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!

Playing favorites with wine

Favorite. A very strong word and difficult claim to make, especially when it comes to wine and its wonderful diversity. Sure, I love plenty of wines, like one might love their friends, or ice cream, or drinking rosé in the sun. But picking a favorite wine is like choosing your best friend, or worse: a lifetime partner! I’ve found that the way we choose our favorite wine is very much like finding that special someone.

Caveau de Bacchus (Lucien Aviet & Fils)

Recently, on my @JuraWine twitter account, I declared my flame for Caveau de Bacchus (aka. Lucien Aviet & Fils), my favorite Jura wine producer. Having enjoyed a couple of the reds just last week, namely the Poulsard and Trousseau 2009, I could talk about the gorgeous fruit, the purity of expression of both grape and soil, with the beautiful minerality and an endless depth emerging on the finish. I could wax lyrical on just how these intense little berries etch a path across the palate, crashing into my pleasure center as my frontal lobe watches on in awe. But that is only part of the explanation.

Playing favorites with wine - caveau_de_bacchus

Playing favorites with wine – caveau_de_bacchus

Just look at that cheeky little Bacchus!

Playing Favorites

First and foremost, it is important to draw the distinction between favorite and best. By definition, my favorite wine refers to MY preference. Is Aviet the “best” producer in the Jura? No. There is no such thing. But he is my favorite. That is not to say that I don’t greatly appreciate the wines of Tissot, Puffeney, Macle, etc.. They put out amazing wines and I’ve been to all these estates and drink their wines regularly. So what gives Aviet the extra edge when prompted to pick a favorite? Subjectivity of course!

Personality

To me, Aviet represents everything I believe Jura wine to be: Character, Authenticity and Tradition. I remember the first time I saw the bottle at a local shop, I asked myself how such a crappy looking label could sell over 10 euro. Now, it makes perfect sense to me. What the packaging lacks in taste, the wine makes up for, and getting past that first impression to discover what’s inside is like getting past a person’s faults and learning to know them a little better. It’s rewarding and that feels pretty good.

Insider Tip

While Aviet may be a local legend in Arbois, you won’t find the wines in the US, and only the most specialized European importers will have even heard the name. Heck, I wouldn’t even know where to get a bottle outside of the Jura, which makes me feel like I’m in the know, and that feels pretty good too. Anyone can fall in love with a George Clooney, but having someone to yourself makes it more personal.

Comfort

Finally, my favorite wines offer a sense of comfort. While a Rayas or Selosse can tickle me with excitement, there’s just something about the Aviet wines which put me at ease. After a rough day, I want to go to that cheeky little Bacchus, looking back at me with his little smirk, before I break the wax seal, pull the cork and finish off the bottle in my underwear (well, maybe not, but you get the point). No intimidation, no restraint, no guilt. But that kind of familiarity comes only with time. And getting to that point, that feels great!

I guess what I’m trying to get at is that my favorite wines are the ones which make me feel the best! Taste, while essential, is only one aspect of this.

Equations & wine appeciation: Vindicateur

 Yesterday, I came across the French site Vindicateur, which basically allows users to search through a database of France’s “best” wines, which they’ve deemed to be “unanimously” loved by amateurs and professionals alike. With their “original scoring formula”, an “equation developed by a doctor in physics aided by an independent enologist”, Vindicateur has clearly gone for the rational approach: “it is understood that a slice of subjectivity necessarily enters into the appreciation of a wine: we have simply made it so that this slice remain as as thin as possible.”

Obviously, this statement places this site at the polar opposite of the Vimpressionniste philosophy: that subjectivity is the very core of wine appreciation, rather than an obstacle which must somehow be overcome. While they leave it to the site visitors to voice their own perspectives for the wine commentaries, I still feel a bit uncomfortable browsing through a list of wines featuring numbers. No matter how intricate an equation, can one really sum up a La Tâche as an 18,7*?

The Internet has the power to bridge the gap between wine lovers and should encourage discussion. Instead, our obsession with technicalities and buying guides seeks to end all conversations under the banner of clarity, and this saddens me to no end.

An alternative to wine scores: rating the experience

Wine quality is 100% subjective. It is the philosophy behind this blog. It is the driving belief behind les Vimpressionnistes. Not only is quality tied to our own personal preference, but the context in which any tasting occurs: details such as temperature, time of the day and most importantly, our mood, play an important role in how we perceive a given wine’s quality. Not to mention our expectations, with certain labels or price tags augmenting our pleasure, or on the contrary, raising our expectations to the point that the wine in the bottle can no longer live up to our imagined gustatory nirvana.

If one holds this for true, it becomes clear that ratings as they are used in the wine press today are worthless. Any attempt to describe, or worse, define a wine by a rational point system is meaningless. We change. Wines change. Points remain and are merely a snapshot assessment of a wine at one precise moment, taken through an imperfect lens. So why go on with this practice? Because it is in our nature to judge and to quantify. Because humans need a frame of reference. Or maybe it’s simply because we want to remember what we like and tell our friends.

So what’s the alternative?

We must first learn to move away from the wine, and consider the entire experience. The experience incorporates all the subjective elements which are not present in the wine itself. The experience can be rated, because any experience will be different from the next, whether a single wine is tasted by different people, or a same person tastes it in a different context. Because the experience belongs to us, because it cannot exist without us as the wine does, we are truly capable of assessing it beyond any doubt.

So rather than assigning a precise point value to a wine, why not try to qualify a general sentiment we are left with upon tasting? For example, with a simple system of plus and minus?

when we are left with a sense of disappointment.
+ when a tasting delivers on its promise and leaves us wanting more.
++ when we are pleasantly surprised, our hearts captured, our imagination set loose.

The implications

While this may at first appear to be a mere semantic detail, a closer look suggests deeper implications. Consider a relatively affordable wine which turns out to be very enjoyable. A certain Juliénas by Michel Tête comes to mind. It was under $20 and absolutely beautiful. At first a bit austere, the aromas had developed with time into what I would still remember to this day as a truly gratifying moment. A bottle I had picked up at the last minute to accompany a meal had made my night and left me with a giant smile and a lasting memory. This Beaujolais cru had stolen the show and to me, this show ranked ++ .

But what of my first Château Margaux? A 2004 (much too young) tasted on a rainy morning, after having visited Latour and Lafite on the previous day? It was a – . As good as the wine was, it could not overcome the adversity of the specific context and my unrealistic expectations.

Was the ++ Beaujolais a better wine? No. There is no such thing as a better wine, but one should judge (since we must) our impressions, rather than an illusionnary intrinsic quality. The Beaujolais had left me ecstatic, the Margaux slightly disappointed. If a critic were to ignore the circumstances and assess the wines, the Margaux would probably have scored above the Beaujolais. But that would have left out important factors such as price, reputation… and most importantly, the I in wine!

And in the end, what really matters about a wine is how it makes us feel, is it not?

Baja California Bandit – L. A. Cetto 2007 Mexico Petite Syrah

Aware of the fact that I have been ignoring the “new world” of wine lately, my last Internet order included a couple of outsiders… without neglecting the obligatory Chablis of course! I also went for a Marcel Lapierre magnum for the long term and… well, overall, I guess I remained pretty old school, but I did throw in a decent Australian Rhône blend by d’Arenberg, as well as this evening’s curiosity from Baja California!

Mexican wine

That’s right, Baja California is so baja, that it’s in Mexico. It’s not necessarily a mainstream wine producing country, but I have enjoyed a Mexican Cabernet Sauvignon in the past, and I figured what better destination for my palate in these cool winter months? This time, the grape variety is Petite Sirah. It usually yields dark, tannic wines north of the border, and this bottle didn’t stray from the typical profile of dark berries, along with some roasted coffee notes.

L.A. Cetto 2007 Petite Sirah

Baja California Bandit – L. A. Cetto 2007 Mexico Petite Syrah

Baja California Bandit – L. A. Cetto 2007 Mexico Petite Syrah

Impression (-)

The initial nose was actually quite pleasant, and while the fruit may have come off a bit jammy at first, the tannins kept scratching at my palate and prevented this big red from getting too heavy.

This structure remains relatively contained however, considering that this is Petite Sirah, but what really stuck with me was the drastic drop on the finish. Could it be a lack of acidity, unnoticeable on the mid-palate due to the forward tannins? Who knows… I’m not a technician, but overall I was left disappointed, even if this ghost finish impression does dissipate after a few glasses, probably due to the slow numbing of the palate by the big structure and fruit.

Brazilian Sparkling Wine – Miolo Brut

For Valentine’s day, my wife and I went out to to celebrate our first outing since the birth of our daughter exactly two months ago. The few proper restaurants in the town were either closed or completely booked, but we were lucky enough to get a table after a last minute cancellation at the les Louvières restaurant [website] in the middle of the Jura forest!

First time here and we were pleasantly surprised. The setting was stylish and romantic while remaining cozy (the building is an old farmhouse) and the food was great with a clearly gastronomic touch in both the flavors and the presentation. To top it all off, this fine dining establishment prides itself on its very international wine list and so I took this opportunity to revisit a Brazilian sparkling wine by Miolo.

Miolo Brut Sparkling Wine from Brazil

Miolo

Located in the Vale dos Vinhedos (Brazil’s only official regional appellation), the Miolo winery itself is quite impressive, dominated by a tall yellow tower sporting the well established name.

If it sounds a bit Italian, that’s because this region with the city of Bento Gonçalves at its heart, was primarily inhabited by Italian immigrants who brought the culture of wine along with them. As a matter of fact, many people here still speak Italian and the landscape is more reminiscent of Tuscany than São Paulo or Rio!

The Miolo winery which I visited in June 2014

The Miolo winery which I visited in June 2014

Miolo Brut Sparkling

Impression (+)

This méthode traditionnelle* sparkler is a 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir aged for 18 months in bottle. This translates to a nice complexity of aromas which one could mistake for Champagne, albeit in a fruitier rather than mineral style.

On the palate, the bubbles are very elegant and the rather full texture is very pleasant and approachable. While I personally tend to prefer a more biting acidity, this bottle was actually better adapted to accompany my veal dish than a more electric Champagne might have been.

Most importantly, it matched the mood of the evening: After all the craziness and excitement of parenthood, we needed a quiet, comfortable break alone to relax and really just enjoy each other. The Miolo felt almost appeasing with just the right amount of sparkle for a perfect Valentine’s evening.

NOTES:
*méthode traditionelle, formerly known as the méthode champenoise, is a sparkling wine fabrication process in which a second fermentation is initiated in the bottle. The CO2 gas which results from this fermentation is thus trapped, creating the tiny bubbles which we love so much in our Champagne.

 

Cotton Candy – Müller-Catoir Rieslings

Context
As one of the more prestigious producers of Germany’s Pfalz region, the Müller-Catoir name alone had set expectations quite high for me. After a quick stop at their stand during the VDP tasting in Mainz last month, I was left slightly disappointed and decided to give the estate another chance, since a full day of tasting Rieslings doesn’t necessarily do the wines justice. So I dropped by the beautiful manor in the village of Haardt, just outside of Neustadt to taste through a dozen Rieslings, most from the very promising, but very young 2009 vintage.

Impression

 

What stood out for me overall was a sort of cotton candy, powdery texture on my palate, especially on the classic range -Haardt, Gimmeldigen & Mussbach- but also the terroir range’s single vineyard Herrenletten. The Mandelberg or the 2008 “Breumel in den Mauern” Grosses Gewächs felt much clearer and more elegant to me at this point however, and were the definite highlights of the tasting.

I’m wondering if this impression was due to an awkward sweetness which the wines hadn’t yet integrated, or if it was more of a texture which I associate with cotton candy. It would be interesting to re-try the ’09s  in several months, after they’ve had plenty of time to settle in the bottle and gain some definition…

The Entrance – Domaine du Vissoux 2009 Fleurie “Poncié”

Having almost gone through my last Internet order all too quickly (I only really had two red wines for immediate consumption) I placed another all-red order on Friday which was promptly delivered yesterday. Without skipping a beat, I opened one of the highlights: a 2009 cru Beaujolais from a respected producer which I had been wanting to try in this fabulous vintage!

Pierre-Marie Chermette

Located in the southern part of Beaujolais, Pierre-Marie Chermette and his wife Martine have been in charge of the Domaine du Vissoux since 1982. The estate comprises a total of 27 hectares from their AOC Beaujolais vineyard in the town of Saint-Véran to smaller vineyards further north in the top Beaujolais cru appellations of Brouilly, Moulin-à-Vent as well as Fleurie. The Poncié vineyard in Fleurie is situated at the top of a slope which requires that all work be done by hand, and this is where the quality Gamay grapes for today’s bottle are grown.

the entrance Fleurie

The Entrance Fleurie

Domaine du Vissoux 2009 Fleurie “Poncié”

Impression (++)

Wow. I was expecting a lot of fruit from this lauded Beaujolais vintage, but this is insane! The best part is that while keeping its youthful charm, the fruit shows a deep character which prevented it from falling into caricature. The fresh acidity extends the wine in length, while the fruit expands across the width of my palate, and I am simply left speechless as this beauty walks past.

Turning heads

This Fleurie reminded me of a precise moment many years ago, a moment in which time stopped and a single girl captured the attention of an entire restaurant. My buddy’s new girlfriend had made her entrance in a casual outfit, a lollipop in her mouth, her youthful strut paralyzing every man in her path. Every head turned, servers stopped in their tracks and one could almost see tiny hearts forming in their eyes.

There was no extravagance, nor anything easy or revealing about her outfit. It was all about the entrance, the context, the way everything fell into place perfectly so that an otherwise pretty girl had ascended to the status of goddess. Sure, I enjoy a nice Beaujolais from time to time, but this bottle blew me away. Nothing extravagant, nor anything easy or revealing… but what an entrance!!

photo by Al S