Please pass the Claret Carson!

If you’re a fan of the period piece Downtown Abbey as I am, you are no doubt experiencing withdrawal symptoms now that they are on hiatus for the rest of the year.  Yet, I am always enthralled at the ritual involved when the wine is selected by Carson and Lord Grantham, and the elaborate pouring rituals begin.

This ritual is, of course, part and parcel for the Bordeaux wine trade in years past.  British “Claret” increased in popularity in Britain when Eleanor of Aquitaine married in to the royal family, paving the way for Bordeaux exports.  At that time, most wine was from Graves, and was called “clariet”, which is why the name still sticks today.  Until relatively recently, the English would buy barrels of wine, import them across the channel, and bottle them themselves, translating the somewhat confusing French labeling system in to a more English friendly naming convention.

Today, we don’t have to go to such great lengths to get the delicious wines from the Bordeaux region.  We are able to purchase, and taste, wines of wide variety and price point; In fact, we don’t have to go through quite the elaborate decanting rituals that Carson the Butler does in Downton Abbey, in thanks to modern bottling techniques and cleaner process.

This month, as I study for my CSW, we are meandering through France.  I’ve already talked a bit about the Loire Valley region, but now we are delving in to serious, hard core, confusing, amazing, enthralling, Bordeaux.  Bordeaux is located roughly halfway down the western coast of France, where the Girdone river meets the Atlantic Ocean, and moves inland to the southeast where there Gironde and the Dordogne meet to form the Garrone River.

 

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

 

Bordeaux is a challenge for me, with over 30 distinct subregions, Left Bank, Right Bank, middle bank (Entre-deux-Mars) and the uniqueness that comes with each of these.  After tasting a beautiful array of Bordeaux a the Union des Grand Crus last month, I have come to discover that my heart lies on the Right Bank, with the silken elegance of the Merlot based wines, but there are several areas of the Cabernet driven Left Bank that call to me as well.  The myth of Bordeaux as an old man’s luxury has been dispelled, and today, it is an accessible option to even the most budget friendly wine drinker.

First, some 411 on the basics.  Yes, I know this is overly simplifying the details quite a bit, but going in to detail on the 37 distinct regions is just too overwhelming for most wine lovers, unless you are a Francophile.  For a long time, I didn’t like the tannic, seemingly thin, overly astringent flavors in the Bordeaux that I had experienced.  Fortunately, there is such a wide array of wine available, that there really is a wine for everyone, at every budget.

The primary regions of the Left Bank are Graves, Medoc, and Pauillac, and are Cabernet based blends.  The Right Bank includes my favorite Saint Emilion and Pomerol, which are Merlot based.  Smack dab in the middle of them both is the no man’s land of Entre Deux Mers, the No Man’s Land of Bordeaux.  Thanks to the good folks at Planet Bordeaux, I have some great examples to share with you.

2005 Barons de Rothschild Reserve Special – Pauillac – A Left Bank powerhouse (this beauty was hiding in my cellar.  At the time of purchase, it was $18, current vintage is about $30).  This middle aged gentleman deserves some decanting, as he is a bit rough around the edges.

2010 Chateau de Landiras – Graves another Left Bank powerhouse, Graves.  So named due tot he intensely gravelly soil, this cabernet based wine is minerally with a graphite nose, rose petals, dried flowers, and a kiss of Brett.  This is a wine that needs a steak, and an hour int he decanter but a lovely example of how complex Bordeaux can be, even at the $20 price point.

2010 Chateau La Grangere – Saint Emilion Grand Cru – this plush and velvety Right Bank beauty oozes dark chocolate and espresso, with ripe black plums and tobacco leaf and dried fig.  This blend of 75% Merlot, 20% Cab Sav, and 5% Cab Franc speaks to all those Merlot haters and calls out, drink me!  Love me!  $25

Laffittte de Laujac – Medoc – the Medoc is at the very northern tip of the Left Bank, inching closer to the Atlantic Ocean.  Full of savory herbal notes and stewed fruit, this elegant olive toned wine is bursting with blackberries, currents, and fig.  Reminiscant of a class Napa Cab from teh 70s, there is great potential here for duck, Cassoulet, and other hearty dishes.  $30

I could go on for days at the variety of Bordeaux available, but these are just some value priced examples of what you can find.  There are so many options out there, from so many smaller regions in the Bordeaux area, at all price points.  So what are you waiting for?  Go out and experiment!  And remember, Lefty Loosy (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc), Righty Tighty (Merlot).  I love the velvety softness of the Right Bank, but if you let the Left sit and stew for a while in a decanter, it is the perfect accompaniment for heartier meals.Enjoy!

Special thanks to Planet Bordeaux for sending me these wines to experiement with.

Viva Vouvray!

Vouvray.  Just the name elicits a curling of the tongue and imaginary French wine drinkings, enjoy a glass at a sidewalk cafe.  Located in the Central Loire region of Touraine, Vouvray comes in many styles:  From fully sweet to dry; from still to brightly sparkling (Crémant de Loire).  But one thing is true of all of these wine:  they are all 100% Chenin Blanc.

If you’re like me, when you hear Chenin Blanc you think of one of two things:

1.  South Africa

2.  Old School California jug wine, sister to “Chablis”, in the handy gallon contains, now served on the bottom shelf of the grocery store wine aisle.

This ain’t your Mama’s Chenin Blanc!

loire wines

 

 

With just over half of the production being sparkling, the chalmy soils of the region lend themselves to crisp and fresh white wines.  Vovray is lively, and vibrant, with floral aromas, and flavors of stone fruit, candied orange and honeycomb.

The next time you are looking for an interesting white or a sparkler to celebrate Tuesday with, check these out:
2012 Les Chancelieres Vouvray – Clean and dry, with bright citrus and spice drops.  Overripe apricots and Golden Delicious apples covered in nutmeg and white flowers.  Fantastic with Thai curry!  $12

2013 Guy Saget “Marie de Beauregard” Vouvray – Ginger ale and toasted brioche with fig jam, nutty finish with a buttery edge.  A great bubbly with rich, creamy cheeses.  $20

 

Chinon: The Lady of the Lake

Chinon might well be best known for it’s Chateau, and it’s central role in Joan of Arc’s story.  But in this case, Chinon is known for it’s Cabernet Franc, and it’s other wines.

 

Chinon is located in the region of Touraine, which is located in the central Loire Valley, in northwestern France.  Chinon is especially known for it’s Cabernet Franc, although up to 10% of Cabernet Sauvignon can be blended in.  There is also some Chenin Blanc planted in the region.  Cabernet Franc from Chinon is quite varied and can be bold and grippy, or light and minerally, but both aqre quite affordable and great alternatves to some of the more expensvie regions in France.

2012 Domaine de noiré soif de tendresse chinon – $16.00

When I first opened this, it was very dusty, closed and full force potpourri.  But now, after an hour, it’s coming around to lusciousness.  On the nose, violets, rosepetals and grassy notes.  The palate opens up to reveal a medium bodied grippy red with prune, cherry, wild strawberry, coffee, and smoke notes.

 

 

2011 Les pensees de Pallus – $20

Smokey with perfume notes, pencil lead, and bright raspberreis, the peppery notes open up to sour cherry, blackberry, and chewy stewed meat