Wine Reviews: Sancerre

I love Sancerre. 

Actually, that is kind of an understatement. We're involved. (Shout out to the awesome one-liners of "10 Things I Hate About You," anyone... anyone... no? - ok moving on).

But seriously, Sancerre is the reason I started to really enjoy the details of wine. I was a huge Sauvignon Blanc fan and I was looking to experiment with different styles. But remember, when it comes to France, the wine is named by the location where its made, not the grape. So I learned that a well known style of Sauvignon Blanc was made in Sancerre, a region within the Loire Valley.

And the rest is History. Check out my review of the latest Sancerre I tasted below!

Sancerre

Where it's from? Upper Loire, France.

Grapes? Sauvignon Blanc.

My Thoughts.

What I loved about this wine is that it had some body to it. It wasn't too light, like some Pinot Grigios can be, but the mouth feel was definitely medium bodied. This gave the wine a smooth start, opening up with a  surprisingly fresh and tart finish. 

This wine had a beautiful aroma. It was bursting with fruit and floral smells - lemon, white peach, fresh grass, lettuce and even some white pepper. All those fruity and fresh scents that just scream - bright summer. Yet surprisingly, the taste was relatively mild, in a good way. The wine was smooth and tasted of herbs and lettuce. It was a perfect contrast to the smell. Very indicative of more subtle european styles.

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Overall, this wine is delicious, it's one of my favorites, and I can't say enough good things about this style. 

Basically, you should go grab a bottle as soon as possible. 

Seriously, why are you still reading? 

 

Cheers!

Wine School Challenge with the NYTimes

I am a big fan of the NYTimes Dining and Wine section and Eric Asimov. Maybe, it is because they provide in depth reviews and discussions on wine across many different countries. Maybe, it is because I was regularly reading the Times when I became a serious wine nerd. Either way, the NYTimes has an awesome new monthly column that you should consider following, the theme = Wine School!

You may be thinking, why would I follow a NYTimes column when there are hundreds, if not thousands, of wine classes available in my city? Well, am excited about this column for two main reasons: (1) it indicates the start of a potential wine culture movement, and (2) it focuses on the wine beyond a mere tasting.

In the old days, wine was an elitist drink. Sommeliers would use lofty terms to describe a wine and restaurant wine lists were dominated by old world wines, primarily from Burgundy and Bordeaux. However, with this new column (and other blogs, like mine!) I am hopeful that there is a growing wine movement of examining wine from the "normal person's" perspective. This "normal" perspective focuses on making wine more approachable, rather than building barriers with complex wine terms and snotty commentary. By approaching wine as fun drink and explaining the complexities in a straight forward way, I hope that wine will becoming less intimidating for new wine drinkers everywhere. So I recommend checking out Eric's original column describing his "Wine School" here (Subscription may be required), and follow along with my commentary monthly here on the blog!

To start the Wine School off, the NYTimes chose Bordeaux - and I was truly skeptical!

I was skeptical of Bordeaux because the wines are usually very expensive if you want to find a quality wine. I thought, "c'mon Eric, I thought this Wine School was supposed to make wine more approachable, not scare people away!" But, I went into the experiment with an open mind and figured, let's get one of the most difficult regions out of the way first.

The Wine School set up is simply this: Eric chooses a wine region and recommends a few labels that are classic styles from that region, you taste at home and we all discuss online. The suggested wines were all from the Haut-Médoc region of Bordeaux, specifically the 2009 vintage. Skepticism reared its ugly head again because I had difficulty finding any of the labels that were suggested. But I figured if I picked up something from the same vintage and region, I would get the general idea. So check out my notes on the wine I found below:

Cheateau Greysac 2009

Where it's From?  Médoc Appellation, Bordeaux, France.

    Grapes?  50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot.

    My Thoughts.  So I'll admit, I cheated with this tasting. The purpose of the NYTimes Wine School is to finish your tasting before Eric posts his thoughts on the column. I bought the bottle with plenty of time, but procrastinated because I wanted to pair it with the perfect meal. Needless to say, I don't eat red meat that often (what I would consider a great pairing with Bordeaux) so I actually tasted this wine without food - after I read some of Eric's comments as well. 

    No worries - the wine was still delicious, but did not overwhelmingly wow me considering I spent $20 on it. It was definitely old world style, very subtle. I picked up flavors of cherry, light pepper and mild tannin. I let the wine decant for 30 minutes before I drank it, which definitely help round out the flavors. But, I really wished I had some food with this wine, I think it would have gave the subtle flavors that complexity boost I was looking for.

    Overall, I could not agree with Eric's conclusions more, Bordeaux is great - but just not a regular player on my drinking list. The main reason, you have to spend decent money to get quality. So the next time you are out and willing to spend some extra money on wine, the Bordeaux 2009 vintage is a worthwhile venture.

    This month, the Wine School is tasting Beaujolais! Look forward to my review soon!

     

    Cheers!

    Benchmark Wine Tasting Class: Other Classic Whites

    Hey there wine nerds! Welcome to the second installment of the benchmark wine series. For the newbies, I previously introduced a benchmark wine tasting series based on a tasting I did at Penn State University. Last time, I provided an overview on aromatic whites. Now, I will be discussing "other classic whites," or more specifically Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. We also tasted an Albariño just to mix things up.

    This tasting couldn't be more interesting because I considered these grapes extremely different in flavor and character. When I think of Sauvignon Blanc, I think of bright citrus, spicy green pepper and high acidity. When I think Chardonnay, I think smooth vanilla, stone fruit flavors and full-body. However, now that I think a little more, the two grapes are similar in one curious way -- they are both very versatile. Both have adapted to a variety of locations and styles, resulting in a variety of selection for consumers.

    Sauvignon Blanc.

    I have said it before and I will say it again, Sauvignon Blanc is my favorite grape! If you drink Sauvignon Blanc, then you know it has those awesome citrus, herbaceous, or even grassy green pepper flavors. Thanks to the world wide web, I learned a fun new principle when it comes to the flavors of Sauvignon Blanc: the ripeness of the grapes plays a major role in the flavor profile. (Duh, but listen to this!) If the grapes are LESS ripe, the wine is more likely to taste like lime or green apple. While, if the grapes are MORE ripe, the wine will likely taste like flowery peach or citrus. The best regions for Sauvignon Blanc are Bordeaux, Loire Valley (specifically Sancerre), New Zealand, and California. When surfing the aisles at the wine store, you can also look for the following synonyms: Fume Blanc or Pouilly-fume and you will most likely be drinking Sauvignon Blanc. Looking for food pairing tips? A good general rule is "go green," since the herbaceous qualities of the wine will pair well with salads, but any herb based sauce would pair well also. Now that we have covered the Sauvignon Blanc basics, let's check out the wines I tried at the benchmark wine tasting:

    BANCROFT ESTATE 2011

    Where it's from. Marlborough, New Zealand.

    My thoughts. I love NZ style Sauvignon Blanc because it's so distinct. The flavors can be grassy, spicey, or peppery. This particular bottle had a lighter style than I have experienced with most NZ Sauvignon Blancs, which was fine. It definitely had the spicey finished and white pepper notes tha I expected. Overall, this wine was delicious but, as the only NZ Sauvignon Blanc on the tasting, I was hoping for a bolder style. The room thought it would be hard to pair with food - but I argue it would go great with an arugula salad. (Don't knock it before you try it!)

    Chardonnay.

    Chardonnay and I have a love-hate relationship. Generally, I am not a fan of most those "butter-bomb" styles. But, the unoaked styles, generally out of the Old World, are quite lovely. Like our discussion above, the ripeness of the Chardonnay grape also changes dramatically with ripeness. MORE ripe and you may notice flavors of pineapple and other tropical fruit, LESS ripe and you may notice strong notes of lemon or green apple. Similar varietals include: Marsanne, Rousanne, Viognier, Semillion and Fiano (Italy). Check out the wines I tasted below:

    KENDALL-JACKSON VINTNER'S RESERVE

    Where it's from. California.

    My thoughts.  Definitely not a favorite. If you like the buttery styles, you may like this, but it's definitely not for me.

    HENRY FESSY CHARDONNAY 2010

    Where it's from. Pouilly-Fuisse, France

    My thoughts. This wine could give any ABCer a run for their money. (Anything But Chardonnay). It had a pungent aroma that I was sure would mirror the taste - but I was so wrong. The flavors were subtle and sweet. Definitely an interesting wine.

    LOUIS LATOUR 2008

    Where it's from. Côte-d'Or, Burgundy, France.

    My thoughts. This wine may have been my favorite white, maybe even my favorite wine of the tasting. This producer is just awesome. Yes, it is a bit more expensive - around $40 a bottle - but arguably worth every penny. The wine had a very refreshing aroma, including aloe or mint. However, it had a smooth and round taste, with an almost tart finish. I loved the complexities.

    Albariño.

    This grape is lovely. If you are ever in the wine store looking for something a bit different in the white wine aisle, Albariño is a great option. It is most commonly grown in northern Spain, specifically the Rías Baixas region. This grape is interesting because it has a pronounced fruit-forward aroma. For our benchmark wine tasting, we tasted the 2010 Mar de Vinas Albariño from Spain. Another great wine! It had the fruit aromas and bright acidity that I was hoping for - so check this wine out!

    That is all for this post on benchmark wine - classic whites!

     

    Cheers!

    Wine Winter Project: Jean-Claude Dagueneau Domaine des Berthiers Pouilly-Fume

    Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.
    — Ralph Waldo Emerson

    As much as I love Ralph Waldo Emerson, describing my passion for this next style of wine as "enthusiastic" may be a bit of an understatement. In this post, I will review of one of my personal favorites, Pouilly-Fume! 

    Every time I start a new post, I look back to see what I have written on the topic previously. Since the blog is relatively young, I usually find a few sparse details. However, when it comes to Sauvignon Blanc, specifically the French style from Pouily-Fume, there is an abundance of information on the topic already. (Not surprising, since it's delicious!). If you want a review my earlier posts, be sure to check out my comparison of California style Sauvignon Blanc with a Pouilly-Fume from France here. I also discussed Pouilly-Fume in my French Wine 101 magna-post.

    But today the focus is on Pouilly-Fume, so let's get to it! When I initially tasted Pouilly-Fume, I assumed that the "Fume" meant the wine may have a smokey flavor. While there are many theories on this, most industry people (including Kevin Zraly - a favorite!) suggest that the name came from the "white morning mist that blankets the area." Personally, I think the "Fume" stands for steely gun barrel and minerality with a citrus finish. I know, what a crazy description, but when you taste it you will understand what I mean! A few final facts, this wine is not typically aged in wood and ready to drink within three to five years.

    Remember to note the distinction between Pouilly-Fume (Sauvignon Blanc from Loire Valley) and Pouilly-Fuisse (Chardonnay from Loire Valley). 

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    Jean-Claude Dagueneau Domaine des Berthiers Pouilly-Fume

    (2009)

    Grapes. 100% Sauvignon Blanc

    Where it's From. Pouilly-Fume AOC, located within the Loire Valley. Pouilly-Fume is considered within the Central Vineyards (called Central because they are located within the center of France, not the Loire Valley). The climate is continental. The soil consists primarily of clay and limestone topped with gravel and flinty pebbles (flint = gun barrel).

    Alcohol. 12.5%

    Winemaker's Notes. No official winemaker's notes were readily available, but the Wine Spectator did give it a 90.

    My Thoughts. This was a total impulse buy that gave me a bit of sticker shock at the register, since it cost $24. Now even with the tax-free shopping available in the great state of Delaware, this is a bit over my usual price range for a weeknight wine. However, just the smell alone reminded me immediately of how much I love this style of wine. It smelled of steely citrus, spice and green pepper. The taste was much softer than the aroma - I expected an acid bomb - but it was super smooth and mouthwatering with a hint of lemon. I would argue that the wine is the best choice for sipping - it would really thrive if paired with food. I was thinking fish, or similar seafood, with a citrus based sauce.

     

    Cheers!

    Dessert Wines 101

    So much for those resolutions to eat better, work out more and lose weight. Why? - because the lovely ladies and gents of The Enthusiasts! an NYC Wine Tasting Club have chosen a truly decadent topic for this month's tasting - Dessert Wines!

    Photo Source.  Creme Brulee is by far my favorite dessert!

    Photo Source. Creme Brulee is by far my favorite dessert!

    Personally, when it comes to dessert wines - I am typically NOT a fan. Seems weird, I love dessert and have a serious sweet tooth. My first experience with sweet wines was an Eiswein tasting in Heidelberg, Germany. Then, (age the grand old age of 18) I remember thinking the wine was sweet but delicious. However, a few years later, at a food and pairing event (where I had a white dessert wine paired with cheesecake) I was turned off to dessert wines because the pairing was way too sweet. And last month, when I sampled the Lacrima Dolce from Penns Woods Winery, my appreciation for dessert wines was revived! I am officially a fan!

    Full disclosure: I work in the tasting room at Penns Woods Winery (and it's kind of the best job ever!). But, I aim to be upfront about my affiliations and remain unbiased when discussing wines I have tasted here (fun fact - it's actually the law). All disclosures aside, the Lacrima Dolce really did change my perspective on wine - it's merlot based and has ripe cherry flavors with a chocolate and cinnamon finish. I would have gladly had just that wine as the perfect finish to any meal. So even,  if you're not the biggest fan of dessert wines you will keep tasting and maybe there will be a game changer for you out there!

    Now before you rush to the store to pick up a few bottles of sweet wine, it is important to understand the different types: late harvest, noble rot wines, raisin wines, and fortified wines.

    Late Harvest Wines.  Typically, when wine is made, the majority of the natural sugar found in the grapes is consumed by the yeast during fermentation and yields the production of alcohol. So it actually takes a bit of effort to reach the increased sugar levels found in most dessert wines. When reading about dessert wines you may see the term chaptalization**, or the process of adding sugar before fermentation. Many winemakers today consider this cheating and it is an unpopular winemaking technique, especially among higher end producers. Thus, some sweeter wines are made from "late harvest" grapes, or grapes left on the vine as long as possible to increase their natural sugar content. This style of wine is commonly made in Germany, Austria and the Alsace region of France with Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Muscat and Chenin Blanc grapes. Be sure to check the label, for "late harvest," vendange tardive (French: "late harvest"), spätlese (German: "late harvest") or auslese ("select harvest," even later) - these are the sweeter styles.

    Photo Source.   Ew, noble rot!

    Photo Source.  Ew, noble rot!

    Noble Rot Wines.  Or 'botrytis cinerea' (if we want to get super nerdy), is a beneficial form of fungus that concentrates the sugar content of the grapes. This process is typically used with white grapes because red grapes become too unstable under noble rot. Also, be prepared to pay more for these sweet styles because this process is very expensive - many of the grapes are unusable so it takes many more grapes per bottle. Some of the best examples are made in Sauternes, Barsac from Bordeaux and Centraol Loire Valley. In Germany, look for "beerenauslese and trockenbeerenauslese" or even look to Hungary. The grapes used in each region vary.

    Raisin Wines and Eiswein.  Both of these styles involve a process that dehydrates the grapes resulting in wines with high residual sugar. Making wine from raisins is actually one of the oldest methods of making sweet wines. Similarly, eiswein is made from grapes that are exposed to cold temperatures and frozen. 

    Fortified Wines.  This is the process of adding alcohol during the winemaking process, either during fermentation or after fermentation has been completed. Common styles include: Port, (made in Douro, Portugal) which is infused with brandy-like yeast or Sherry, (made in Jerez, Spain) which isn't necessarily a sweet style, and even vermouth.  

    Regardless of what method is used, expect to pay a bit more for quality dessert wines. It may seem like a splurge, given the smaller size of the bottles, but you are paying for the the extra production costs. If you are looking for values, check out wine made from Moscato or "Late Harvest" Riesling as these styles have higher residual sugars.

     

    Cheers!

     

    **Correction, this term was previously misspelled as "chapitalization" and has since been corrected.

    Wine 101: Benchmark Wines

    Now that the gifts have been opened, the in-laws are heading out of town and we have rung in 2014 - its time to get back to business. This post is geared towards those wine drinkers who are aiming to move on from beginner status. So if you want to get serious about wine - the key is to inform yourself on the classics. These classic style wines have long served as benchmarks for the traditional regions or styles of wine.

    So what do I mean by benchmark wine? Check out these suggestions organized by old world vs. new world styles:

    Old World Classics:

    Generally, when looking for a wine standard most sommeliers suggest you turn to France. It make sense, France is the global wine powerhouse. They have been making wine for centuries and have implemented strict rules regarding winemaking. If you are looking for a benchmark regarding Pinot Noir, start with Burgundy. If you want to try a classic Merlot, look to Pomerol (technically within the Bordeaux region). If you would pass on red wines from Bordeaux and prefer the style of white wine, look to Loire Valley, for  the best examples of classic Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc. Other regions to note include Rhone, Savoie, or Jura. And finally, Champagne is the classic benchmark for sparkling wine.

    For the benchmark on Rieslings, you must go to Germany. There are many styles of Rieslings, but the classics come from Mosel, Rheingau, Pfalz, Rheinhessen. The Rieslings produced in Austria are also considered within the classic style, look there for classic Grüner Veltliner. 

    So you love reds but prefer to look to Italy, the classic regions include Piedmont, Tuscany, and Veneto. For more details on the specifics of these regions, check out our earlier post on Italian wine here. Similarly, the best Spanish include Rioja, Sherry and Albariño (Spanish white grape). Additionally, some sommeliers are on the fence about Bierzo or Priorat as representative of classic Spanish grapes.

    New World Classics:

    "New World" wines include wines made from countries outside the classic European winemaking countries. This includes the United States, South America, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and others. Look to New Zealand for classic Sauvignon Blancs with green pepper, grassy or spicy notes. As for reds, look to Australia for classic Shiraz, California's Napa Valley for classic Cabernet Sauvignon and Oregon for Pinot Noir.

    Look forward to more features on these regions specifically in upcoming posts - Happy 2014!

     

    Cheers!

    Fun French Holiday Traditions

    Personally, I am all about traditions. 

    And not just holiday traditions, but family traditions, friend traditions and even personal traditions. One of my traditions I am most proud of is actually an annual reunion with some college friends from Student Government. We get together once year, usually for an Orioles game, relive the glory days from college and catch up. It's always a blast. The best thing about traditions is that they get more valuable every year they survive (Mine is going on six years!). So, while writing my French 101 wine post I wondered - what are some typical French holiday traditions?

    Here are some of my favorites:

    • Children place their shoes in front of the fire place in hopes that Santa will leave gifts in their shoes (an interesting alternative to the stocking).
    • In 1962, an official French law declared that all letters to Santa will receive a postcard in response.
    • For Christmas Eve Church-goers, Le Réveillon is a long and luxurious dinner held on Christmas Eve (and New Year's Eve) following evening church services.

    They have fun holiday food traditions too:

    • La bûche de Noël (Yule Log); this delicious dessert is representative of the piece of firewood used to warm the home on Christmas day.
    • La Galette des Rois (King 's Cake); this traditional cake is associated with the Epiphany. The baker hides a trinket (traditionally a plastic baby to represent Jesus) inside the cake. Everyone cuts a slice of cake and the one who discovers the toy is made king (or queen) for the day and wears a crown. The king may also choose a queen by putting the toy in her glass and everyone applauds. Tradition says the next party is thrown at the King's expense (some honor, right?!) I think this yummy dish needs to make an appearance at my next holiday party!

    What are some of your favorite traditions?

     

    Happy Holidays and Cheers!