Tasting in the Roter Hang vineyards

A couple weeks ago, I made it out to the annual Roter Hang tasting in Nierstein, which takes place directly on the Rheingau’s famed red slope. As one walks along the Grosses Gewächs vineyards halfway up the hill, a pavilion is set up in front of each major vineyard, showcasing the Rieslings from different estates which produce a wine there.

The iron-rich soils from which the slope got its name of red slope.

The iron-rich soils from which the slope got its name of red slope.

Touching the soft red soil from which the vines draw their character, I sip on the different Rieslings, swapping glasses with friends to compare, and eventually lose myself completely in the wonderful scenery and festive atmosphere. This is how wine tasting was meant to be! The opportunity to try the wines side by side in a group sparks discussions. We talk about the vineyards, the producers (I tend to think the latter are more influential on a wine’s style) the aromas, but most importantly ourselves: what we like… who we are.

I was most impressed by the Pettental and Rothenberg Rieslings Chicken and egg: is it because they are the most renowned, or are they renowned because they are the most impressive?

I was most impressed by the Pettental and Rothenberg Rieslings
Chicken and egg: is it because they are the most renowned,
or are they renowned because they are the most impressive?

Tasting in the vineyards appeals to both our rational and romantic sides. Rare are the opportunities to compare, benchmark, understand. I’ll confess that this was my initial reflex as well, but somewhere along the way, the mood wins us over and the memories we create (with a few gaps due to the generous servings) are more focused on the moment than the raw information.

In the end, what I took away from this day was a couple of nice discoveries, such as the very classic and elegant Rieslings of Staatliche Weinbaudomäne Oppenheim, Eckehart Gröhl‘s structured “Barock”, Domtalhof‘s ultra-mineral Pettenthal, as well as the well established Gunderloch estate’s delicious Rothenberg.

More importantly, I now have a personal connection with the wines of the Roter Hang, and the wines will forever taste a bit more charming to me because of this!

Cavern Diving – 2007 Francois Cazin Cour -Cheverny

Cour-Cheverny is a little known appellation in the Loire Valley, whose wines are made exclusively from Romorantin*. The very original grape variety is only found in this AOC, although my favorite example remains Henri Marrionet’s “Provignage” Romorantin, grown outside of Cour-Cheverny as a Vin de Pays, sourced from original pre-phylloxera* vines planted in the mid 1800s! I was truly impressed, intrigued even, when I tasted this wine last year, and to this day, it remains one of my benchmarks for crystal clear whites. But back to this evening’s bottle: a 2007 by François Cazin, the principal grower from the tiny Cour-Cheverny appellation.

I picked this wine up at a random merchant on my way to the French supermarket -yes, I drove almost an hour to the border to shop for groceries- and decided to open it that same evening to drink with all the shellfish we brought back. I had recently read an old manga called Oishimbou -the gourmet- from the 80s, in which a character claimed that sake would always work better than white wine for strong flavored seafood such as oysters and uni -sea urchin-, because of some compound in wine which supposedly brings out the fishiness.

I must admit that I have on occasion found this to be true, such as when I recently paired a Jo Landron Muscadet with smoked salmon. It was as if I had been knocked over by a wave and gotten a mouthful of sea water! Not so pleasant, despite quite enjoying his wines in other contexts. The Cour-Cheverny on the other hand was impeccable with my oysters, complementing the sea flavors rather than exaggerating them. I pictured myself exploring a water cavern, clinging to the wine’s wet stone walls as the seawater remained perfectly still on my palate, the two elements echoing off of each other in the dark, empty space.

salmon-978664_640

The sea urchin brought another dimension to the experience, its buttery texture like a smooth clay at the bottom of the water as I jumped in. Yet underneath, the wine’s rocky bottom again kept my head above the water level to marvel at my solemn surroundings. Halfway into the bottle however, I got a little cold and had to climb back out. Cour-Cheverny wines are really quite fresh, with a high acidity, and can be a bit much at the end of a long day!

NOTES:
*Romorantin is a very local grape variety, and was once widely planted in the Loire Valley. Over time it was replaced by the more popular Chenin and Sauvignon Blanc for which the Loire is now famous for. It appears to be some distant relative of Chardonnay, though the wines tend to be much lighter.

**Phylloxera is a small insect which destroyed most of Europe’s vineyards in the late 1800s. As a result, practically all new vines since that time are grafted onto resistant roots which were brought over from America. Some vineyards however, managed to survive the infestation, for various reasons such as very sandy soils, cold temperatures at high altitudes, or simply the fact that the insect hasn’t made it to those parts (yet?) such as in Chile.

About Vimpressionnistes

Qui sont les Vimpressionnistes?

Les Vimpressionnistes is an ideal, and ultimately, a mission. It is to liberate wine from the shackles of rationality, and return the focus to its raison d’être: us humans, the pleasure it offers us.

The subjective nature of taste defies any numerical rating system of wine. In fact, it defies any measure of quality in a wine at all, because quality is intrinsically tied to our subjective preferences, our mood, our upbringing, and even our own physical palate.

So why insist on judging, classifying, or quantifying a product as complex as wine? Can any one score or technical analysis convey that which is alive, constantly evolving, that which displays a distinct personality and which chooses to show itself to one, while shying away from another? Can one rationalize the impression that is felt when bringing a glass to one’s lips and taking in a grand cru?

No. Clearly not, and at Les Vimpressionnistes, the focus is on the expression of these very impressions through more creative, personal outlets. Our senses are flawed. Subjectivity prevents us from defining a wine exactly, and so we must embrace subjectivity. What we can define exactly, is ourselves. What we can convey is that which we feel, the impression that is left upon experiencing a wine of character.

The purpose of the Vimpressionnistes blog is to communicate the essence of this message, shape it through encounters, color it through personal tastings, and hopefullly convince wine enthusiasts to stop judging wine, and to start expressing the way it moves us.

-Mark, aspiring Vimpressionniste

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Aristocratic sunshine – Vina Mar 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon

Aristocratic sunshine

Aristocratic sunshine

Context

The Chilean Vina Mar estate has been run by Domaines Barons de Rothschild since the 80s. Originally under the direction of Lafite Rothschild’s technical director in Bordeaux, it is now a local team which makes a range of wines from the Colchagua Valley, Chile’s premier red wine appellation.

I’m a big fan of cousin Mouton Rothschild’s Chilean joint project with Concha y Toro, Almaviva, so I suppose my expectations were rather high for Vina Mar as well. At just under 10 Euro however, I suppose Vina Mar is actually more comparable to Mouton’s Escudo Rojo range. In any case, I was looking forward to this bottle, if not for the Rothschild name, simply because I hadn’t had a Chilean wine in some time, and the current weather has me craving memories of the South American sun!

Impression

Aristocratic Sunshine

A solid wine. It offered everything I was hoping for and left me satisfied, not overwhelmed, but happy with what this bottle delivered: nice, ripe fruit with the typical nose of crème de cassis (these usually point me towards Chilean Cabernet in blind tastings);  a good, firm posture showing its aristocratic French roots, but without sacrificing its South American charm; and finally a hint of ripe pepper for the varietal touch, like a cool shade on a hot summer day. And that’s just the feeling I was looking for!

Germany send-off Pt. 1 – From Pontet-Canet to Riesling

After a busy week of formalities and paperwork, punctuated by multiple vinous send-offs, I am now slowly settling back in my hometown of Saint-Claude in France’s Jura region (near Switzerland). Looking through pictures and tasting notes for the wines we had over the last week, I must say that everyone in Frankfurt went all out in making sure that my final impression of Germany was a great one! Thanks everybody!

With my bags packed and a last minute dinner planned to empty the fridge (and the wine cabinet), I invited my buddy Alex who stayed true to his Blind Tasting Club wine blog theme by presenting a couple anonymous bottles, as well as a few other interesting wines to send me off in style.

Check out Alex’s take on the evening. Towards the 6th or 7th bottle, we decided we would create a diaBlog (as in a dialog via our blogs), so check out his vimpressions in italics below!

Memories

We started the evening off with a couple old bottles: a 1959 Inglenook from Napa Valley RIESLING, which Alex had found on Ebay for a bargain price, and a 1986 Lacoste-Borie, the second wine from Pauillac’s Grand Puy-Lacoste, a well regarded Bordeaux Grand Cru estate.

Old Vintage 1959 INGLENOOK - Napa Valley RIESLING - WINE LABEL

1959 INGLENOOK – Napa Valley RIESLING – WINE LABEL

The ancient Riesling from a legendary vintage was still alive, with fresh pineapple and some apricot notes underneath a very distinct aroma of…. what is that?! It was something I knew, and yet could not place. Alex mentioned shoe polish, and it may have been along those lines, but I just couldn’t figure out where I had experienced it myself (my shoes not necessarily being the most shiny).

I completely agree with Alex that the wine was still very drinkable and “fresh” for its age. He’s definitely an expert at digging up these unexpected gems!

El Coto Rioja Crianza 2011

El Coto Rioja Crianza 2011

The Crianza was everything I expected from this often overlooked vintage: mature aromas (leather, dead leaves..) with a hint of fruit and a soft, almost soothing feel which put me at ease.  It wasn’t too full, but not thin either, although it was definitely time to open this bottle. Overall, I was pleased that the wine was still alive, and enjoyed the classic mature Crianza experience at a relatively low price (around 30 euros at a small wine shop in Mannheim).

While I didn’t necessarily find it as stinky as Alex did, I was equally impressed with the wine‘s longevity considering it is only a second wine.

Both wines showed that it’s possible to reveal memories of a distant past without spending a fortune, while creating new memories for the future.

The (Bio)dynamic duo

The next two red wines were served blind (with a quick Riesling break in between), and it turns out that both are the product of biodynamics, showing both the ups and downs of this natural farming method.

Santa Cristina Toscana 2013

Santa Cristina Toscana 2013

On the up-side, there was the Santa Cristina Toscana 2013, from the first vintage where the vineyards were conducted entirely in biodymamics. It seems that they cracked in 2007 under pressure of rot, but that they have since gone back to the natural methods.  This is an extremely acclaimed wine, which has gained a lot of attention in the past few years, propelling the estate to the top of the unofficial Bordeaux hierarchy.

The wine was full of ripe fruit, with sweet banana/coconut aromas from the oak aging (?) which still requires some time to integrate, even though this bottle was decanted earlier. While the nose had me thinking of a new world Toscana, the impression of freshness which it left and the impressive structure was, on second thought, clearly old world, although not necessarily “classic” Bordeaux. In any case, this wine needs time, although it was already quite enjoyable; a trademark of the ’05 vintage.

I tend to agree with Alex that the ripe banana, which is usually something I associate with American oak in Bourbon for example, is probably a product of the aging process, but the very youthful fruit almost had me thinking of Nouveau wine… hence the insolent question mark In any case, I’d love to try another bottle in another decade or so!!

The Les Balisiers 2008 “Lune Rousse”, a Gamaret* from the Swiss Geneva region, was clearly a disappointment however. The barnyard smell and rustic texture was quite unpleasant and we only ended up having the one glass each. The wine was partially aged in clay amphora, and I’ve had marvelous wines made in this way before, but I’m just not sure the Gamaret grape is really all that great on its own.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to try this Gamaret the next day. Alex says it completely opened up and gained in silkiness and fruit.

Riesling!

We finished the night with a series of German Riesling from well regarded producers in the Nahe and Rheingau regions. I’ve definitely enjoyed learning more about these  fabulous wines during my year in Germany, and tasting some phenomenal whites by authentic, passionate winemakers. Unfortunately, they can be hard to find in the rest of Europe, particularly in France, but that just means I’ll have to make trips back and enjoy the beautiful scenery along with the wines.

Alsace Pfaff Gewurztraminer

Alsace Pfaff Gewurztraminer

Christophe Dalbray Collection Priveé (Red)

Christophe Dalbray Collection Priveé (Red) 750ml

Christophe Dalbray Collection Priveé (Red) 750ml

All three wines were Prädikatswein**, with some remaining natural sweetness, but they exhibited their sugars very differently. While the Alsace Pfaff Gewurztraminer was supposedly at the “lower” Kabinett level, it was the roundest, most charming wine with a definite off-dry feel. The more mature Christophe Dalbray Collection Priveé, had already integrated its sweetness, showing instead a more elegant profile, perhaps even slightly lacking in fullness (maybe because of the average vintage?). But the 2006 Schäfer-Fröhlich was probably the wine of the night for me. It had the intense fruit explosion of the Künstler, while providing a mouth watering acidity which balanced out the sugar and just kept me wanting for more… and to me, that’s what German Riesling is all about! Good thing I brought back a couple souvenirs…

I think Alex says it best when he describes the Diel as lacking in personality, mostly because of the overly-soft acidity. His assessment of the “exotic” Künstler is right on, but I suppose that I was hoping for a more chiseled acidity rather than the more “elegant style”. But that’s just my own masochistic preferences influencing my expectations We definitely saw eye to eye on the Schäfer-Fröhlich though, even if he preferred the red of the night: Pontet-Canet. I think I was more touched by the fact that my “German chapter” was coming to an end.. and the fact that I was possibly more enthusiastic, it being the last bottle of a long night of drinking!

NOTES:
*Gamaret is a grape which was engineered in Switzerland by crossing the Gamay variety with Rechensteiner, which is itself a little grown German crossbreed. Gamaret was  primarily developed to add color to the Swiss Pinot Noir or Gamay wines, although more and more, it is bottled as a monovarietal.

**Prädikatswein is a German wine classification which is based on the amount of natural sugar present in the grape at the time of harvest. From least to highest, these categories are: Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein. While the first three can be made into a dry or off-dry style, the dry wines will usually be labeled as trocken.

Duck sauce – Domaine Rimbert 2009 Saint-Chinian Comocolo

I really don’t consider myself a foodie. I mean, I enjoy good food, but I don’t have the curiosity and passion behind what’s on my plate as I do for the wine in my glass. In general, I consider the dish to be secondary and my wife prepares meals according to the bottle I plan on opening. Last night, however, was food night!

Since we’ve come to the South of France, we’ve been firing up the barbecue practically everyday, and this time, we decided to go all out and try our favorite meat: duck. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures, as I haven’t acquired the food porn reflex, but this magret (duck breast) was absolutely magnificent! I won’t try to describe it either. So why do I even bring it up? Because of the wine (of course!) and the incredible food pairing that resulted.

Domaine Rimbert

Domaine Rimbert is situated in Berlou with about 30 hectares of old-vine parcels spread across the slopes of the Languedoc’s Saint-Chinian AOC. From what I could read on the French website, the bon-vivant Jean-Marie Rimbert [video] runs his 28ha estate since 1996 in good humor (francophones, check out the very funny lettres on the home page), specializing in terroirs of schiste, or slate. In fact, the first time I encountered his wines was the very elegant and rose scented “Mas aux schistes“. You may chuckle, the pun is intended.

2009 Saint-Chinian Comocolo

Domaine Rimbert 2009 Saint-Chinian Comocolo (Despite the cute chick on the label, it's with a grilled duck magret that this wine truly shone.)

Domaine Rimbert 2009 Saint-Chinian Comocolo (Despite the cute chick on the label, it’s with a grilled duck magret that this wine truly shone.)

Despite the cute bunny on the label, it’s with a grilled duck magret that this wine truly shone.

Impression (+)

The Comocolo is blend of the southern varietals (Syrah, Carignan, Grenache) and is the more accessible bottling by the estate. As such, it does not offer the complexity of the Mas, but is more fruit forward and youthful. In fact, this is a straight up fruit bomb. The ripe crème de cassis aromas explode, covering the entire palate with a juicy coating of sheer pleasure, while the smooth tannins do their best to scrub it off so that the wine doesn’t feel heavy and finishes in style.

Food and Wine Pairing: Duck Magret (++)

Although I would normally pair duck with a classic Pinot Noir, I was really itching to try the remainder of this Saint-Chinian with the magret (I also didn’t have any Burgundy on hand). I figured the incredible fruit would pair nicely with the bloody red meat, while the extra southern power could provide balance with the char-grilled skin. I had no idea it would be this good though!

My wife didn’t prepare the usual red wine and balsamic reduction to go with the duck, since we wanted the simple grilled experience. The wine replaced the sauce however, and our meal was transformed into a magret au cassis with every sip, while retaining the character of the tender meat and crispy skin.  My favorite part is that the wine delivered tons of fruit without the sweetness of a sauce or reduction. When you think about it, what better to serve duck “sauce” than in a glass?

Joke label – Grand Vin Misérable!

Here’s a pic of a funny Bordeaux Supérieur which was given to me as a present to taste blind…. it kinda lived up to the name, since it was so herbaceous I had guessed it to be a tired, old Cabernet from a cold region (even though it’s actually 2015?!)

Chateau Migraine

Chateau Migraine

I can see how this very herbaceous “Miserable” “Last Cru” from the Domaine “Charlatan” would give one a “Migraine” the next morning!

Enjoy the label! Thanks again to Alex for the headache!

NOTES:
The real name of the estate, along with the vintage and appellation are actually on the “back” label, which would actually legally be considered the front, since it contains all the legal notices (which must all appear on the same label.. except for the sulfites notice). This is a common practice, even for serious wines, to avoid crowding the presentation.

How to turn a mistake into a rosé sorbet.

When I realized that I had forgotten the bottle of rosé in the freezer this afternoon… well, my wife jokingly said that I should make some kakigori (japanese crushed ice). So I broke the bottle in a plastic bag and recovered what I could.

Frozen Rosé Rose Sorbet

Frozen Rosé Rose Sorbet

Looks nice, but not really that tasty. Then again.. I’m not really sure how the rosé was to begin with.

A Muscat Aged in Outdoor Glass Jugs!

I mentioned earlier that I had moved back to the Languedoc, just outside of Frontignan. On my Twitter account, I jokingly said that I wouldn’t be reviewing any Muscat wine, the local specialty, but it turns out that I found a pretty interesting bottle from Domaine de la Plaine aged outdoors in glass jugs! Skip the next section if you’re already familiar with Muscat.

Muscat de Frontignan

Muscat is one of the few grape varieties which is consumed as both a table grape and a wine. It is also one of the only grapes which retains its distinct aromas after fermentation. We say that the wines literally smell “muscaté” and it is an intensely fruity scent. The closest thing I can think of is cantaloop melon, but that’s probably because it is usually served with a glass of muscat in the area (whereas other parts of France sometimes prefer Port wine).

Frontignan is a Languedoc AOC which is limited to sweet fortified whites from the Muscat grape. The wines are immediately seductive, and I’m probably not the only one to have first lost my sobriety to this charming apéritif as a teenager. With age and knowledge however, Muscat wines tend to lose their appeal, as they can be a bit simplistic and heavy.

Domaine de la Plaine Muscat Mil’Or

Domaine de la Plaine Muscat Frontignan Mil'Or

Domaine de la Plaine Muscat Frontignan Mil’Or

Impression (+)

While I tend to prefer the late harvest Vin de Pays Muscat wines, which are not fortified and present less residual sugar, this Mil’Or bottling is in fact a proper fortified Frontignan Muscat AOC. What makes it unique is that it ages an entire year outdoors, in the sun, stored in big glass jugs of various sizes.

This exposes the wine to a slight oxidation, which in turn gives the wine interesting sherry-like aromas of walnuts. The intense, juicy muscat fruit is still in the foreground, but the added complexity from this original maturation technique gives the wine terrific length. I was still tasting it on my drive home from the estate! It would be a shame to serve this as an apéritif. Domaine de la Plaine estate only makes about 5,000 bottles each year.

Wine totem pole

Wine totem pole

They also tried a new experiment, which is to replace the big jugs of wine with regular 75cl bottles on a “wine totem“. Apparently, it hasn’t proven very successful, other than as an original garden ornament. The wine’s color hasn’t evolved a bit in a year, and the they told me that the taste is slightly off, but they are just gonna keep waiting and see what happens.

Wines of Pézenas in the Languedoc: la Garance & la Grangette

Local market at Pezenas

Local market at Pezenas

Old streets in the town of Pézenas.

Last week I drove out to Pézenas (between Montpellier and Béziers), and while I didn’t have time to stop at any estates, I insisted on checking out a local wine shop so that I may try a couple reds from an area which I am not very familiar with. The town is lovely by the way, and I definitely recommend a stroll in the small streets protected from the strong afternoon sun.

Domaine la Grangette 2008 “Rouge Franc”

Our plans were to have some asparagus pasta at a friend’s apartment for lunch, prepared by Paola, his Italian friend. My initial reaction was to go for a Sauvignon Blanc or Rolle based wine to match the green notes of the asparagus, but one of the guests did not drink whites (urgh). As a backup, I picked out this relatively inexpensive Cabernet Franc, a rare grape variety here in the South, from the Domaine la Grangette.

Impression (+)

Immediately, I was surprised by this wine’s aromas. Because the climate in the Languedoc is much warmer than the cool Loire Valley or even Bordeaux, where this grape is primarily grown, I was expecting a riper version with only subtle herbal notes. What stood out however, was an intense tobacco spiciness, combined with the luscious fruit. The website makes no mention of oak aging, so my guess is that this is a varietal expression, and a very original one at that! The beauty of this wine though, is that despite its intense character, the medium body and smooth texture kept it very easy to drink, especially with the asparagus which brought out a floral element in this lovely red.

Domaine de la Garance 2007 “les Armières”

Pierre Quinonéro took over the Domaine de la Garance with his wife in 1998 after recovering from a serious accident. Although he releases his wines under the Vin de Pays d’Oc label, the estate is considered one of the flagships of the Pézenas/Caux area. The Les Armières bottling is made from old-vine Carignan and aged for 27 months in large oak barrels.

Impression (++)

“What an amazing wine!!!” From the moment I dove into the very deep fruit and noble oak aromas, that’s all I could say (making me very poor company). What really got me was this red’s amazing texture and energy on the palate. Difficult to put into words, it’s as if this cactus shaped wine had been crafted from solid steel and satin needles. The edgy tannins and acidity provided contrast and excitement, while the intense fruit polished this sculpture and made it pleasant, no.. presentable. What character! It felt as if the wine’s different elements were branching out in every direction, but the whole remained in a fragile state of balance in which a sense of tension prevailed. A masterpiece!