Last month, we rented a beach house at Sea Ranch on the Sonoma Coast for a couple of days. The private road leading to the house was just on the opposite side of a small road going inland and a sign indicating a winery, so after a hike along the coast, we felt adventurous and followed a deep redwood-filled canyon until we reached the tiny farming town of Annapolis.
Last time we were in France we visited my father-in-law in Joigny, a medieval town in northern Burgundy, just 150 km from Paris and 1 hour or so by train. The old town is particularly picturesque with its narrow cobbled streets and timber-framed 16th century houses. The best view of the city is at the top of the Côte Saint-Jacques, a steep south-facing hillside overlooking the river Yonne. This is where you find thirty hectares of vineyards, planted with Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The location, the northernmost wine district in Burgundy, is on the edge of sustainable viticulture but vines on the hill are protected from the north winds by the forest of Othe on the plateau and from spring frosts thanks to the micro-climate created by the river below.
Historical records indicate that vines were growing in Joigny as early as 1082. The production being so close to Paris, the wines of Joigny were well known and quite popular at the tables of the kings of France. The most famous was the vin gris, a light Rosé primarily made of Pinot Gris, which apparently was a favorite of King Louis XIV. In the 19th century until the phylloxera devastation, Joigny was an active winegrowing and shipping center
In 1990, chef Michel Lorain, owner of the 3 Michelin star hotel and restaurant La Côte Saint-Jacques decided to revive the vineyard on the hill of Saint-Jacques and restore the wines' former high reputation. Five hectares of Chardonnay were planted first, followed later by 2 hectares of Pinot Noir and half a hectare of a mix of Malbec, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon and Tressot in order to produce the famous Vin Gris de Joigny Côte Saint Jacques.
We visited Michel Lorain's winery, the Domaine du Clos Saint Jacques, where we met with Sales and Marketing Manager Pâquerette Jacquemin at the wine shop. She gave us a detailed and passionate pitch about the revival of the vineyard, the expansion to the Japanese market and the recent association with Manuel Janisson of Champagne Janisson. She then took us on a tour of the winemaking facilities located in a 16th century building, which used to be the home of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul when he was living in Joigny.
She generously gave us a sampler of the estate wines that we tasted later with our family. Overall, I found the wines dry, mineral, and crisp, and thought that the whites were more successful than the red.
The 2011 Bourgogne Chardonnay Domaine du Clos Saint Jacques had a light yellow color and a fresh nose of green apple and citrus. The palate had a grippy acidity that worked well with our sauerkraut.
The 2009 Bourgogne Chardonnay Domaine du Clos Saint Jacques Cuvée Les Capucins was slightly fuller than the regular cuvee, with a good amount of minerality and acidity that would team well with shellfish.
The 2008 Bourgogne Chardonnay Domaine du Clos Saint Jacques Cuvée Prestige had a deep golden color and a nose of ripe apple. On the palate, it was rounder and fuller and would pair well with anything creamy.
The 2008 Bourgogne Pinot Noir Domaine du Clos Saint Jacques Cuvée Prestige had a light garnet color and sour cherry nose, quite lean on the palate with under ripe flavors on the finish, not our favorite wine. The region has substantial vintage variations and 2008 was possibly not the best year for the reds in the area.
This was a fun tasting and a great introduction to this up-and-coming appellation. Thanks Pâquerette!Technorati tags: wine food & drink
I am just back from 8 days of hiking in Banff National Park and I am still in awe of the spectacular landscape of the place—ice-carved mountains, hanging glaciers, turquoise blue lakes, and roaring cascades. I was also impressed by the dining scene —we were literally famished after hiking up and down hills on rugged mountain trails—and the good Canadian wines we found on the local wine lists.Iceline Trail, a raclette with a bottle of 2011 Quails' Gate Dry Riesling helped restore our energy. You need a wine with a firm backbone and a good level of acidity to cut through the creamy richness of the cheese, and the Quails' Gate Dry Riesling was more than up to the task: crisp, mineral, with citrus and floral aromas.
A couple of days later, we hiked to Shadow Lake Lodge, a back country lodge in Banff National Park. Although he day started with some snow, the skies turned deep blue by the time we reached the lodge.2011 Tinhorn Creek Pinot Gris. The wine was dry, crisp, fruity, and totally comforting, a mouth-watering treat before the hearty dinner that would later be served.
One of our last dinners was in a steak house in Banff where we ordered a bottle of 2009 Jackson-Triggs Proprietors' Reserve Merlot. The wine had black berry aromas, a smooth palate and a refreshing acidity uncommon in California. I enjoyed it but I guess it was slightly too acidic to my friend's taste.
Flour + Water looking for a wine to go with our appetizers.
I recently came across a San Francisco Chronicle article that piqued my interest. The story starts with a warning: “Beware: If you read this article, you may may never taste wine and listen to music the same way again.”
The article refers to the work of Clark Smith, a winemaking innovator as well as a composer and vocalist who has recently become increasingly interested in the relationship of wine and music. He believes that wine tastes differently depending on the music we listen to.
Smith has spent months with various tasting panels sampling wines with hundreds of different songs. He was able to show that when wine and music match, the wine improves. On the other hand, when they clash, the wine tastes worse. His theory is that wine tasting involves the same part of the brain as listening to music.
“Red wines need either minor key or they need music that has negative emotion. They don't like happy music. With expensive reds, don't play music that makes you giggle. Pinots like sexy music. Cabernets like angry music. It's very hard to find a piece of music that's good for both Pinot and Cabernet.”
A related study led by Adrian North of Heriot-Watt University shows that tasters tend to think their wine has the qualities of the music they are listening to.
“The results showed the music the volunteers listened to consistently affected how they perceived it to taste. For example both red and white wines were given the highest ratings for being powerful and heavy by those participants who drank them to the tune of Carmina Burana. Those who listened to Michael Brook rated their wine as tasting mellow and soft consistently higher than other tastes.”
On his blog, Smith recommends the following to a reader: “It's really quite easy to work up a playlist. Just pop a bottle and download 30 second snippets from iTunes. You'll see what works and what doesn't. It's a fun party game. Eventually you learn the emotional modality that the wine conveys, and you match it.”
Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 is playing tonight. Cabernet or Chardonnay?
Technorati tags: wine food & drink
This was a low key, mid-week dinner at home and we were sipping our wine. “Wow, this wine is delicious!” my husband suddenly said. I showed him the bottle. It was a 2008 Joseph Swan Pinot Noir Cuvée de Trois Russian River Valley, a fairly-priced wine from Russian River Valley Pinot Noir pioneer Joseph Swan Vineyards.
Located in the Russian River Valley, Joseph Swan Vineyards was founded by Joseph Swan in 1989. He was a retired pilot with no formal viticulture education, but after taking many trips to France, he became known for introducing new methods of winemaking that seemed revolutionary at the time in the United States. These techniques included whole cluster fermentations, extended maceration for more color and depth, and fermenting without the addition of sulfur.
Joseph Swan's son-in-law Rod Berglund is now in charge of the winemaking. He introduced the “Cuvée de Trois” in 1999, a blend from three Russian River vineyards, each site contributing unique characteristics to the final cuvée.
The wine is a charmer. The nose is expressive with aromas of red cherry, spices, and earthy notes, and the palate has a silky, juicy texture, showing more finesse than power with a well-balanced complexity. Delicious indeed!
Technorati tags: wine food & drink
That's the 2001 Vacqueyras Domaine Le Sang des Cailloux Cuvée de Lopy. The wine is from Vacqueyras, an appellation in the Southern Rhône next to Gigondas and to the east of Châteauneuf du Pape.
It is produced by Domaine Le Sang des Cailloux, which means Blood of the stones, a 17 hectare estate located on an arid plateau made of red clay and limestone layered by rounded stones — the famous galets roulés that characterize the terroir of Châteauneuf du Pape. On the plateau, the summers are dry and hot but can be cooled down by the strong Mistral wind that blows from the north down the Rhône Valley.
Although it has not been officially certified organic, the vineyard has been farming organically for years. The Cuvée de Lopy is 75% Grenache, 25% Syrah from 55 to 65 year-old vines. Lopy is the name of the farm where the owner, Serge Férigoule, was born. After being manually harvested, the grapes are fermented using indigenous yeasts and then aged in large 450-liter barrels. The wine is unfined and unfiltered.
The wine was dark, rich, dense and amazingly fresh at the same time thanks to its high acidity. It was also perfectly balanced leaving a layered finish of wild berries, spices, and licorice. It was aso the perfect wine for a chilly evening. Try it with a Provençal Daube and don't forget the orange peel, that's the dish's secret ingredient!
Technorati tags: wine food & drink
Just before the holidays, we went to Manresa in Los Gatos to celebrate my son's birthday. We took the seasonal tasting menu —highly recommended to us— that consists of 7 savory and 2 dessert courses and is the best showcase for the inventive cuisine of Chef David Kinch. It is also quite adventurous: only the ingredients are listed so you don't know ahead of time what each course would be like.
Chef David Kinch's cuisine speaks of who we are and where we are located and many products are produced at Love Apple Farms in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Owner and farmer Cynthia Sandberg uses biodynamic and organic principles to grow fruits, vegetables, herbs and edible flowers, and produce eggs, honey, and goat's milk. The Love Apple Farms produces were perfectly showcased by one of our favorite courses, “A walk through the vegetable garden”, a colorful alchemy of bitter leaves, sweet flowers, raw and cooked root vegetables with multiple dressings hidden under the leaves, some more citrusy, some more vinegary.
Finding the perfect wine that can go with all the rich flavors found on the Thanksgiving menu, the turkey, the stuffing, the gravy, the cranberries, and the various side dishes, can be challenging. Nonetheless, I think that a wine that is bright and fruity, and not too tannic nor alcoholic, is always a great choice. So when I recently tasted the 2009 Juris St. Laurent Selection, I thought that this year, it was time to invite Austria to our Thanksgiving table.
Owned by the Stiegelmar family, Juris farms 17 hectares of vineyards in the Neusiedlersee wine region, half way between Vienna and Budapest. This is the warmest part of Austria with climatic conditions well suited to red varieties, which explains the winery's special focus on St Laurent and Pinot Noir wines.
The Stiegelmar family has been cultivating grapes in this area since the 16th century. One of the winery's underground cellars was built in 1756, Mozart's birth year. It was dug 52 meters long, 12 meters below the surface, and maintains a stable temperature of 10°C (50°F).
But over the past 10 years, Axel Stiegelmar and his father Georg have developed a modern winery. The transport of grapes, mash, must, and wine is done predominantly through gravity to avoid damage by careless transport. The storage building is Austria's first passive energy wine storage facility. The building, neither heated nor cooled by fossil or electric energy, has various temperature and humidity zones to provide optimal storage conditions for different wines at different stages of their production.
Earlier this month, we were invited to a wine tasting party while watching the Blue Angels Air Show, a spectacular aerial show and a tradition in San Francisco since 1981. We were asked to bring a bottle of wine that had some connection with aviation, which was a fun exercise because in addition to tasting the wines, this theme prompted discussion about how the wines were related to planes and pilots.
Last week I watched Ken Burns' five-and-a-half-hour three-part documentary on Prohibition, the so-called “Noble Experiment” and one of the country's biggest civic failures.
I like Ken Burns' work, especially his Jazz series, and Prohibition didn't disappoint me. I already knew some of the causes that led to the passage of the 18th Amendment: the force of the Temperance Movement and how its leaders were also pushing for women's rights, how the passing of the income tax amendment made Prohibition fiscally feasible, and the strange alliance of militant suffragettes with white supremacists to ban alcohol use.
But there were some other facts that I was not aware of, like the vilification of German-Americans —which included most of the large brewery owners— when the US entered World War I. And I didn't realize that women, after lobbying so hard for prohibition, became so pivotal in the effort to repeal it.
Pauline Sabin, a wealthy heiress from a Republican family, initially supported prohibition, but as crime increased, her criticism of the 18th Amendment grew slowly. At some point, she realized that “In pre-prohibition days, mothers had little fear in regard to the saloon as far as their children were concerned. A saloon-keeper's license was revoked if he were caught selling liquor to minors. Today in any speakeasy in the United States you can find boys and girls in their teens drinking liquor, and this situation has become so acute that the mothers of the country feel something must be done to protect their children.”
She founded the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform in 1929. Four years later, the 18th Amendment, was repealed.
Technorati tags: wine food & drink
The other day, we were invited to a Pupusas party, one of the guests' mother being from El Salvador and a great cook. The pupusa is El Salvador's national dish, made of thick corn tortillas typically filled with cheese, pork, and beans and cooked on a griddle.
Do you know that it's only in 1931 that the first schematic subway map was designed by English engineering draftsman Harry Beck? Before that, we had route maps that were solely based on geography. They were lacking clarity and had many overcrowded areas. Schematic maps are based on topology and therefore show a simplified, hightly stylized network of stations that is much easier to understand.
So can we apply the same logic to wine regions and appellations to simplify and clarify regional and geographical concepts to beginners? Dr. David Gissen, professor at the California College of the Arts, thinks so and has recently published a Metro Wine Map of France.
Dr. David Gissen is a historian and theorist of architecture and urbanism but he is also a wine lover who, after drinking a bottle of 2009 Morgon Domaine Lapierre at Chez Panisse, wanted to learn more about wine and its relationship with particular philosophies and places.
In a recent interview, Gissen explains what motivated him to design his Metro map.
“I was just very frustrated with the fact that some basic ideas about the relationships between wine and geography that seemed so simple to me, after my own tastings, were not actually expressed simply anywhere. Part of the problem is the way the geographical description of French wine relies on a very literal languages of maps. What I mean by that is that if you look at almost any book on French wine, the maps look like the kind of thing that an explorer would use. They're extremely literal, cartographic views, so that all the regions are drawn with very precise jagged-line boundaries, and you're supposed to understand that this particular terroir stops just below this particular Autoroute in France, for example, and so on.”
“My feeling was that you could explain some very basic geographical ideas and principles about French wine if you used a visual language that was relational and condensed. To me, that means the language of the subway map.”
If you want to find the “best subway stop from which to embark on your own journey of wine exploration”, you can get the map here. And if you want to learn more about Gissen's interesting perspectives on concrete vinification, wine glass shapes, terroir, and the re-framing of wine using an urban aesthetics, read the full interview.
It was hot last weekend in Los Angeles when we dropped our daugther off at college so we decided to find some cool mountain breeze at the top of the 10,068 ft Mount Baldy in the San Gabriel Mountains.
An old ski chair lift from the 50s took us to the small Mount Baldy ski resort and from there we took the Devil's Backbone trail that goes up to the top of Mount Baldy with amazing views of L.A. on one side and the desert on the other side.
After the hike, we stopped at the Top of the Notch, the resort's restaurant, feeling hot and sweaty. The temperature was still in the mid-90s.
”What's the coldest drink you have?“ We asked the waitress at the bar. ”Coors Light“ she said witout hesitation, taking two frosty mugs from under the bar. I don't usually drink Coors Light but this time, I could not resist. As I took the first sip of my beer, I thought this was the best thing I ever drank. It was so refreshing, with a clean, mildly sweet taste, and for sure it quenched our thirst.