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.

A walk in the clouds…

A Walk In The Clouds, the somewhat cheesy although romantic movie set in Napa Valley in the 1940s had perhaps some of the most visually stunning scenery in a wine movie.  Yes, much of it was CGI generated, and yet the scenes are evocative of the early era in winemaking in California, and conjure up images of a time gone by.  Or has it?

All of this Hollywood history brings me to my new favorite winery discover,  Rubissow Vinyeards.  Rubissow was introduced to be at the Wine Bloggers Conference this year, when Leslie Bramwell-Smith, who is working with them, invited us to taste and tour the Mt. Veeder property.  With a little scheduling magic, we finally go to take the opportunity and I am so glad we did!

The house that sits on the property on Mt. Veeder was build in 1860 as a hunting lodge for the city folk, and they ran the property for game.  Mt. Veeder was the first grape producing region in these parts and some of the vines go back as far as that property.  The Rubissow family bought the property in 1983, but it had been a vegetable farm up until that time.  Converting a farm into a producing vineyard took some effort but it has paid off well.  Together with his partner Tony Sargent, Rubissow-Sargent was born, sourced entirely from the 45 acre Rubissow estate.  Peter Rubissow and his sister Ariel bought the property in 2004, and Rubissow Sargent became just plain (or not so plain) Rubissow.  winemaker Tim Milos is producing some really amazing wines up here, and these wines are one of the many examples of why I have come back around to Napa Valley.

Up the hill, our blogger crew started out with a little hike int he blistering heat.  I pooped out halfway up the mountain, but that was enough for me.  The expansive view of Carneros to the south west was impressive and I sat in the shade with Liza while the others melted up top.

There are two distinct terroirs up here, where the first is warmer and less windy, it is best suited for Cab and Merlot.  The second area is more similar to Carneros, where the fog rolls in and a hot wind blows, where Merlot develops a bracingly high acidity.  Winemaker Tim Milos really believes that place is important when tasting a wine.  If you can’t taste the place in the glass, what is the point?  Wines should be distinctive of their vines.  This is further refined by the two soil types, the top being volcanic and the lower elevations being marine sedimentary in nature.  Tim really allows the land to speak for itself in his wines, and it shows.

Peter Rubissow

The first time I visited Rubissow, it was August and it was about 102 on the porch.  We were all melting, but the wine was amazing.  This past weekend, I got to visit them again, when the fall colors were coming out and the morning fog hung low on the mountain top.  Sipping the rich reds in the cool fall weather has a mystical effect on me, and I enjoyed the wines more than ever.

Ariel Rubissow

As you can see here, Peter was very enthusiastic when he showed us around the first time!  This time, his sister Ariel was on hand to help us with the harvest, and we tromped through the block picking the grapes in a bit of an I Love Lucy scene.

Relaxing on the front porch of the house, we tasted the 2005 Estate Trompettes, which is a blend of 65% Cab Franc, 25% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.  This had tons of spice, figs, black fruit, and cherries, with juicy earth flavors.  I found it had a medium body with since baking spice notes that lingered, and had a perfumy aroma.

In between these wines, Autumn Berry served us a feast for the senses that she called lunch.  With this we also tried the Rubissow-Sergant Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon which was inky dark and purpose, with leather, tobacco, cherry and orange zest.  There was plenty big dark berry fruit in it as well, and the oak was just kissing the glass.  It had a peppery spice which lingered on the finish and was a rich wine, with a long finish that kept me going back for more.  Our trusty friend Drew was of course on hand with his Wine Soiree, which helped us aerate the wine, which would do well decanting for a couple of hours.

The 2005 Mount Veeder Estate Merlot had a licorice and anise backbone to it.  This was my favorite wine on the first visit, and it was soft and plush with toasty notes and vanilla aromas.  It had a lot of herbal characteristics hiding under the rich fruit, which I normally doni’t like but it was so balanced, I loved this wine. Next came the 2005 Estate Merlot was silky with cherries, oak, plums and smoke, followed by black cherries in brandy.  At the end i tasted red raspberries and lingered over this wine.  Yum!

The Rubissow family, including Tim and Autumn, were incredibly welcoming and gracious.  I have to thank then for their hospitality and interest in hosting a blogger brat pack (like a pack of wild wolves!) for these events.  It is excititng to me to be able to hear the stories from the source, and to taste the wine with the atmosphere.  Wine, after all, imparts a sense of place, and when you’re IN that place, it’s only enhanced.

Happy Drinking!

Wine and Lunch were provided by Rubissow Wines.

All pictures by Thea Dwelle, all rights reserved – but if you ask nicely, I might share.