Loire, Burgundy and the South

January 16, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Week 4 of wine snob class took us to the Loire Valley, Burgundy and the South of France. We began in the Loire Valley, where our instructor James Cluer, a Master of Wine, told us “you don’t exactly go shopping for red wines of the Loire.”

The Loire Valley is one of the most beautiful areas of France — think moat-encircled Châteaux, a stunning landscape of rolling hills and rivers, and important architectural heritage. Plus the wine, where they make excellent dry Chenin Blanc and sweet, botrytis-affected wines (yes, sweet wine from rotten grapes — but the good, noble kind of rot). Their sparkling wines are also good, but not world class. Things continue downhill to the reds and rosés.

On to the whites it was.

We started with a duo and were told to figure out which was which. There was a  a Chenin Blanc (tends to be more full-bodied and rich, less crisp, more ripe fruit and has an aroma of beeswax and an oily character), and a Muscadet (dry, light, more acidic, very steely, crisp, lean with some tart green apple character).

The first wine was a pale lemon-green in the glass with some youthful notes of citrus, green apple, grass and steel on the nose and palate. It was dry with high acidity, fairly light body with a short finish. We thought it might be a good wine to choose to wash down some fried, breaded oysters.

It turned out to be the Muscadet. A 2007 Haut-Censy Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie ($16), to be exact. Sur Lie means that the wine was left on the lees (dead yeast cells that sink to the bottom of the fermentation vessel when the wine is made). This is supposed to give more flavour to the subtle grape.

“You could water your flowers with it. It’s not that great — come on!” jokes Cluer to our class. “Left on the lees? My advice — keep leaving it.”

Wine number two was a pale lemon hue with more developing, riper aromas of citrus, mineral, stonefruit, honey melon, banana, hay, butter … more wine snob words means a more complex wine. With medium acidity and body and a waxy or oily character in the mouth, we pegged this one as the Chenin Blanc.

Indeed, this was a wine of that grape. From Vouvray, an area famous for their Chenin Blanc, the 2006 Château Gaudrelle ($25) did not dissapoint. Although Chenin Blanc is on par with Riesling for it’s agability, we thought that this one was made to drink now.

Next another white duo of Sancerre (your quintessential dry white wine made from Sauvignon Blanc from the Sancerre area of the Loire Valley), and another mystery grape common in the South of France.

Inside glass number three was another pale lemon-coloured wine with some developing aromas of grapefruit, pear, citrus, and some vegetal characters such as asparagus or grass, along with a mineral or mushroomy note. On the palate there was a bit of an unripe apple thing going on with a chalky-steelyness along with some of the same characters from the nose. It was fairly high acidity with medium body.

Those unripe, vegetal notes pointed to a Sauvignon Blanc, and this was it. The bottle of 2005 Pascal Jolivet Sancerre that we tasted goes for $38 … but you could get two bottles of New Zealand Sauv Blanc for that price, making this wine “not good value for money” according to Cluer. Hard to disagree there!

The mystery grape in glass number four made a white wine of a darker lemon or pale gold colour. The nose was fairly intense with honey, riper fruit like peach, melon, apricot and mango, and some white flowers. On the palate it was less intense than one would have expected after smelling it. It was leaning towards full-bodied, and the finish was slightly bitter.

This turned out to be a Viognier (2006 Gérard Bertrand Classic, Vin de Pays D’Oc, for $15), a grape that often makes wines that show off more on the nose than on the palate. The bitter finish could have been caused by the grapes being pressed too hard and allowing the bitter extract from the seed oils to come out when they were over-crushed.

Next we left the Loire and headed to Burgundy — home of the best Chardonnay you’ll ever drink. If you can afford them.

We started with a 2006 William Fevre Grand Cru Bougros from Chablis, which sells for a mere $64. For me, there was something pretty funky going on when I smelled this one. To try to put a finger on it, we threw out mushroom, steel, mineral, and wet stones. There was also some apple, citrus and a light creaminess to the wine.

It was a dry wine with fairly high acidity, but it was not sharp or tart. It had medium body and a medium finish that left a mineral flavour roaming around your palate. Cluer said this wine could be aged for eight to 10 years.

Next we upped the stakes with a 2005 Louis Jadot Monopole Clos del la Garenne from Puligny Montrachet ($116). It was slightly darker lemon-coloured in the glass and the nose was much more complex. The oak treatment of the wine gave it notes of butter, toast, smoke, vanilla and sweet spices. There was also tropical fruit, peach, citrus, honey, and mineral.

Cluer told us this was “one of the best Chards you’ll have” so I enjoyed it while I could. For $116, I doubt I’ll be having it again any time soon. It had so much going on. Dry, high acid, fairly full in body, long length, and delicious multi-layered flavours. It’s another Chard that you can lay down and age.

Les Premières Grives

November 7, 2008 by · 2 Comments 

2007 Domaine du Tariquet, Famille Grasse, Les Premières Grives. (Gers) France. 11%  €16.85 (menu price, not shop)

According to the label’s directions, you should “serve cold and consume as an aperitif. Good with foies gras, fromages à pâte, desserts, fruit salads. Round, structured, rich, a big fresh taste that is dynamic all together.”

It was full-flavoured, juicy and sweet and did make a good aperitif when we had this wine at Brasserie Le France in Narbonne. My father had it pegged as a late harvest. Upon further research, I found out that this wine is made with Gros Manseng and other late-harvest regional grape varieties.

Tracking down where this wine came from was a bit confusing, but I think I have it sorted out. Domaine du Tariquet grows, produces and bottles the wine.  This all takes places in the Bas-Armagnac appellation, or growing area. That area is located in the Gers, which is one of 83 departments created during the French Revolution in 1790.

The Gers was created from what used to be Guyenne and Gascony, and the area is often still referred to as “Gascony.” It is one of the most rural areas of France. It’s in the southwest, about half way between Bordeaux and Toulouse. The department belongs to the Midi-Pyrénées region.

The wine is called “Premières Grives,” which translates to first thrushes. It’s a reference to the birds that arrive late in the fall and eat the mature grapes. Since these grapes have had more time to ripen they have become very sweet, making them irresistible to thrushes and the wine irresistible to all at our table.

For more ideas, read over the France by the Glass wine list.