed into a temperature controlled space…

...which opens up to the bottling room where just a few bottles await riddling.

…which opens up to the bottling room where a handful of bottles await riddling.

In this space is also the bottling/crown-sealing line which was in operation during our visit:

I managed to find some bottles at the final stage of the riddling process. The yeasts have collected at the neck of the bottle. From here, the neck will be frozen so that when the crown seal is removed the solid matter will pop out like a cork (disgorgement). Then, in most cases, a small amount of sugars (dosage) will be introduced into the wine and then the bottle will be sealed with the classic cork and wire cage closure we all know.

Rosé awaiting disgorgement, dosage, and corking.

Rosé awaiting disgorgement, dosage, and corking.

The wines are stored in a room full of miraculously stacked bottles. This room can hold the entirety of the roughly 30K bottle production at Domaine J. Laurens.

The storage room.

The storage room.

Finally, we got to taste the wines. Ideal timing, too, as it was about 11:15 am and we were all ready for a little palate-invigoration. We tasted the “Cuvée Stéphi Ebullience” Crémant and Crémant Rosé (made specifically for Bourgeois Family Selections) as well as Domaine J. Laurens’ standard bottlings of Blanquette “Le Moulin” and Crémant “Clos de Demoiselles”. All of these were bright, fresh, fruitful and floral, and fine examples of Limoux sparkling wines.

The tasting line-up.

The tasting line-up.


With this, I discovered that I’m a sucker for hand-painted bottle label door signs.

 

Old farming implements at Domaine Jerome Gradassi.

 

Detail of Roman-era structure adjacent to Domaine de Chateaumar.


 

Apropos.

 

Main intersection in Chateauneuf du Pape.

  

Like a centuries-old San Francisco without the water.


 

Tunnels like this are scattered throughout the town of Chateauneuf du Pape.


 

They also take their bell towers pretty seriously in CdP.


 

Beautiful old mail box.


 

Sundial map at ruins of Chateauneuf du Pape.


 

Apparently, there are some wineries in this little town.


 

You make a soft turn on this Roussillon street and are smacked in the gob with this gorgeous view of the dramatic cliff-side.


 

Cafe le Lezard in Opoul. Very cool little spot with a brilliant beer list and wonderful food. Plus, a bartender with a predilection for eclectic rock music.

 


Hidden deep within the dramatic landscape of Roussillon, there is a power dismissed as rumour.

 

View from “The Disco Bus”. The last “real” thing I can confirm.

Layers of subterfuge and encryption prohibit a true understanding of the goings-on within what appears to be a simple garage facility from its unassuming front door. 

…and others may happen here


Some of the things that are said to happen happen here..

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are things said and done within Vingrau in the heart of Roussillon that I heard, and saw, and tasted that deny tradition, deflect rational thought, and defy all I have learned.

 

Confusing the senses.


 

There are things that may or may not be occurring in Vingrau that, like the elephant in the room, are undeniable but about which one does not speak.

 

Subterfuge of a mad scientist.

There was a man — a bright and genial, but shadowy, man — who spoke in clear and concise language of methods and intents. He told us of truths while casually diverting attention from facts.

 

Renaud Chastagnol (unconfirmed).

There are things happening in Vingrau…I felt them…there are things I can not comprehend, but I know them to be true. 


That’s right — more CdP! 

From the center of town we make a short trip to the property of Domaine de Chateaumar. Here, as with several generations before, father and son, Jean-Felix and Frédéric Souret, sustainably manage the vineyards and make the wine at the winery just steps away from the majority of vineyard plantings. 

The family business. Sly Bastien is next in line.


 

This is the most modernized facility we have visited so far. Pristine, and well-organized, it is a stark contrast to the ancient Roman structures on the property.

The entrance to the Chateaumar tasting room and winery.


Ancient Roman farm structure adjacent to the Chateaumar winery.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vines grown with no herbicides. The soil around the vines is turned frequently to discourage other flora from leeching off water and nutrients.


Here we see that the soil is clay-heavy, richer, and more forgiving than at Gradassi’s property. These vines produce generous fruit, much of which goes into juicy, lush, declassified wines at very attractive prices.

Today we tasted the 2011 and 2012 vintages of Châteauneuf-du-Pape As well as two custom cuvées made for Bourgeois Family Selections: “Bastien”, a 100% Grenache; and “Vincent”, a (very unusual for the region) 100% Syrah.

Discussing the 2012 Châteauneuf-du-Pape at the pristine, new winery facility at Domaine de Chateaumar.


I already carry the “Bastien” in the store and knew that it was a ripe, approachable expression of Grenache. This bears out through the 2011 and 2012 (barrel sampled and to be bottled in June) vintages. The surprise was the “Vincent”. It is fair to be somewhat leery of a Southern Rhône Syrah with expectations of high extraction and difficult alcohol heat. Fears were unwarranted as both vintages produced well structured wines that integrate the relatively high alcohol well. 

The Châteauneuf-du-Pape samples showed similar characteristics. Very ripe, jammy raspberry/blackberry fruit on both, but not at the expense of acid or soft tannins. Lots of spice and licorice show on both the 2011 bottling and the 2012 barrel sample. These will be wines that may not age too well and should be enjoyed primarily in their youth, but they are just so satisfying and fairly priced that none of that should matter.

All-in-all, these are wines with character and prices for all to enjoy made by a kind and friendly family. Its hard not to like that combination.


Today begins with an early jaunt over to the ruins of the castle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. What a fascinating place! Situated high atop a hill with a view extending about 30 miles, this was a prime location for a fortified home of, arguably, the most powerful man of his time, Pope John XXII (1316-1334).

View from Castel Gandolfo

Ruins of Castel Gandolfo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was a time, before its repeated sacking and burning by protestants in the 16th century and the destruction of its north face by German forces stationed there in 1944, that this was a cultural center of the civilized world as well as the home of the finest wine cellar on the planet. From this location, one will marvel at vineyards planted as far as the eye can see.

So many world-renowned wineries exist here that it is mind-boggling. Today, we will visit with one of the tiniest wineries in the region, Domaine Jerome Gradassi. Mr. Gradassi, the former owner of a Michelin-starred restaurant (a fact that will reveal its value soon enough) biodynamically farms only 3.3ha of vineyards in the nearby outlying area of Bois-Dauphin.

First we got a look at some of Mr. Gradassi’s vineyards. Two vineyard locations just about half-a-mile from one-another exhibited strikingly different soil types.

Grenache and Mourvèdre vines atop a hill. More forgiving soils here.

It’s tough to make a living as a Grenache vine here on the valley floor. Old river bed stones dominate the landscape and force vine strain.

All of these vines are harvested manually in small containers then driven to the small garage winery in the center of the town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape where they are sorted for quality and, ultimately, vinified.

Domaine Jerome Gradassi’s garage winery.

Tight quarters in the tiny garage winery of Jerome Gradassi.

You will notice a large horizontal wooden press and large fiberglass tank dominating about a third of the space of this garage. Sorting, pressing, and fermentation of the red wine takes place here. Below is a small barrel cellar where the white wine is fermented and all the wines are aged. Here we tasted through the 2009-2011 red bottlings as well as barrel samples of the 2012 white and red. Mr. Gradassi provided an impressive buffet showing off his equally obvious skills in the kitchen.

Large horizontal wooden press.

The tiny Gradassi barrel cellar. This represents all of the winery’s production.

  • 2012 Domaine Jerome Gradassi Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc (tank sample): See that very small fiberglass tank in the back of the cellar in the photo above? That’s all the white wine produced annually here (roughly 350 bottles). Tasting this was a very special opportunity. 90% Clairette/10% Grenache Blanc vinified and aged entirely in fiberglass tank. Golden with green edges. Rich pear, melon, and ginger flavors. Full and fruitful with a grainy mineral edge. Mr. Gradassi projects 20 years of ageabilty with this wine.

It’s gold, Jerry! Gold!

The reds (typically 80% Grenache/18% +/- Mourvèdre with a touch of Syrah, Clairette, and Bourbolenc field blended in) were sensational across the board. These are all wines I would love to drink and offer my customers. Vintage variances were obvious, however, with the 2009 and 2011 showing denser, riper, gamier blackberry fruit. The 2010 was a far leaner, higher-toned raspberry expression.

The Gradassi home-cooked buffet. Brilliant winemaker and chef?!?This man is the catch of the century.

  • 2012 Domaine Jerome Gradassi Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge (slated for April 2014 release) will be a star. Lithe, bright, and focused raspberry fruit with sanguine and earthy undertones, this is already showing exceptional balance though a bit light on its feet. I cannot wait for this release.
These wines are very traditional. I have stated repeatedly over the last few years that I have never been more disappointed in wines than when I have opened Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the last decade. It is refreshing to find a winemaker who is not looking to meet the American palate and make flabby, short-lived, unstructured Châteauneuf-du-Pape as has been the mode of so many for the last two decades. These are wines of elegance and finesse, never sacrificing structure for extraction. These are wines I want to drink.
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