Saturday, April 29, 2017

Misspeaking & Drinking: Cahors in Paris

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Posted by Burke Morton On February - 24 - 2010

I arrived at Chartier, a classic Parisian brasserie, before my companions. This was our second day in Paris, and my wife had just called to say that some of her co-workers wanted to join us, which suited me fine, because who was I to complain about being the only man dining with four women? Chartier does not take reservations, but they do move fast, so I got in the perpetual line outside the door. I hadn't been in the line ten minutes before the hostess asked me how many were in my party, but in the din of the six languages going on around me (and surely because of my Day 2 French ear), I reacted as though she had said "who" instead of "how many"--so I blurted out, «J'attends que mes femmes. Quatre des eux.»

I immediately realized that I had said, "I am waiting for my wives. Four of them."

The hostess certainly heard it this way, too. She clutched my forearm and doubled over laughing, like an American might. Since Parisians are usually more reserved, I'm hoping that she was seizing her chance to blow off some steam from a very busy evening....

Anyway, once my wives joined me (one of whom turned out to be male), we were seated in a flash, and we immediately ordered some wine. We initially ordered some Rosé and a Côtes-du-Rhône, but when I saw their wine special, a Cahors, I dumped the Rhône in favor of some French Malbec.

Malbec is one of the darlings of the wine world, thanks to its success in Argentina, though it's popularity isn't as robust among retailers as it was a couple of years ago. This is because it is easy to grow weary of a popular wine, and a common sentiment arises..."Oooh, another Argentine Malbec...." Enter Cahors, a region of southwestern France where Malbec is the required principal variety.

Cahors was widely treasured in the 19th Century, in part because of its longevity. The region fell on hard times when the phylloxera louse destroyed its vineyards, and it has taken nearly a century to recover its mojo. Cahors is literally awash in good wine these days, as was evidenced by the very good wine offered as a special at Chartier.

Chartier is a spectacularly ebullient restaurant with an atmosphere so infectious that even a morose teenager would be delighted. Shoehorned onto a table for four, we started off with the bottle of Rosé (despite the 30°F temperatures outside, it was like the sunshine we hadn't seen for a while), the name of which I couldn't tell you, and we continued with the Cahors, which was called Noir de Casteyrac (it is almost certainly unavailable in the U.S.). The Cahors was particularly satisfying, because it was really delicious and complex, and it cost the equivalent of $20! Find me a wine this good in a U.S. restaurant for this price and I'll show you someone who's losing money! It was a hearty, robust, slightly rustic wine that was a fabulous partner for the lamb and rumsteck that we ordered. It overwhelmed the other two dishes, free-range chicken and Choucroute, but no one complained, because the experience of the restaurant itself obscured this small weakness.

If you can't find any Cahors, then get your retailer to order some. Cahors has been on a upward trend in quality for a century, and since at least 1998, early-drinking wines have become commonplace, so really no one has any excuse for not stocking at least one (unless even their wholesalers are afraid to stock it...). It takes a little bit of imagination to sell it, I mean, who the heck has heard of Cahors? Oooh...there's the sales opening right there!

Popularity: 11% [?]

Champagne–Farmer Fizz

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Posted by Burke Morton On December - 28 - 2009

Rosé of ChampagneI tasted a handful of excellent estate-bottled Champagnes last week that were magnificent. Champagne is synonymous with luxury, and that is largely thanks to the masterful worldwide representation of the region by some famous name Champagne houses. The wines that I tasted were certainly luxurious, but as far as Champagne is concerned they were a bargain. Of course, we're talking about Champagne, so the idea of what is a bargain is rather skewed. Land costs more in Champagne, and getting the grapes off the vines is not cheap, and of course the process of making sparkling wine isn't terribly inexpensive, so all this conspires to bring the price of Champagne up more than anyone would like, but there is certainly no Sparkling Wine better than a first-rate Champagne.

The line-up:
Jean Milan Carte Blanche--a spectacular Blanc de Blancs (i.e., all Chardonnay) that is even drier than it has been in the past. I have tasted this wine many times through the years, and I am newly dazzled by the purity of its expression, which was--once upon a time--sort of soft and diffuse because it had more sugar (more along the lines of Veuve Clicquot, which is itself technically a dry wine, though it tastes rather sweet to me). This is more vivid than it was formerly, and would be well attuned to some fine oysters, or caviar of course.

René Geoffroy Cuvée Expression--A dynamic little spice bomb...at least the nose gives that impression. I understand that this wine has more Meunier than Pinot Noir, which probably accounts for that and the strawberry-rhubarb quality in the background. It has an excellent earthiness in its flavor profile--an excellent drinking experience.

Vilmart Grand Cellier--all the tell-tales of a luxury cuvée: broad-shouldered wine with long, robust flavors which leaves a Great Impression. Barrel-fermented, so this significant character is going to be a feature. It has a silky plushness yet is well defined and pointed. Has a brioche quality that keeps drawing me back to the glass, do doubt because it is a suggestive flavor, not an obvious one. Remains one of my favorites, and isn't priced like the luxury cuvées at about $70 (I know, I know--that's no small purchase, but other luxury Champagnes are over $120, so it's all relative).

Jacques Lassaigne Cuvée le Cotet--Also a barrel-fermented Champagne, it is not as vivid as the Vilmart, but it is also $20 less. It is a richly appointed wine, beautiful in its expression of a pain au chocolat series of flavors--croissant and chocolate that are continuously emerging over each other--a very cool effect. A really wonderful wine.

H. Billiot Rosé--A wow wine for sure! Rosé of Champagne is typically more expensive than its white sibling, and this one is around $70, as I recall, but it's dynamite. This wine is historically made with a small percentage of still red wine to make your glass rose-colored, and its red-fruit qualities are hard to beat. This is usually one of my favorite Rosés of Champagne, and judging by the fact that I didn't feel like writing anything down because it was so captivating, it remains so.

Popularity: 3% [?]

Wines for Thanksgiving

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Posted by Burke Morton On November - 19 - 2009

Wild Turkey (photo: Alan_Vernon.)There is only a week remaining until one of the most important events on the food/wine pairing calendar! I have always looked forward to this time of year, and when I was a wine retailer it was especially invigorating, because sales were excellent and it was fun to get excited (and get customers excited) about wines for the holidays. Time to spread the joy once more!

Dealing with Thanksgiving Food
The flavors of the foods on the Thanksgiving table are so disjointed that one would almost be better off having a companion drink for each dish rather than a single libation. Or just have water (which is asinine unless alcoholism is a factor, so we'll set THAT idea aside). Back to the food and what's often on the table...turkey (relatively bland); stuffing (rich taste made all the more intense if sausage or oysters are added); green vegetables (green beans are the norm at my house, typically hard on wine); sweet potatoes (rich flavor and welcoming of many wines); cranberry sauce (exuberant flavor, not all that wine friendly); and these are just the basics! Obviously there are too many dishes to even consider multiple wine pairings, so let's look at this a bit more nonchalantly: if you want to taste your drink with your feast, you'll need something with bold flavor. If you want to taste your feast with your drink, you'll need something with some grace. My favorite wines with Thanksgiving are not-necessarily full-bodied, but are somewhat warming, even if normally served cold.

An Opening Consideration
Let's go ahead and eliminate big, fat, oaky wines (this means Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon in their typical guises). Heavy oak treatment generally inhibits a wine's utility with food. There are obviously some Chardonnays and Cabernets Sauvignon that would work fine with Thanksgiving fare, but these will be out of the ordinary. Wines with other stylistic extremes like those with high alcohol levels are fine (as long as they are not too much about themselves (i.e., like the overripe swamp juice out of Australia)), as are those with low alcohol (so long as they still have vivid character). Wines intended for the Thanksgiving table should also have enough zip to pull through the fats in the food, but not so much that your mouth puckers (nor should they be so devoid of "zip" that they seem flabby).

If any of the following suggestions make you think, "What is that wine?", "How can I find that?", or "Now I'm even more confused!", then you should talk to your local retailer. They can help you find the best option for you.

Here are some of my favorite wines for Thanksgiving:

Rosé
How can you go wrong with rosé? The answer is, YOU CAN'T!!!! If you have any left over from summer, now is the time to drink it, and you'll be glad you did. I particularly like rosés made of Pinot Noir, Grenache, Syrah, or Cabernet Sauvignon (here's a good place for Cab Sauv!). Rosés from the Sancerre region of France's Loire Valley are exceptionally good, as are the famous rosés of the Rhone Valley's Tavel region. I just tried a rosé from Oregon--the Big Fire Rosé from R. Stuart that would be perfect.

White
The white wines I am particularly drawn to for Thanksgiving include Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Grüner Veltliner, but there are many others that I find just as scintillating. Gewürztraminer is a mighty, intensely aromatic wine and it can be like a warm blanket for your palate. In my retail days, I sold more Gewurz at Thanksgiving than at any other time of the year because it is so wonderful with the feast. As for Riesling, if you choose off-dry, I prefer Spätlese or Auslese in ripeness, but there are many Kabinett-level wines that can have just as much depth (this is where you'd ask your retailer). If you want a dry Riesling, a big serious wine from a great growing site works best, and usually these wines get better and better with aeration, so if you don't finish it, drink the rest the next day (there's hardly a more soul-stirring experience than this). Grüner Veltliner is glorious here, and you'll be happy you tried it, because it has the staying power to work with the food (surprisingly seamlessly across the table), and is qualitatively superior to it's peers at a similar price point.

Red
I'll also be drinking some Zinfandel. Skip the White Zinfandel, and go for Red. Some like to point out that this is "America's Grape" and what could be more appropriate than that for Thanksgiving? I like to point out that it is genetically identical to European grapes with names like Plavac Mali and Primitivo, so let's drink it for it's merit, shall we? And it has plenty of merit: this year I'll be drinking the Seghesio Home Ranch Zinfandel, and I drank the 2002 Ravenswood Dickerson Zinfandel last year and loved it. A well-made Red Zin has good balance of acidity and fruit and pulls so much of the food on your plate together that it is in the same league as the whites listed above for harmonious food:wine rapport. Another option--a sensational one at that--is Grenache. I like it in the form that is found in the Rhone Valley regions of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas. These velvety wines are so gratifying and emotive that they'll make you think of home, and what could be more appropriate than that for Thanksgiving?

For some other suggestions, go to the Wine Pairing Search and look under "Turkey"

Popularity: 10% [?]

Tasting the Wines of R. Stuart

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Posted by Burke Morton On November - 6 - 2009

R. Stuart & Co (photo: bigfirewine)I tasted several Oregon wines yesterday, most of which were new to me, and all were great. I'll review a couple of other wines from the tasting later, but I'll start with the wines from R. Stuart, which were easily the class of the tasting, because not one was disappointing, and they easily had the best price:quality rapport.

Big Fire Rosé--a beautiful, bright rosé, one of among many from Oregon, but this one is a standout. Vivacious, long flavors of rhubarb and black raspberry--I'd drink this at Thanksgiving. It's a steal at $17.

Big Fire Pinot Gris--A ragingly flavorful Pinot Gris, full of character and purity of fruit--this seems to be a hallmark of the Big Fire wines: nothing interfering with fruit expressions in any of the wines (see the Pinot Noir for more). This one has an undercurrent of cream that keeps the fruit broad, expanding the stone-fruit flavors. Another great value at $17.

Big Fire Pinot Noir--these days, this level of Pinot Noir from Oregon is generally one dimensional and doesn't have enough succulent fruit to be satisfying (for me, at least), but this wine blooms and soars with fresh cherry-toned fruit and an underlying moodiness that is hard to pin down...but why would you want to? It is enough to enjoy its mystery, and for $20, that's something special.

R. Stuart Pinot Noir Autograph Willamette Valley--This is the most 'complete' wine of the bunch. Broader and much deeper than the Big Fire (which is not shallow to start with) this wine contains fruit from all over the central Willamette Valley. It is not as immediately enjoyable as the Big Fire PN, as you'll have to wait a few minutes after pouring a glass to really get the best of it. One can easily detect the elegant detailing of breadth and richness right off the bat, but it gets better with every sip. The sensuous and persistent fruit expression makes it an excellent holiday feast wine. Given its quality, it is not much of a commitment at $35.

Popularity: 3% [?]

Rosé Shows its Mettle

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Posted by Burke Morton On July - 16 - 2009

Rosé...or: How Long Do You Age Your Rosé?
I conducted a little mini-tasting on my deck today--we don't get such beautiful days here often...besides, where else should one have a tasting of Rosé? I opened six wines: 2008 Muga, 2007 J.K. Carriere Glass, 2005 Domaine Ott Château de Selle, 2004 Château Musar Cuvée Rosé, 2003 (!) Pascal Cotat Sancerre, and 1998 (!) Domaine de la Mordorée Tavel.

The idea was to have some wines with presence, and to see how they held up. Hard to rank these, given that they were all sensational. I bought these over the past five years, after having tasted them in their youth, so I was predisposed to like them--take that at face value. I knew that the older ones should hold up, and I am happy to report that they did.

Experiencing the Wines
That the Mordorée Tavel was brilliant was not a shock, but it was so warming and suffusing that I didn't relate to it much as a Rosé--it had taken on a life of its own, in much the way that older Alsatian Muscat does (where the orange blossom scent is gone and replaced by caraway, which gives it a quality of ancient wisdom in a package that still seems youthful). It had a curious meat-juice quality that was so fresh and deep that my first thought was of the Grilled Duck Breast Salad I used to get at one of my previous restaurant jobs.

I suppose that I was drawn most closely by the Cotat Sancerre Rosé. It has some red wine characteristics, and as it warmed up, it displayed more of that tone, and this is not uncommon with Pinot Noir rosé. It never lost its rosé-ness, however--there was an ineffable notion of sunshine through it--and yet it was six years old. A year ago I wrote that the '04 from the same producer was the best Rosé I had ever had. This doesn't top that, but it's smashing wine that supports the legacy of quality from this estate.

Domaine Ott releases this wine a vintage behind the current wines in the market, and I bought it in the fall of 2007. It was moody (for rosé) and deep, possessing traits akin to white Burgundy, which is the style cultivated by this estate for this wine (they have others that are more crystalline and gossamer, but Château de Selle is their "serious" wine), and it was perfect for a day like today. Had it been hot, I would probably have enjoyed it anyway, as the weight of the wine is not its main feature, but because it is barrel fermented, its edges are more integrated.

J.K. Carriere was a sensational delight, again. I am amazed by this wine and its depth of flavor and richness of texture. Other than because it's rosé of Pinot Noir, it has these qualities because Jim Prosser, the winemaker/owner of J.K. Carriere, dumps Chardonnay lees [lees are the dead yeast cells, grape skins, seeds, pulp, et al., that settle to the bottom of a fermentation tank when fermentation is complete] into the wine, giving it that creamy texture and moody aroma. If you can lay your hands on some of this wine, I would do it.

Chateau Musar was fabulous. I have heard that it is entirely Cinsault, but I'm going to have to look that up. Current vintage is 2005 (in this market, anyway), and I believe the '06 is on the way, so this '04 is a bit behind, though not really by Musar standards. It was still fresh and lively, and it had an exotic, heady aroma, which I enjoyed greatly. I have come to expect this in Lebanese wines...I would like to see them achieve better market penetration. Dark color--I've had some some Pinots Noir from Germany and Alsace that aren't this dark!

Muga--for $15, you should be buying this wine, by the case if you can. Wow--has some Viura blended into the Tempranillo, and it works wonders. Not that Tempranillo needs help, but it makes it more of a rollicking experience. Gloriously beautiful color--salmon-ish, not unlike the Domaine Ott in that way,

So I had all of these wines with a lunch of Italian bread, Caprese salad, and some balsamic-marinated portabello mushrooms, and the pairings were remarkably reliable. Only the Muga and the Tavel tangled with these, and for differing reasons. The Tavel's acidity was not prominent, and so it bucked against the mushrooms, and the Muga tasted fine with the Mozzarella, but not so much once the tomatoes were introduced.

All this tasting was done with the swirl-sniff-sip-spit method, of course, but I did return to the J.K. Carriere for an actual drink of wine.

There's always an exception to every rule, but I hope we can put to rest the notion that Rosé doesn't age.... The lion's share of Rosés don't age well, so perhaps it would be better to say that some Rosés improve with age. The task is to find them.

Popularity: 4% [?]

Video Today


You don't need to speak French to know that the iPad can double as a Champagne Sabre.... Happy New Year!

Popularity: 64% [?]

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