Tag Archive: France

Gold juice.

My goal was to dress up a meal of diner-style open-faced roast turkey breast sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy. That’s easy. Pairing is trickier than it seems because you want to avoid overt fruitiness and neutralize the saltiness of the dish while provding enough body richness to stand up to the full, earthy flavors. Fair roll of the dice, here.

  • Aroma: deep golden hay
  • Nose: beeswax, Bosc pear, lemon, delicate apricot
  • Taste: muted apricot and lemon pulp coated with (not-sweet) honey essence
  • Mouthfeel: viscous with a bit of mineral prickle cutting through a delicate waxiness
This is a classic Saint-Péray blend of of 50% Marsanne/50% Roussanne and all the requisite flavors and textures are here. On it’s own, many consumers might find this a bit too subtle fruit-wise and that is Marsanne doing its thing, providing the prevalent beeswax muting Roussanne’s fruity components. Paired against some salty food, though, the fruit pops beautifully while the wine retains its richness.
This is a lovely wine made from underrecognized varieties from an uner-the-radar Rhône region. Can be found in Maryland for $25-$30.


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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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. 

Here are some extra visual goodies from my France trip:

Champagne Philippe Fontaine

A commitment to excellence expressed by pumps in the snow.


Nice place, but to heat the thing would be a bear.


Pruning on those slopes must be a difficult task.


A fairly small operation.


A cute display at the “HQ”.



Domaine Debray

Unassuming entry to another world.


Students of the game in the cave.


We’re we really there that long?!?



In the town of Beaune

The hotel and restaurant was open just for us. A lovely meal and a good night’s sleep.

Camaraderie building early.


Pre-food coma at Restaurant L’Horloge.


Terrine of awesome.


“When in Beaune, do as the Beauners do.” — Steve White


The Epoisse that nearly killed us all as it was almost too good to bear.


Disco Bus hits a snow-down.

Back on the road headed to Domaine Debray, a young winery (first vineyard purchased in 2006) that produces bottlings from around 25 different crus. We would soon taste them all. The team of owner, Yvonnick Debray and his oenologist, Jean-Philippe Terreau, have quickly established a prolific range of high-quality wines that will be hard to overlook in the coming years.

So unassuming from the outside, but…

This was an intensive tasting inclusive of five 2012 barrel samples and 20 bottle tastings from the 2010 and 2011 vintages. There was about a 60:40 ratio of red to white tasted. The thing that stood out most with this tasting was the precise detail of the entire experience and the intense professionalism of the two gentlemen. These are men committed to creating the best wines possible via exacting methods in the vineyard (sustainable practices, establishing vine-strain, ensuring small yields) through harvest and in the cellar (destemming, gentle pressing, meticulous temperature control, natural fermentation, etc.). The same behaviors were reflected in the nearly ritualistic nature of the tasting.

Where good stuff happens.

It would be foolish and daunting (and nigh-unreadable) for me to post all of my tasting notes here. Suffice it to say that my overarching comment on the wines when asked about possible favorites as we neared the end of the tasting was, “…difficult as it’s all just varying degrees of very good…”. I think that sums it up. There is not one wine in this visit that I would not personally buy or not enjoy drinking. There were, however, highlights:

Never enough Burgundy.


  • 2011 Savigny les Beaune (tropical,spicy/toasty)
  • 2011 Meursault 1er Cru LesBoucheres (fleshy baked red apple, cinnamon, mineral)
  • 2011 Corton Charlemagne (fruit blossom melange, silken mouthfeel, marshmallow finish)


  • 2012 Pommard 1er Cru Les Chaponniéres (mossy/earthy cherry nose, powerful, high-toned, high-extract)
  • 2011 Bourgogne Rouge (modern, sagey, ripe and bright, great value)
  • 2011 Mercurey 1er Cru Sazenay (cherry lozenge, sage, toasted marshmallow, cardamom, lavender)
  • 2011 Aloxe Corton 1er Cru Les Velozieres (black cherry, vanilla, full and rich)
  • 2011 Corton Grand Cru (old-school, black cherry, sanguine, high-toned)
  • 2011 Vosne Romanée Les Barreaux (intoxicating cinnamon/clove nose, über-ripe cherry, baking spice, chewy texture)
  • and the utterly ridiculous 2011 Clos de Vouget Grand Cru (dark and dense, silken, mixed herbs on front with red cherry bringing up the rear, impeccably structured: ripe fruit, sloping acid, velvety tannins)

2nd from left: Mr. Terreau, 2nd from right: Mr. Debray, far right: Philippe Bourgeois

This is a winery to watch.

Last week I was afforded the honor of accompanying a small group of American wine professionals on a trip to French wineries represented by Bourgeois Family Selections (Asheville, NC). Our group included Jean-Philippe Bourgeois (president of B. F. S.), Jem Emery (B. F. S. office manager), Martin Von Ellen (N. E. sales manager for B. F. S.), Tom Lally (Sales Manager, Okoboji Wines, IA), Steve White (Wine Brands Manager, Click Wholesale Distributing, WA), Chris Horn (Wine Director, Purple Café, WA), and our chauffeur, Alain Paquet. This trip covered most of France’s major wine regions and a total of 16 wineries were visited/represented over the course of seven days. 

Posts will be in a day-by-day account.
This was my first ever international travel experience and it all went surprisingly smoothly. Dulles to JFK (4-hour layover) to Paris-CDG by 6:15 am. It was snowing upon arrival in Paris, but that only delayed pick-up from the airport by half-an-hour to 9:40 am.

Not enough sleep on the flight over.

From here I met with the group on our Mercedes Sprinter van (outfitted for traveling bands — which later became known by the group as “The Disco Bus” for it’s blue LED interior lighting and odd French radio selections) — and off we went to our first winery visit.

Champagne Philippe Fontaine

Gorgeous place with the river running under the mansion and a watermill located at the back.

It was snowy and cold (about 30° F max) in Balnot sur Laignes. Our rear-wheel-drive van could not make it onto the snow-covered property, so we hoofed it a bit. We were greeted by the lovely couple of Salomé Fontaine-Garcia and Louis-Antoine Garcia who gave us a thorough tour of the property and explanation of their viticultural and winemaking methods.

Gyropalettes for riddling.

Just a little limestone here.

The Fontaine’s grow Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay, and somewhat surprisingly, Pinot Blanc (from which they make a 100% varietal bottling) in both Balnot sur Laignes and Riceys. These images are from the main property in Balnot sur Laignes.

From here we retired to the Fontaine’s charming little home in the village of Balnot sur Laignes. Here we met up with the winemaking patriarch, Philippe, who preferred to keep a low profile throughout our visit. This is where we tasted all the current bottlings of their production and enjoyed a lovingly prepared lunch — heated at a neighbor’s house due to a lack of electricity in their home at that time — including an incredible smoked salmon and foie gras terrine. The family was incredibly kind and generous with their time, energy, and passion while providing us with a wealth of information about their wines and the warmth of their home.

All the cuvées of Champagne Philippe Fontaine.

  • Brut Tradition: 70% Pinot Noir/30% Pinot Meunier — rich, soft lemon curd and light toastiness in an almost extra-dry style but with striking acid and a keen minerality
  • Cuvée des Lys: the oddball of the bunch made with 100% Pinot Blanc (the family does not feel that Chardonnay makes for a good sparkling wine and chose Pinot Blanc after an off-the-cuff experiment) — higher-toned than the Tradition and with more spice evident on the nose and back-palate
  • Brut Reserve: same blend as Tradition — palate of very rich and gentle apple and restrained acid, lusher mouthfeel than those preceding
  • Brut Prestige: 40% Pinot Blanc/35% Pinot Noir/15% Pinot Meunier/10% Chardonnay —very spice-driven nose with mouth-filling baked apple and cinnamon on the palate, super-satisfying
  • Brut Millésime 2007: 100% Pinot Noir — kind of the disappointment of the afternoon with a very tight nose and closed palate showing only a bit of toffee
  • Brut Rosé: 50% Pinot Noir/50% Pinot Meunier — beautiful strawberry color, floral/ yeasty nose, palate of mixed berries and dried flowers with a soft yeasty note on the finish
Day 1, Part Two: Beaune to follow…

Little by little, I’ve been burning through my meager wine collection. I popped this bottle just before Halloween and took notes, but never posted anything about it until now. Having been disappointed with so many aged Southern Rhône wines lately (Châteauneuf du Pape—you’re on notice!) it was nice to switch from soft, plump Grenache to edgier Syrah. It still sticks with me, too.

Sexy, no?

Sexy, no?

Origin: Cornas, Northern Rhône Valley, France

Composition: 100% Syrah

Appearance: translucent red-black

Nose: smoke, wildberries, wintergreen, leather

Palate: ripe blackberry, liquid smoke, leather, thyme, rosemary

Mouthfeel: medium-bodied and silky with fresh acidity and fine tannins

Really, just shockingly good. This wine has held up beautifully over the last decade-plus. Still vibrant and shows another decade of drinkability as its acidity and firmness on the back palate were long to soften in the glass. This was paired with a hearty beef stew with various root veggies (carrots, parsnips, turnips, and potatoes) and was just right to cut through the richness and fat. The likelihood of finding this vintage now is slim and it surely wasn’t cheap (I think in the neighborhood of $90 a few years back when I added it to the collection), but, based on what I’ve read, I would feel confident with any Clape bottling of the last decade.

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