She’s Back! Hospice du Rhone returns home

Sixteen years ago, Hospice du Rhône

was founded with a dedicated goal to education and celebrate Rhone varietals from around the world.  With 22 varieties, one gorgeous region of France, and many countries producing quality Rhône style wines, what’s not to love about a celebration of this magnitude?

After twenty years in Paso Robles, HdR migrated east to Blackberry Farm, to share the love of the grape with more Rhone lovers.  This year, however, I am ecstatic to celebrate the return of this event to California’s Paso Robles wine country.

The weekend of April 14-16, 2016, Hospice du Rhône makes a return appearance with star studded events at the Paso Robles event center.  The highlight of the weekend, for me, is the education seminar series, which dives deep in to different topics impacting producers.

This year, these seminars include a discussion of the Intricacies of Châteauneuf du Pape.   With so much diversity in a small area of southern France, I am truly excited to learn more.  Additional seminars are being developed but they are sure to be outstanding.

Throw in the always epic Rose Lunch and Grand Tasting, and that alone is worth the price of entry.  But have you ever been to a Rhône Cowboy BBQ?  Yeehaw!  Who says Rhone wines are for the dusty shelves of a wine cellar?  Come celebrate the diversity the 22 grapes have to offer.  From affordable pinks, to fun blends, to collectors loves, the Rhône are grown all over the world and produce amazingly unique, diverse and delicious wines.

Event passes for Hospice du Rhône are on sale now, and start at $100 for single events.

More details are to come, so stay tuned!

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


Cognac ain't whack!

The first thing that comes to mind when I hear cognac is a certain large scale brand, that is popular with the hip hop set.  You know the drill, they spend a ridiculous amount of cold cash for table service at a Miami nightclub.
Here’s what I know about Congac:  I know that cognac is a brandy, made in a specific region of France.  I also know that I’ve had a few delicious examples after some rather decadent French meals.
But, that is about all I know about cognac.  Why am I telling you this?  Well because I want to learn!  After all, Cognac is made from wine, and so I really should include it in this wine blog, as I explore all wine regions and try to understand more about the different aspects of distilled spirits made from the grape.  I’m also telling you this because the Cognac Board is holding a contest to send some lucky bloggers to tour the region, and I’d love to go learn more about this particularly unique piece of the world.
The specific region where Cognac is made in France is actually the town of Cognac.  Not to be confused with another region nearby that also makes brandy, a distilled brandy calling itself Cognac must be made from specific grapes grown in specific places distilled by specific people.  I think they might be Oompa Loompas actually.  The Cognac region is located on the western center edge of France, spreading out in to the coastal towns.  I don’t blame them for needing brandy!  It gets COLD there!
The most commonly used grape is Saint Emilion, aka Ugni Blanc.  What the heck is Ugni Blanc?  Apparently this white grape is also known as Trebbiano and Thalia, and is actually the most widely planted grape in France.  Mind you, most of the wines made from this grape are distilled in to industrial alcohol but well…The other grapes allowed to make the brandy are Folle Blanche and Colombard, but you can eye of newt, and up to 10% of FolignanJurançon blancMeslier St-François , SélectMontils or Sémillon.  Right, so the only grape that I know in there is Semillon.  Time to get studying!
The brandy part of Cognac is made by doubly distilling the white wines made from the grapes mentioned above.  The wines start out as very dry, acidic and frankly undrinkable, but by the time you distillit down, it’s nectar.  The first fermentation results in this dry white wine, with only about 8% ABV.  Now the magic happens.  Place said wine in a beautiful copper pot still.  Distill.  Twice!  The result is a clear brandy that is about 70% ABV.  How about that firewater kids!
To get the amber silk that is Cognac, the brandy is then distilled in oak casks.  Over two years, the angels get to imbibe in about 3% a year (the Angel’s Share is the amount of wine or other liquid hooch that is lost due to evaporation).  Those must be some very happy angels!  It takes about 5 years to reach the 40% ABV that is the end goal, some of the lowbrow producers can cheat a bit by adding water to the brandy.  Not so great, but it speeds up the process.
But wait!  We’re not done!  Cognac is blended beverage.  That  means that these single malts (ok fine I know they aren’t a malt but well it’s so much like the whisky process that this is what works in my wine blogger head) need to blended with other barrels.  Single Cognac Lot 12A meet Single Cognac Lot 45A!  He’s hot, isn’t he?  Now, like Vinnie, blend!  It’s the lucky job of the master taster (maître de chai), to assist in this marriage contract and blending.
By now, I am getting thirsty.  Are you?  There are so many grades of Cognac, much like Scotch whisky.  From the ordinary to the grande dame, you can get everything in between.  What’s better?  What’s worse?  I don’t know.  I am going to do some research to see what I think.  I wonder if airport bars have a decent selection.
Have a great Cognac Cocktail recipe?  Please share it in the comments!  Perhaps a Cognac Sazerac?  Cognac Manhattan?  Mmm that sounds good.  I better get to stocking up the bar this weekend!




To Bordeaux or not to Bordeaux, that is the question

I used to think I hated French wine.  And then came my blog, and the opportunity to taste things that I wouldn’t necessarily buy for myself.  First, it started with Robert Skalli and Fortant, which opened my eyes to the world of French wine beyond Rhone (which I have always enjoyed), and the snobbery of Bordeaux and Burgundy.  Now, I was off to the races to taste some 25 Bordeaux wines, which were from Graves, Haut-Medoc, St. Emillion, Pomeral and beyond.

France, and Bordeaux in particular has always confused me.  Being the American that I am, I like having the region and the grape clearly visible on my bottle.  At least I can make some assumptions about how it SHOULD taste.  But Bordeaux is different.  Given that there are 10,000 producers of Bordeaux wine, and 13,000 growers, the way they make their mark on the bottle of wine can be downright consternating.

There are currently 57 appellations for Bordeaux wine.  Are there even 57 appellations in California?  When you’re speaking of a region roughly the size of Sonoma county, that’s a lot of micro AVAs to differentiate.

Adding to the complexity, the wines MST be made from some combination of and ONLY from some combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petite Verdot, and Malbec, as well as the older Malbec and Carmenere bits.  Now let’s add in this left bank, right bank layer, where those on right are primarily Merlot, and those on the left are primarily Cabernet Sauvignon.  Well mostly.  Maybe.  Sometimes.  How one knows left from right is fairly simple in theory, as Gironde River divides the region.  I need a secret decoder ring but at least it’s fairly well documented.


Here is what I found out after tasting my way left right and sideways.

I tend to prefer those wines from the right bank region, which include those from Saint-Emilion and Pomerol.  While I did not take detailed tasting notes, I do know that my two favorite wines of the night were the 2005 Chateau Jean Faux, a Bordeaux Superieur, and the 2004 Bolaire Bordeaux Superieur.  These wines were $18.99 and $10.99 respectively, and at that price can and should be enjoyed frequently.  The Bolaire with a Truffled Beef slider was simply divine!

The lesson here is that even a California girl with a very New World palate can enjoy those finer things from other parts of the world.  I have been trying to drink my way around the world lately to open my eyes to new tastes and new experiences.  Another lesson learned is that while many European wines, and particularly French wines, are made to be enjoyed with food, many of them can be enjoyed on their own.  to my mind, this is a more American way to enjoy wine, as we have a glass for the cocktail hour, or when out in friends, even if you are not having a meal.  Finally, I learned that you can enjoy Bordeaux and not go broke.  If you know you regions and know your tastes, you can find some amazing values out there.  The wonderful examples of Bordeaux provided by JJ Buckley proved that there are extreme values out there, and even someone on a budget can afford the better things in life.

I’ve included the list of what I tasted, along with my most memorable (enjoyed) examples marked with an astricks.

Left Bank

  • **2007 Chateaufort de Blanc Roquetaillade Bordeaux Blanc (Graves)
  • 2008 Festival Rose (Chateau Le Gay) (Bordeaux)
  • 2006 La Bernadotte (Haut-Medoc)
  • 2006 Potensac (Medoc)
  • 2006 Lalande Borie (St. Julien) 2006 Meyney (St. Estephe)
  • **2005 Chateau Le Thil Rouge (Comte Clary)
  • 2006 Fougeres La Folie Graves (Graves)

Right Bank

  • 2002 La Vieille Cure (Fronsac)
  • 2006 La Cour d’Argent (Bordeaux)
  • **2005 Chateau Jean Faux (Bordeaux Superieur)
  • 2005 Chateau Roque Le Mayne (Cotes de Castillon)
  • 2005 La Tentation de Richelieu (Fronsac)
  • **2004 Bolaire Bordeaux Superieur (Bordeaux Superieur)
  • 2006 La Fleur de Bouard (Lalande de Pomerol)
  • 2005 Reignac (Bordeaux Superieur)+
  • 2006 Vraye-Croix-de-Gay (Pomerol) Vraye-Croix-de- 2006 Fonbel (St. Emilion)
  • 2006 Chateau Monte Cristo (St. Emilion) 2006 Chateau Vieux Taillefer Pavillon (St. Emilion)
  • 2006 Chateau Bourgneuf (Pomerol)
  • 2005 La Vieux Pourret (St. Emilion)
  • 2005 Haut Brisson La Grave (St. Emilion)
  • 2006 Haut Brisson (St. Emilion)

Happy drinking!  For current pricing please visit JJ Buckley Fine Wines online!

All in the family!

France!  Varietal labels!  Two levels!  Oh boy oh boy!  I can’t tell you how excited I was when I got the invitation to taste two labels, Robert Skalli and Fortant, in a wine bar that I have been dying to check out, CAV. Since I have not had a lot of exposure to old world wine, and Old World wine that I enjoy, I was excited to learn about these two labels with the winemaker, Laurent Sauvage.

Robert Skalli began his career in southern France in the 1970s, where he earned his stripes before setting the French wine world on it’s ear in the 80s by throwing the establishment to the wind by producing France’s first single varietal wines.  Until he came along, France was dominated by centuries of classic blending techniques.  The upstart Skalli wanted to showcase the quality of the fruit while simplifying the wines for the new wine drinker.  The second label, Fortant, was created to showcase premier wines at a price that anybody could afford.  This was a foreign concept in the mid 1980s.  The introduction of varital specific wines to the South of France was an interesting prospect, since there was a lot of unexplored territory in wine growing regions.  This was a revolutionary idea that was quickly adopted by many wine growers.  It’s interesting to note that the Skalli family also owns St. Supery, located in the Napa Valley – which I recently wrote about HERE. I have a greater appreciation for producers that have multiple houses, because I think it gives them a full understanding of the different styles of wine that are produced in the wide variety of physical locations.

Here in the States, we are used to having varitally specific wines.  I think this is one of the reasons why old world wine can be intimidating to the average American consumer, because we don’t’ know what goes in to the detailed AOC labeling process.  Producing single varietal wines makes it easy to showcase the stars of a region, while simplifying the buying process for the consumer.

Skalli and Fortant wines are creations of the Languedoc.  This is the largest of the growing regions in the south of France, which is rich in micro climates and terroir.

The Languedoc wine region is included in the much larger Vin de Pays d’Oc.  This region overs the southeastern coastal Gulf of Lion, from the border of Spain to the famous South of France region of Provence.  The total production is approximately 700,000 hectares (1 729 737 acres).  It is the largest wine producing region in the world, and produces more than a third of France’s total wine production.

While historically, the Languedoc has been known for producing many of France’s bulk wines or Vins Ordinaries” there are increasingly, new stars being discovered in this region.

All of the wines we tasted were value priced, ranging in price from the steal of $6.99 to the moderate $18.99.  While I enjoyed all of the tastes, I particularly recommend the Fortant Merlot and the Robert Skalli Côteaux du Languedoc for their outstanding flavors and value.

2006 Fortant Chardonnay – $6.99

Pineapple, stone fruit, guava.  Creamy spice.  No oak is used in the Fortant wines, which strive to focus on the fruit.  The true expression of the grapes is the ultimate goal.  Honey & Tangerine, with a nutty finish.

2006 Robert Skalli Chardonnay- $15.99

This wine sees 6-8 months in oak, and smells like creamy sandlewood.  There is a lot of oak spice from the 1/3 new oak, 1/3 1 year old oak and 1/3 2 year old oak barrel aging.  I found this very spicy and yet a light chardonnay.  Grapefruit and lemon citrus, with crisp fruit.  Slight fig undertones.  IT was almost Sav Blanc like to me.

2007 Fortant Merlot Rose – $6.99

Strawberry lemonade, hibiscus flowers.  Cranberry juice cocktail with rose petals and lavender.

2006 Robert Skalli Piot NOir – $15.99

Earthly wet leaves & mushrooms.  It is unusual to have Pinot Noir crowing in Corsica, an island off the west coast of France, where this wine is from, but this particular parcel has very cool influences that allow for this wine to blossom.  I tasted tobacco and earth, with prunes and smoked meats.  Slight gamey aftertaste with plums and dried cherries.

2006 Fortant Merlot – $6.99

This was the first stand out wine for me at this tasting.  I tasted plums & cocoa, with blackberry juice flavors.  With no oak aging, the beauty oft he fruit really came through.  At this price point, this really is a winner for an everyday but extraordinary wine.

2006 Fortant Cabernet Sauvignoin – $6.99

Vanilla, currents, blackberries.  A lot of black pepper on the tongue, but smooth & rich without being overdone.  Fresh blue and black fruits that did not have oak aging made this a delicious fruit froward cab.

2006 Robert Skalli Cabernet Sauvignon – $15.99

This cab had 30% of the finished wine aged in oak for 6-9 months, which was then blended with the rest of the wine.  I tasted cassis, beef jerky and hickory smoke a well as plums.

2007 Robert Skalli Côteaux du Languedoc – $18.99

This was my other standout winner of the evening.  Even at almost $20, this Grenache – Syrah blend really knocked my socks off.  I tasted Coffee, chocolate, espresso, pepper, deep blue fruit and plums with allspice and anise.  I would drink this wine all the time if i could!

IN closing, it pays to do your research about French wine.  I have long held a bias that I don’t like Old World wine because they aren’t made int he style that I prefer.  That said, I now know that I can seek out wines from the Languedoc and get great QPR as well as great wine!

Special thanks to Benson Marketing Group (especially Tia Butts) for the blogger tasting, and to Laurent for taking the time out of his schedule to hang out with us!