She’s Back! Hospice du Rhone returns home

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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!

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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.     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 […]

Viva Vouvray!

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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!     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

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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!

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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 Folignan, Jurançon blanc, Meslier St-François , Sélect, Montils 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 […]

To Bordeaux or not to Bordeaux, that is the question

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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. […]