My wine blog, Grape Experiences, will let you know a little about me and more about wine. I hope you'll enjoy reading my interviews with winemakers, winery owners and others, wine reviews, articles about my travels, food and wine pairings, and more. All are meant to be an insightful and hopefully, an entertaining way to help guide you towards your next wine experience.
Embracing the elegant French lifestyle is easy… open a lovely bottle of wine from this stunning country and enjoy! To enhance the moment, we might include some pâté, fromage or sliced baguettes as we savor the entire experience, whether or not you decide to wear that beret or scarf wrapped around your neck! As we know, any time is the best one to open a lovely bottle or two of French wine. Not too long ago, I discovered three memorable choices sent to me as samples and an exceptional Champagne that I purchased. Whether your upcoming plans include celebrating Bastille Day at a candlelight dinner party, opening a good book on your sunny porch or boat, or creating a special dinner with your loved one under the stars, the wines reviewed below will satisfy in style.
Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2016 (around $27) is produced by the iconic Michel Chapoutier. Of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan grown on soils of gneiss, schist and limestone in 60 year-old vineyards, this wine is a beauty from Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France, Languedoc-Roussillon. It was as rich and broad as I expected; rightly so, the name “Occultum Lapidem” means “hidden gem” in Latin. On the nose, a bouquet of bright red cherries, cassis, licorice, blackberries and pepper was intense. Flavors of cinnamon, cloves, ripe red raspberries, crushed black cherries, lead pencil shavings, vanilla extract and minerality were enveloped with vibrant acidity and on-point tannins… leading to a lingering finish. The Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2016 has the ability to age 5-10 years, but frankly, you’ll want to fire up the grill and sizzle your favorite red meat for pairing as you have your first few sips of this dazzling wine.
A premium quality sweet wine of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle, Château Filhot Sauternes 2009 ($40) boasted ripe and flavorful notes of apricot, oak, hazelnut, honey and crystallized orange and sugar while retaining its food friendly acidity. The wine grapes were cultivated at Château Filhot in Sauternes, a small region located on the left bank of the Garonne River, 40 kilometers southeast of Bordeaux. The Château was founded in 1709 by Romain de Filhot and is now owned and operated by one of his descendants, Count Henri de Vaucelles. Rich and complex, you may want to sip this stunning Sauternes with dessert, but don’t forget to have a glass with your cheese and charcuterie plate, pâté or as a welcome aperitif.
Peyrassol Cuvee de la Commanderie Rosé 2018 ($20) was a delicious surprise. I shared a few glasses with a friend who admittedly prefers anything but rosé – until she had her first sip of this casually chic wine of Provence. Light and refreshing, the blend of Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah, Rolle (Vermentino), Mourvedre, Cabernet and Carignan cultivated on triassic clay and limestone with a high gravel content was what she was craving all along. Vinified and aged in stainless steel vats, I discovered aromas of rose petals, pink grapefruit, freshly picked strawberries, and raspberry sorbet. The palate, balanced, soft and simply charming, offered mouthwatering acidity and notes of citrus, lemon peel, lime juice, mint leaves and roses that led to a lingering finish. Plan on a bottle or two of this classic Provence rosé as an aperitif or with any fare tucked inside your picnic basket.
As I meandered the streets of London’s South Kensington neighborhood this past spring, I happened upon Handford Wines, a wine shop that has been offering en primeur wines and more to wine newbies and connoisseurs since 1989. After tasting several wines, I purchased Louis Brochet 1881 Champagne Brut Premier Cru($50), a selection that is only found at Handford Wines… no other shop in the UK has it. And what a wine it was! Of mostly Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, delicate, fine bubbles danced in the glass while I enjoyed aromas of yellow apples, green pears, white flowers, hint of vanilla and beeswax. Light yet broad and ever so balanced with lively acidity, I discovered notes of mint, citrus and anise on the palate. Domaine Louis Brochet is located in the village of Ecueil, at the foot of Montagne de Reims, since the 1800s. Born in 1881, Louis Brochet exuded passion for the vine and inspiration for continued hard work on the part of his family. His descendants, Hélène and Louis Brochet have honored him by naming the brand after this family’s iconic figure in 2011, his 100th birthday.
The summer I spent as a college exchange student in Paris was incroyable. Not only did I fall in love with the City of Lights as I immersed myself in French culture from sun-up to sundown, I had my first taste of unforgettable wines that have propelled me towards the official winelover status I enjoy today! You can probably guess my annual July 14 Bastille Day endeavor: I open a bottle of wine from France and celebrate this stunning country, one of my favorites.
Since those two months in Paris, I’ve been fortunate to have opportunities to return and visit several wine regions in France. I’ve also had many occasions to meet winemakers and producers who have come to Chicago to share their stories and wines.
Naturally, this is the perfect time to offer you a second sip, so to speak, of a few of my past articles about these experiences. I hope you, too, will find a lovely bottle or two to open while you celebrate all things French on July 14. Click on the title of each article to discover the story of the region and suggestions for a few wines that, hopefully, you’ll feel inspired to try. Vive le France!
Planning an authentic French pique-nique? Explore Exquisite Beaujolais and pour a glass of glorious wine from Beaujolais for pairing with the perfect al fresco lunch. You’re guaranteed to have an “ah-ha” moment (or two…), not unlike those I had during my trip to Beaujolais last year.
What’s not to love about the iconic wines of Bordeaux? There are a plethora of styles and price points from which to choose and these wines are considered the best in the world. Although I’ve written about many Bordeaux wines and experiences, you may want to find Approachable Bordeaux from Crus Bourgeois du Médoc for your Bastille Day festivities.
If you think all wines from Bourgogne are out of your price range, think again. I had an enlightening chat with Anne Moreau, Co-President of the Bourgogne Wine Board’s Communication Committee, when she was in Chicago. We tasted exceptional wines as our discussion surrounded quality and affordability of the region’s selections. You’ll savor the suggestions in All Wine from Bourgogne is Expensive? Mais Non!
Every Chablis lover will crave a platter of oysters on the half shell once the wine is poured. I love them, too! However, after reading Beyond Oysters: What (other) Foods Pair with Chablis?, I know you’ll discover something just as delicious to complement that mineral-driven Chablis you just poured!
Ahhh, Champagne. I had a sparkling conversation with Alice Paillard of Maison Bruno Paillard and tastes of incredible wines for every occasion… perhaps on July 14? Aptly titled, Champagne and Conversation with Alice Paillard, I guarantee you’ll find the perfect bubbly for Bastille Day!
One day, I’d love to explore the Côte duRhône and take a relaxing cruise on the Rhône River while sampling wines from the region, of course! In the meantime, how about we virtually Cruise the Rhône – One Sip at a Time? This dream trip offers stunning suggestions for wines you’ll want to pour right now!
When Wink Lorch, expert on wines from the Jura (and so many other things), conducted a master class on the region in Chicago, I was thrilled. Having tasted the wines only once, I learned more as Wink Gives a Nod to Jura Wine – The Discovery Begins. Begin your discovery!
When I consider each experience I’ve had in France, I always remember my happy-go-lucky feeling when I’m sipping wine, savoring delicious food and, in full disclosure, purchasing the perfect shoes that exude French chic! It’s your turn to have that feeling with selections from the Languedoc. When you taste Wines from Gérard Bertrand – Expect Joie de Vivre with Every Sip. You’ll know exactly what I mean.
I had the pleasure to explore the many flavorful wines of the Loire Valley with Arnaud Saget who shared selections from his family’s winery, Saget le Perrière. Discover the nuances of the vast region of the Loire Valley and so many wonderful wines to pair with luscious dishes in the article A Wine Journey Through the Loire Valley with Arnaud Saget.
Let’s face it. Prosecco pairs with every food imaginable. From avocado toast to ziti al dente, a glass of Prosecco, in all its bubbly, floral and fruit-forward glory, is easy drinking and lively. My colleagues in the Italian Food, Wine, Travel group on Facebook and Twitter are proving it. This month, we’re sharing articles (see below) that focus on what we need to know about Prosecco with an added bonus of suggesting delectable recipes I can’t wait to try.
One of my favorite endeavors (and I have quite a few!) is to get together with “the girls”, open a bottle of Prosecco, nosh on new-to-me appetizers or snacks and engage in a bit of chic Italian lifestyle, if only for a few hours. Just this week, we paired lovely bottles of Prosecco, Romeo & Juliet PassioneSentimento Prosecco Brut, Treviso DOC ($16) and Nino Franco Rustico Valdobbiaadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG (around $16), sent to me as samples, with savory Rosemary Parmesan Popcorn (click here for the recipe). Once the conversation about the savory, lip-smacking popcorn style dwindled, questions about the differences between Prosecco DOC and Prosecco Superiore DOCG began. Everyone loved both wines (spoiler alert: there wasn’t a drop left!), but my guests were curious about their designations, DOC and DOCG. I was happy to oblige with a few facts for those inquiring minds (and palates).
There are four major categories of wines in Italy. Vino da Tavola(VdT) indicates “table wine.” Grapes included in these wines are grown in any region of Italy and usually, their quality is considered quaffable. Indicazione Geografica Tipca(IGT) are wines with grapes cultivated in the region written on the label and the producer doesn’t have to conform to strict rules and regulations of the Italian government. Denominazione di Origine Controllata(DOC), introduced in the 1960s, “specifies the geographical area, permitted grape varieties, maximum yield at harvest, aging requirements and minimum alcohol level” in a wine. Currently, there are over 300 DOCs in Italy. The Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita(DOCG), created in 1980, is the highest level of quality; there are around 74 DOCGs. Wines in this category must meet all of the DOC requirements, must be bottled in the region of production and are subject to a Ministry of Agriculture tasting. Each DOCG bottle presents a numbered seal of approval to guarantee high quality, although on occasion, we’ll find a DOC bottle with a serial number, too.
Prosecco, the sparkling wine so many of us love, is grown in the northeast Italian regions of Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia. It’s made mostly from the Glera grape, although at times producers may add up to 15% of Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Nero or an indigenous grape such as Verdiso, Bianchetta, Trevigiana, Perera or Glera Lunga. Production used is the Charmat method whereby the wine undergoes the second fermentation in pressurized tanks, as opposed to the bottle. Most bottles don’t indicate the vintage year on the label, although Prosecco at the exclusive, small-production rive level shows the date.
Photo Credit: www.banfiwines.com
The Prosecco DOC area of production is quite large. Spread amongst four provinces in Friuli Venezia Giulia (Gorizia, Pordenone, Trieste and Udine) and five provinces within Veneto (Belluno, Padua, Treviso, Venice and Vicenza), about 23,000 hectares are under vine in order to meet high demand from consumers. If the entirety of harvesting, wine making and bottling occur within the provinces of Treviso and Trieste, two areas that have important roles in Prosecco production, the producer is allowed to state Prosecco DOC Treviso and Prosecco DOC Trieste on the label. Click here for more information about Prosecco DOC.
The Prosecco DOC was recognized in 1969 and this year, the 50th anniversary is celebrated. What better way to say “Cheers to that!” than a glass of Romeo & Juliet PassioneSentimento Prosecco Brut, Treviso DOC? Of 100% Glera grapes, the Prosecco was made with a special touch of the Pasqua family – instead of the usual 30 days in the tank, the wine was in tank for 60 days resulting in fine and elegant threads of bubbles. Click here for their story.
This classic Brut-style Prosecco with only 11% alcohol offered aromas of crisp green apples, pears and dried herbs. On the palate, I noted refreshing citrus, lemon, dried apricot, beeswax flavors and snappy acidity that led to a lengthy, mineral-driven finish. Truly, it was a glorious complement to the Rosemary Parmesan Popcorn. Just as delightful as each sip was the label that pays homage to Romeo & Juliet. Photographer Gio Martorana’s stunning photograph of the graffitied 20-foot wall of Juliet’s house on Cappello Street in Verona is a visual thrill.
Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore is a DOCG sparkling wine region of wines made from Glera grapes produced in the zone of Conegliano Valdobbiadene. The name refers to the dual capitals: Conegliano, known for Italy’s first school of winemaking where the production for Prosecco was perfected, and Valdobbiadene, considered the “heart of production” thanks to its surroundings of stunning vineyards upon which premium quality grapes are cultivated. Established as a DOCG in 2009, you’ll find Prosecco Superiore of the highest level of quality. Naturally, celebration is in order to pay homage to the 10th anniversary of this premium area. For more information, I encourage you to visit the Consorzio of Prosecco Superiore DOCG website.
As I popped the cork of the Nino Franco Rustico Valdobbiaadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG, the festivities continued. This Brut style sparkling wine of 100% Glera grapes cultivated on hillside vineyards at medium elevation was elegant and delicate. It was an exceptional pairing with the gourmet popcorn that boasted flavors of fresh rosemary, parmesan cheese, garlic and the slightest hint of pepper. The wine burst with vibrant acidity and bright aromas of white flowers, ripe citrus and herbs. On the palate, I discovered elements of ripe pears, hint of apricots and…was that a taste of mint leaves?
As a bonus, there’s more celebration to be had… Cantine Franco was founded in Valdobbiadene in 1919 (100 years ago!) by Antonio Franco whose intention was to produce wine of the highest quality. His son, Nino, continued the legacy. The winery expanded to include his own son, Primo, who later modernized the winery with knowledge gleaned from the Conegliano Veneto school of enology, his travels and hands-on learning. In the 1990s, Primo Franco “took over the running of the vineyard where he experimented with new planting techniques and the use of old clones as he continued a close collaboration with local producers.” Visit their website here.
I predict that you’re already thinking about the next gathering of “the girls” or anyone you deem worthy of delicious Prosecco, whether it’s DOC or DOCG! Choose one of these special wines (and make some amazing gourmet popcorn) for your most special night ever.
Rosemary Parmesan Popcorn
Cheers! ~ Cindy
For more food and wine pairings with Prosecco DOC or Prosecco Superiore DOCG, please enjoy the following articles from my Italian Food Wine Travel colleagues.
Always ready to assist with wine recommendations are some of the most savvy sommeliers around… and I found four who work in some of the best restaurants in Chicago. Each was more than willing to answer my question: What are your go-to wine choices to sip at summer parties? I’m going to keep their suggestions at the ready as I plan my next soirée. I hope you do, too.
This busy sommelier is not only working to finalize the new Purple Pig space with 20% more seating and a new kitchen (don’t worry, the location is still cozy and intimate but has more elbow room for thirsty and hungry guests), he’s quick to suggest plenty of delicious wines for our next gathering. Alan remarked that crisp and refreshing white wines, lighter body reds and structured rosés will satisfy every guest’s palate when the weather is warm.
Specifically, Alan suggested a mineral-driven Chablis paired with grilled chicken and tzatziki sauce or thai kebabs with fried smashed potatoes. Of course, a perennial favorite is an unoaked or lightly oaked Chardonnay to pair with a grilled chicken dish and beet salad with whipped goat cheese, pistachios and vinaigrette. A no-fail red wine choice is a dry, fruit forward Cru Beaujolais from Morgon, a delicious complement to Waygu beef skirt steak marinated in garlic and herbs, then grilled. When our conversation turned to rosé wines, he suggested a more structured example such as a rosé of Barbera, produced in Northern Italy, that offers body, tannin and structure and a palate profile that is a complement to grilled Spanish octopus or a braised pork shoulder with sage, thyme and garlic.
Valerie Cao, Director of Operations and Sommelier at Le Colonial(57 E Oak St)
It was a pleasure to chat with Valerie Cao about her choices for summer-ready wines that are guaranteed crowd pleasers. With her position as Director of Operations at Le Colonial (the restaurant has relocated to a gorgeous space on E. Oak Street) and rich sommelier experience, Valerie was energetic as she talked about wines that may not be on your radar – yet.
Valerie recommended a refreshing Grüner Veltliner (a “cool geeky somm sort of wine”) or a crisp and snappy Spanish Albariño as affordable and delicious choices to pair with spicy foods, ceviche and shellfish. “And don’t forget the Riesling,” she remarked. “Find the right style you love and pair with a variety of foods.” Her choice of rosé was creative and enticing: Los Bernejos Rosé of Listan Negro from the Canary Islands. Perfect with any sort of seafood, she remarked, “this wine of indigenous grapes from the Islands is an exceptional alternative to Provencal rosé. The bottle itself is a beautiful addition to your collection.”
More ideas included a cool climate or old vine Grenache and a slightly chilled Cru Beaujolais; they’re not only flavorful and wallet-friendly, but each satisfies our quest for a lighter red wine instead of the heavy choices often served at summer gatherings. Another reminder to summer party hosts is to keep some of our selections local. Valerie suggested that we serve one (or more) of the variety of sparkling wines offered by the Illinois Wine Company.
Dan Kroes, Sommelier and Director of the Wine Program at Terrace 16 (401 North Wabash in the Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago)
Having just celebrated the grand opening of Terrace 16, an exciting and gorgeous new venture to which everyone is flocking (those views of the city!), I was excited to talk to Dan Kroes and pick his brain for summer wine suggestions guaranteed to please a crowd.
Dan quickly stated that “summer is white wine season and Riesling, often overlooked, is perfect since it’s affordable and versatile.” Since there are styles ranging from bone dry to sweet, there will be a Riesling to suit everyone’s taste. Food friendly, Riesling pairs with tartares, tuna ceviche, pork and any sort of fish, whether it’s fried, broiled, baked or grilled.
As much as Dan loves Pinot Noir, his preferred summer choice is a lighter bodied Cru Beaujolais from Fleurie or Morgon. A bonus, he added, is that Beaujolais can be chilled just a touch for maximum enjoyment… Like Alan, Dan suggested a full-bodied, structured rosé as a delicious palate pleaser for our summer parties. In particular, he enjoys Vin du Bugey-Cerdon “La Cueille”, a rosé of mostly Gamay and a touch of Poulsard from the French region of Savoie, to pair with light fish or chicken dishes or more hearty salads.
Nancy Shapardanis, Wine Director and Sommelier at Coda di Volpe (3335 North Southport Avenue)
At summer parties, wines should have “fruit driving the car and acid riding shotgun,” stated Nancy Shapardanis, the dynamic Wine Director and Sommelier at a neighborhood gem of a restaurant that specializes in all things Italian. “They don’t need to be serious, contemplative wines…let the wines you choose be another guest at the party – they’ll help start the conversation.”
To that end, Nancy recommended a refreshing Assyrtiko as a white wine to “remind us of blue water, sandy beaches, fresh seafood and a whiff of the salt and sea.” A crisp Assyrtiko from the volcanic terroir of Santorini is dry, light, acidic and boasts refreshing notes of citrus and minerality.
With minerality and snappy acidity clearly on her mind, Nancy offered the idea of a lightly chilled Frappato from Sicily as a red wine guaranteed to please. “Not only can Frappato be paired with food,” she said, “this patio pounder is delicious on its own. Flirtatious with floral aromas, luscious fruit (think cherries and strawberries), earth and suede notes on the palate are up front and center.”
Perhaps not on your list (but should be!), consider a chilled Lambrusco with a little fizz to enhance your summer gathering. A dry style is incredibly refreshing, shared Nancy, and paired with a barbecue, “Lambrusco is a slam-dunk winner. Plus, it’s fun to change people’s minds. At your summer parties, let a hot dog live its best life and pair with a classic Lambrusco.”
Just recently, I returned home from a memorable four-day field research trip to Collio DOC, a stunning corner of the world that’s nestled in northeastern Italy. I’m thrilled to share my first article about the region, its wines and so much more at Winetraveler.com.
For my full article about Collio DOC, please follow the direct link to WineTraveler.com here or by clicking the title above. Its introduction follows.
Invited by Consorzio Collio and IEEM to experience the Italian region of Collio DOC, I was thrilled and curious about the prospect of discovering a region of which I was unfamiliar. Anticipating a variety of opportunities in the vineyards, with producers and in the cellars, our group of wine journalists, sommeliers, buyers and consultants arrived in Italy at the end of May to explore this hidden gem of a region. What I found were stunning wines and an equally fascinating culture.
Tucked into the far northeast corner of Italy, the region of Collio is a curve of bright and sunny hills, slopes and terraces amidst the province of Friuli Venezia Giulia on the border of Slovenia and between the Julian Alps and the Adriatic Sea. To the north is the town of Prepotto, to the west is Cormons and in the east is Gorizia.
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With summer in high gear, the scent of juicy meats and savory vegetables wafts towards my back porch and often into my kitchen each night. It seems that each of my neighbors fires up their grill for an easy and delicious dinner on a regular basis. But what are they drinking with that sizzling rib eye steak or shish kebab? Most likely, there’s a beer somewhere close, but I guarantee there are some wines at the ready, too. Like a good neighbor, I’m always here to help… I’ve tasted plenty of wines, sent as samples, that are luscious pairings for a variety of barbeque-worthy dishes. This article focuses on red wines that you’ll love, so find a few and enjoy… you’re welcome!
Merlot fans will crave every sip of the Flora Springs Merlot 2016 ($35) of 100% Merlot and aged for 15 months in small French and American oak barrels. What’s not to love about notes of sweet vanilla spice, rhubarb pie and juicy red berries bursting from the glass? On the palate, I found food friendly acidity, well integrated tannins, ripe red raspberries, black cherries, dried currants and leather notes. Honestly, this Merlot could pair with anything grilled, but consider a glass or two with grilled herbed chicken or your favorite burger laden with all the fixins’.
Flora Springs Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($50) is a smooth and balanced blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot aged for 19 months in French and American oak. Grapes are chosen and handpicked from Flora Springs’ sustainably farmed vineyards in St. Helena, Rutherford and Oakville in Napa Valley. Rich and satisfying, I noted aromas of chocolate covered cherries, cinnamon stick, sweet vanilla and a hint of smoke. On the palate, bright acidity and soft tannins framed flavors of blackberries, chocolate, pomegranate, blueberries and earth.
Simply stunning is Flora Springs Trilogy Red Wine 2016 ($85). Considered Flora Springs’ flagship wine due to the fact that it dates from 1981 when the “family decided to make the finest wine possible by selecting the highest quality wine lots culled” from their estate vineyards. Even today, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot varieties are sourced from their premium Komes-Garvey estate vineyards. Aged for 20 months in French and American oak, each sip was a gift. Aromas of cherry cola, vanilla, dark chocolate and cinnamon toast led to flavors of spice, black pepper, dark red fruit compote, crushed blueberries, raspberry jam and anise. Remember that peppery rib-eye right off the grill? This wine will be the ultimate pairing.
From Napa Valley, California to Willcox, Arizona, beautiful wines abound! Wines from Aridus Wine Company (for more about Aridus, click here), located in Willcox, continue to fascinate me; their wines are flavorful and unique. The Aridus Syrah 2016 ($37) is of mostly Syrah with a touch of Viognier and aged for 19 months in oak barrels. On the nose, rich spice, black cherries, blackberries, pepper and caramel notes wafted from the glass. My palate was just as satisfied with notes of dark red fruit, ripe plums, cinnamon, cloves, sage and smoke enveloped in vibrant acidity and satin-like tannins. Grilled pork chops or tenderloin will be even more delicious when savored with a glass of Aridus Syrah.
From vineyards in Deming, New Mexico, the Aridus Malbec 2017 ($36) is a luscious riff on a classic variety. Of 100% Malbec aged in oak for 9 months, I discovered aromas of sage, cherries, tangy spice, vanilla extract and freshly picked blueberries. Flavors of bright cherries, dark plums, violets, blueberries espresso and bay leaf were lifted with bright acidity and elegant tannic structure. This medium-bodied Malbec will pair with carne asado and tacos with grilled beef and spice.
The Aridus Graciano 2016 ($37) is from 100% Graciano cultivated in Cochise County, Arizona – this wine grape is rarely seen or grown outside of Navarra and Rioja in Spain, but Aridus is making it work… for us. Aged for 18 months in French and American oak, I was mesmerized by aromas of dark red fruit, smoke, wet earth, spice, cedar, black pepper, potpourri and graphite. Tangy with lively acidity and medium tannins, I explored flavors of juicy red cherries, mint, cedar, earth and warm spices. One characteristic of the Graciano grape is its ability to age, but you’ll want to enjoy it now, too. Honestly, this wine begs for a thick, juicy steak so start the grill and invite some friends.
You may want to purchase more than one bottle of The Hess Collection Lion Tamer Napa Valley Red Blend 2016($45), an elegant and rich addition to any barbeque. The blend of Malbec, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedre, Petite Verdot and Merlot was aged in French oak barrels for 22 months and each sip reflects the excellence to which the team at the Hess Collection aspires. On the nose, powerful aromas of cherries, oak, vanilla extract, leather, violets, lavender and chocolate wafted from the glass. Lush tannins and bright acidity surrounded a balanced, delicious palate profile of juicy cherries, black pepper, dark plums, black currants, chocolate and boysenberries. For more about The Hess Collection, please clickhere.)
If you’ve never tried wines from Hawk and Horse Vineyards, a CCOF Organic and Demeter Biodynamic certified winery in Lake County, Red Hills AVA in California, this is the time. The Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2014($70) is a smooth and sophisticated wine of Cabernet Sauvignon with just a 2% addition of Petit Verdot. Crafted in the old-world style using minimal intervention in order to let the fruit express itself, I noted intense aromas of blackberries, exotic spice, black pepper, blueberries, anise, plums and the slightest hint of mint. The round palate was provided a firm foundation by satin-like tannins and vibrant acidity. Flavors of violets, bright red cherries, juicy red berries, baking spice, cocoa and licorice were seductive with every sip. You’ll want to pour this incredible wine with your grilled filet, but consider pouring another glass with dessert… chocolate cheesecake with blueberry sauce, perhaps?
Who says dessert can’t be grilled? Not me! Grilled peaches with a sauce of spice and sweet (or a cigar…) will be a perfect ending to a memorable barbeque… especially if the pairing is Hawk and Horse Vineyards Latigo 2013 ($50), a fortified wine produced in the Port style. Of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon fortified with Alembic oak aged brandy, the wine spent 29 months in new Marchive French oak from Allier Forest in France. (The term “Latigo” is an equestrian term that indicates the red leather trap that hangs off the left or “port” side of a Western saddle.) Just delicious, I found aromas of sweet tobacco, dark chocolate and fragrant roses. The palate was just as sultry with its sweet notes of smoke, oak and chocolate covered cherries. Just wow!
Any aficionado who knows their Portuguese wines is familiar with Periquita, the first bottled wine produced and sold in that country in 1850 by the José de Sousa Winery. This historic family winery, now in its 8th generation, was established in 1834 and purchased by José Maria da Fonseca in 1986, an action that heralded an opportunity for the Soares Franco family to continue its rich heritage, as it moves forward towards the future. Just recently, I had the opportunity to have lunch in Chicago with Domingos Soares Franco, Vice President and Senior Winemaker at José Maria da Fonseca, now in his 40th vintage of winemaking. During that tasting, I learned was that these iconic wines, from a brand that is one of the leaders in Portuguese wine production and sales of table and fortified wines, continue to be a delicious and intriguing representation of the country’s premium wines.
Photo Credit: www.palmbay.com
Domingos Soares Franco explained that the use of amphorae vessels, a traditional winemaking technique begun by the Romans over 2000 years ago, is important to the family as one way to keep its heritage alive. The winery, located in Setúbal, is equipped with 114 clay amphorae used for fermentation and the underground Alibaba cellars contain these vessels and two open presses for stomping the grapes. (Oak barrels are used, too.) José Maria da Fonseca uses grapes from vineyards in a variety of locations throughout Portugal; approximately 650 hectares are under vine. Annual production is around one million cases (60% reds, 25% whites, 5% muscatel and 10% roses) with 80% of the wines exported to over 70 countries.
Photo Credit: www.palmbay.com
“Consistency of quality is paramount,” shared Domingos Soares Franco, given the large volume of wine produced. He wants to “pay homage to tradition while staying current with new technology and strategies.” The family and winemaking team are constantly striving to offer exceptional wines without compromising the familiar style that consumers crave.
Photo Credit: www.palmbay.com
At Avec, one of my favorite Chicago restaurants due in part to the chef’s uncanny ability to craft a creative menu that pairs with wines from around the globe, a tasting of five magnificent selections from José Maria da Fonseca was accompanied by shared plates. As our first course of wood oven roasted beets with spring peas, quinoa tabbouleh, berbere pecans and rose, charred carrots with black harissa, whipped feta and crisp wild rise dukkah and chicken liver crostini with rhubarb mostarda and mint was served, wines were poured.
Our first was José de Sousa 2017 ($19.99), a blend of 58% Grand Noir, 22% Trincadeira and 20% Arogonês cultivated in Alentejo. Balanced with bright acidity, soft tannic structure and notes of black cherries, juicy plums and dark fruit compote, the wine was a delight to sip with the first course. A small portion of the wine was fermented in clay amphorae, after which it rested for 9 months in French and American oak barrels. The remaining juice was fermented in stainless steel tanks.
The classic Periquita Reserve 2017 ($14.99) is of 56% Castelão, 22% Touriga Nacional, 22% Touriga Francesa grapes grown in the Setúbal Peninsula. Ever so balanced with notes of earth, red fruit and spice, Domingo Soares Franco suggested that this wine has the ability to age for another 1-2 years. Fermentation lasted for around 7 days during which the grapes maintained full skin contact. Afterwards, the wine was aged for 8 months in new and used French and American oak barrels.
For pairing with the next course of “deluxe” focaccia with taleggio cheese, ricotta, truffle oil and fresh herbs and wood fired chicken with hummus, zhoug, green garbanzo and seed cracker Fattoush, the elegant, smooth and fruit forward Domini Plus 2015 ($44.99) was offered. Consisting of 96% Touriga Francesa and 4% Touriga Nacional from 37 acres located in Douro Superior, I noted soft tannins, mouthwatering acidity and a round mouthfeel that were incredibly satisfying and a brilliant pairing with the chicken, in particular. Domingos Soares Franco stated that “I want the fruit to stand up and am using less and less oak in the wines. Oak should be just a support to the wine.” To that end, traditional fermentation was done with full skin contact; the resulting wine spent 10 months in new French oak barrels and has the ability to age up to 12 years. Only 500 cases per year are produced of the Dominis Plus… but not every year.
A creamy, savory cheese course of St. Agur from France, Omorro from Portugal and Vento d’Estate from Italy were served to not only cleanse our satisfied palates but as another opportunity for pairing with the three wines already in our glass.
As the vanilla bean cheese cake with candied pistachio and strawberry and sweet mezze consisting of caramel cashew squares, cinnamon sugar shortbread and cacao nib biscotti were offered, two signature wines from Jose Maria da Fonseca were poured.
Just introduced to the market is Alambre Moscatel de Setúbal20 Years ($69.99) of 100% Moscatel from the region. After picking from the best lots, grapes were analyzed for their alcohol level in order to determine the ideal moment to add brandy that halts fermentation. The wine was aged in used oak only; no bottle aging was necessary thanks to natural oxidation. Aromas and flavors of almonds, walnuts, dried apricots, orange peel, dried figs and citrus were ahhhh-worthy… Also recently introduced is Alambre Moscatel de Setúbal 40 Years ($149.99), produced in the same manner as the 20 Years. Balanced and light with brilliant notes of caramel, crème brulee and nuts, this wine was a beautiful finale to a magnificent lunch with Domingos Soares Franco.
The perseverance, the will to do more, to create something new, to never forget our past.
We are already in the eighth generation of those who inspire us in our new creations. In ways of reaching farther. A Family of wines from different regions, different segments, but produced with the same care and passion. And that’s why it doesn’t make sense for us to talk only about varieties, awards, history, authenticity or quality. Two centuries take at least 200 more years to build. José Maria da Fonseca
During our time together, Domingos Soares Franco shared long ago words from his grandfather: “I built this for you. It’s your turn to build for the future.” And this is exactly what exceptionally talented and wise winemaker, Domingos Soares Franco, is doing for the next generations.
When the French #Winophiles, an extraordinary group of wineloving writers who crave all things French, have a roundup of articles about a specific topic, I’m in. This month, our theme is French Wine and Cheese and honestly, I don’t know anyone who can’t wrap their palate around both! From Bordeaux to Provence and everywhere in between, beautiful wines can be complemented with a flavorful cheese. And just like le vin, les fromages have their own AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) or AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) designation to indicate the region or village from where the cheese is produced.
The Wines of Alsace
Having just attended Alsace Rocks, an incredibly organized and compelling master class and tasting of a wide variety of wines, I knew that pairing cheeses with so many varieties from the region would be a lesson in deliciousness (and information to have in our back pocket for the next gathering of friends and family)! Throughout the event, I was impressed with the plethora of wines and their unique expressions of terroir.
Located in the northeastern corner of France, Alsace boasts a geological diversity like no other region in the world as it follows the long and narrow Rhine River. The Vosges Mountains provide stunning scenery for anyone who desires to journey upon the Alsace Wine Route, a 106-mile path through more than 100 bucolic wine villages. (Click here and be inspired to plan your trip. Perhaps I’ll see you there!)
Photo Credit: www.winefolly.com
Although many think of Riesling as the only white grape produced in Alsace, the region is actually responsible for six other varieties. Exuding styles ranging from light-bodied and fresh to full-bodied and bold, mouthwatering and flavorful Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Gewurtztraminer, Sylvaner, Muscat and Pinot Noir are cultivated. The wines I tasted at Alsace Rocks prove that this region offers exceptional food friendly wines to more than satisfy any palate.
In Alsace, 53 appellations have been designated. Wines from AOC Alsace are affordable and easy drinking, Cremant d’Alsace are sparkling wines produced in the traditional method and the 51 unique Grand Cru appellations offer wines of rich complexity and structure. Soils are just as diverse as the wines. Clay, limestone, granite, calcareous-limestone, marl, dolomite, gypsum and Keuper are soils those upon which premium vineyards are located. (Please click here to learn more details about these fascinating wines.)
Pairing Wine and Cheese
How about those wine and cheese pairings? The process may be an intimidating exercise for many of us. With so many choices, where do we begin?
I referred to a wonderful resource, Tasting Wine & Cheese by Adam Centamore, for guidance. He writes that “pairing is bringing two or more ingredients together in a way that creates an impression that is grander than the ingredients alone provide.” We must consider dominant flavors, dominant tastes, temperature, texture, spice, tannins in the wine, fat and salt. The trick is to identify your own preferences and decide whether to pair a wine that contrasts or complements the cheese… or vice versa. Of course, everyone’s palate is different, so experiment – anything goes if you love it!
I usually begin my pairing process by considering the style of cheese (creamy, soft and young; hard, aged, salty and sharp, blue and filled with aromas; or fresh, mild and easily spreadable) that I’d like to try with a specific wine. Like Centamore, I decide whether to complement or contrast the wines and cheeses… A light Sauvignon Blanc with a light Brie or a bold Cabernet with an aged Cheddar? The possibilities are endless.
Even beer cheese and salty pretzels will pair with wines from Alsace!
Armed with information from Centamore’s book and conversations with local cheese experts, I compiled a list of some of my favorite wines tasted at Alsace Rocks with delectable cheeses for a memorable pairing. Enjoy!
Wines from Alsace and Cheeses for Pairing
Famille Hugel Pinot Gris Classic 2016 ($17) was not only refreshing, but an affordable choice for anyone who craves this variety from Alsace. In this wine, the grapes were cultivated on soils of clay and limestone. Of a more heavy and complex style than its Italian counterpart, Pinot Grigio, I appreciated this wine’s floral aromas, notes of green apple and lush fruits and its crisp finish. Pair Roelli Haus Select Cheddar Pasteurized Cow milk from Annatto WI, Brebirousse d’Argental of sheep milk from France, or pressed-rind cheeses such as Comté, Beaufort, Appenzeller and Gruyère.
Photo Credit: www.winesofalsace.com
The stunning Weinbach Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg Cuvée Ste Catherine 2016 ($62) from vineyards planted on granite soil, was beautifully aromatic with lively acidity. Dry, complex and structured, rich aromas and flavors are guaranteed to be a luscious companion with cheeses that have body and weight. Pair this Grand Cru Riesling with Tomme de Savoie or Morbier, both of cow’s milk from France, von Trapp Oma of cow’s milk from the United States, your favorite creamy goat cheese or medium-bodied Gruyère and Cheddar.
Willm Gewurztraminer Reserve 2015 ($15), of grapes grown from vines on soil of gravel, clay, limestone and sandstone, burst with aromas of lychee, petrol and rose petals. On the palate, notes of spice with mangos, peaches, apricot and ginger were mesmerizing. And the cheeses for pairing? How about a few that have as much flavor and aromas as the Gewurtztraminer? Terre des Volcans Fourme d’Ambert Pasteurized Cow Blue from the Auvergne, Hooligan of cow’s milk from the United States, Ardrahan of cow’s milk from Ireland or a delectable Parmigiano-Reggiano will be memorable.
Four wines of Pinot Blanc, each grown on clay soil, Domaine Pfister Pinot Blanc 2017 ($30), Domaines Shlumberger Pinot Blanc les Princes Abbes 2017 ($17), Kuentz-Bas Pinot Blanc 2016 ($15) and Famille Hugel Pinot Blanc Cuvée les Amours 2016 ($15) were refreshing, dry and crisp with notes of citrus and snappy minerality. Pair a favorite Brie or one with washed rind such as Tallegio or Fontina for a lovely contrast.
Paul Blanck Muscat d’Alsace 2016 ($13) was of 65% Muscat d’Alsace and 35% Muscat Ottonel grown in vineyards on gravel, sand and calcareous clay. On the nose and palate, I found a wine that was bright and vibrant with elements of citrus, white flowers and just the slightest hint of spice. For pairing, keep it simple and choose fresh ricotta, a mild and creamy bleu cheese, a smoked Provolone or Gorgonzola.
Camille Braun Sylvaner Vin Nature 2018 ($25.99) was of grapes cultivated on sandstone soil. Vibrant acidity framed notes of honey, melon and chalk and this fresh, delightful wine will be a lovely pairing with generous slices of Manchego, Edam or Gouda.
A 100% Pinot Noir grown on soils of granite with blue marne, the Rolly Gasssmann Pinot Noir 2015 ($29.99) was balanced and structured with fresh red fruit, earth and a hint of spice. Flavorful cheeses for pairing may be a light Cheddar, Comte, Gouda, Gruyère, Port Salut or French Chévre.
I savored sips of Crémant d’Alsace before the tasting… and afterwards. What a delicious, refreshing way to prepare my palate for so much deliciousness and to end the day with more. The lovely Jean-Baptiste Adam Crémant d’Alsace Bio les Natures NV ($15) was of 100% Riesling and produced in the same manner as Champagne (the second fermentation takes place in the bottle). This delightful bubbly is from vines grown on granite and limestone soil. Due to its minerality, bright acidity and vibrant citrus flavors, choose Marieke Young Gouda with Foenegreek Farmstead Raw Cow Milk from Thorp, Wisconsin, a savory aged Comte Fort Saint-Antoine or a French Gruyère aged for ten months for a surprise taste sensation.
Cheers! ~ Cindy
For more articles about French wines and cheeses for pairing, read on…
Lynn of Savor The Harvest brings us Cheese and Loire Wine Pairing with Les Vignerons du Vendômois #winophiles
Who could be more adept at writing this magnificent resource for the avid wine lover than Chiara Giannotti, an esteemed wine authority and Dame Chevalier de Champagne? Giannotti is creator and curator of vino.tv, Wine & Spirit Expert for the Ansuini Aste 1860 and TV and radio presenter for food and wine. Just released, The Perfect Wine Cellar is aptly tagged as “the ultimate guide for great wine collectors.” This beautiful book doubles as a focal point on your coffee table and exudes luxury and elegance on every page.
Whether you’re constructing a noteworthy wine collection or just wish you could, Giannotti offers guidance via a plethora of information about regions and wines from around the world. To begin, she asks your motive for collecting fine wines. Will these treasures be an investment? Will you save them for special occasions or celebrations? Do you desire to pair these wines with specific foods? Are you looking for wines that can age beautifully over time? In essence, understanding your purpose to collecting is paramount to the wines chosen.
The Perfect Wine Cellar is a lavish, artistic and useful resource. Giannotti shares that the “fine wine” category consists of only 1% of wines produced and admittedly, they’re the most difficult to locate. In order for these masterpieces of wines to be included in the book, she thoughtfully considers a variety of factors. A wine’s quality and consistency through the years, expression of its unique terroir, historical value, personality and style, characteristics of its vintage year, rarity on the market, international reputation, inclusion and performance at wine auctions and guarantees of authenticity are crucial. Naturally, a fine wine is evaluated as to its subjective and personal value, too.
Each chapter begins with a comprehensive introduction by iconic wine industry experts after which Giannotti offers a fascinating overview, replete with anecdotes and little-known facts, of major wine regions around the globe. Stellar wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, The Rhone Valley, Italy, Piedmont, Tuscany, Germany, Austria/Portugal/Spain/Hungary, US/Argentina/Chile/Australia are suggested. Stunning photographs, thumbnail maps of each region from which the wine originates, grape varieties of the region and lists of outstanding vintage years per region provide more reasons to begin or complete a wine cellar like no other.
When the Wine Pairing Weekend group, of which I’m a member, decided to embrace the topic of wines from South Africa for this month’s Twitter chat and roundup of articles (see below for the inclusive list), I was intrigued. Just the other day, I had attended a walk-around tasting of wines from six producers from South Africa when they stopped in Chicago for their United States tour. Sparkling wine, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and more were poured for an appreciative group of wine writers.
Once I learned a bit more about the region, I was ready to return home and open my bottle of Raats Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2017 (sent as a sample) to enjoy that night with a highly anticipated dinner of Scallops with Tomatoes and Pesto. As I sipped and cooked, I reflected on the fact that while those in South Africa have been producing wines for over 350 years, it has only been since the end of apartheid in 1994 that the challenge to offer quality wines was accepted and met by many vintners.
Photo Credit: www.exploresouthafrica.net
Wines of South Africa
A Mediterranean climate domates in the wine growing region of South Africa. Inland areas may exhibit extremely hot temperatures during the day and the region is influenced by the cooling effect of the Benguela Current that rises from the Antarctic and passes the tip and west coast of Africa. Powerful south-easterly summer winds, known as the Cape Doctor, bring cool ocean air towards many of the inland areas. The presence of mountain ranges offers a broad scope of altitudes, aspects and soils.
Cultivated in the Western Cape are black varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon (the most widely planted black grape), Merlot, Syrah, Pinotage and white varieties, Chenin Blanc (the most widely planted grape variety of them all and known locally as Steen), Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Colombard and Muscat of Alexandria (called Hanepoot). The vast majority of wine made in South Africa is from the Western Cape, 90% in fact, yet there are other players such as the Orange River area in the Northern Cape that produces mostly white wines.
The coastal regions of the Western Cape include the Stellenbosch District, the source of premium wines from South Africa. The climate is optimal for cultivating award winning wines thanks to enough rainfall in the winter, mild summers due to the cool winds, altitude, aspect towards the sun and soil.
Premium wines, however, may include grapes sourced from other areas that include the Paarl District, Constantia Ward, Swartland District and Durbanville Ward in the Coastal Region and the Worcester District and Robertson District in the Breede River Valley Region. Other important areas include Walker Bay District, Elgin Ward and Elim Ward. For more fascinating information about South African wine regions, grape varieties and more, please click here.
The Old Vine Chenin Blanc of Raats Family Wines
Bruwer Raats founded the winery in 2000 with the express purpose to “specialize in wine that is fine-tuned to reflect its origin.” His cousin, Gavin Bruwer joined the winery in 2010 and their “friendship born of a family bond as cousins” has prompted both to embrace a shared mission to never follow trends or a certain style. “Quality by design” seems to be their mantra and Raats Family Wines’ focus is to produce premium wines solely of Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc.
Raats Family Wines - Vimeo
The Raats Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2017 ($24) is of 100% Chenin Blanc grapes sourced from three unique parcels located on complex soils of Table Mountain sandstone and decomposed granite in Stellenbosch. Vines are an average age of 40 years old. With dry, warm days and cool nights during the vintage year of 2017, everyone was excited to share that “berries were small with great fruit concentration. An outstanding vintage – one of the best ever in the Cape!”. I couldn’t wait to open that bottle and taste!
On the nose I discovered intense aromas of honey, lemon, dried apricot, dried honeysuckle and herbs. The balanced, elegant palate offered mouthwatering acidity and flavors of juicy orchard fruit, ripe lemon, honey, hint of banana chips, ginger, herbs and spice. The finish was long, rich and complex; this wine reminded me of why I adore Chenin Blanc.
A portion of the wine was fermented in stainless steel and another portion fermented in new French oak barrels. After nine months, both were blended and rested for two more months on its lees before bottling. This Chenin Blanc from South Africa, with its fresh, sophisticated palate framed with bright acidity and depth, was a beautiful expression of the variety in a unique terroir.
Ahhh, now it was time to gather the family for a memorable (and easy!) dinner. The Scallops with Tomatoes and Pesto took no more than 15 minutes to create and about one second to open the bottle of Chenin Blanc! The bold dish exuded dominant flavors of pesto and tomatoes and the firm, textured scallops with their briny notes were a rich counterpoint to the broad profile of the Raats Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2017.