Posts Tagged ‘Cabernet Franc’

Surprises — good — with Pays d’Oc wines at lunch

I was kind of surprised at a luncheon last week to find that a former table-wine area of France has really grown up nicely. Several of the Pays d’Oc IGP wines I sampled were much finer than I had anticipated. This region (mainly in the Languedoc-Roussillon area) is also marketing their wines at a somewhat higher level, too: as more of the Pays d’Oc wines reach the US, they are targeting $10-$14 for many of their “entry level” wines, with some going a few dollars higher. Here are three of the wines that impressed me during our very French meal at Capsouto Freres in New York.

2010 La Forge Estate Sauvignon Blanc. One of the most successful wine and food pairings at this lunch: perfect with the Spinach Souffle. In fact, the pairing made both the food and the wine better. It’s a fairly low alcohol wine by current standards, at 12.5%. Floral and herbal aromas moved into the flavors, which had some sweetness. The palate and body showed more roundness than expected due to a touch of neutral oak. A light but longish finish had a persistent citric note.

2010 Domaine de Larzac Roussanne Chardonnay, surprised me by coming down on the flinty side of chardonnay – more austere than I had expected. Still, there was also some roundness, and the two grapes’ flavors were nicely integrated, and with balanced acidity.

2010 Domaine Gayda “Figure Libre” Cabernet Franc. Paired well with lamb and duck. Aromas of big, dark cherry made you want to put the wine in your mouth right away. A good idea, because the flavors did not turn out to be overly fruity, as might be expected. Structure and tannins were balanced, and there was a nice bite of acidity, too.

Bordeaux Soup, Part IV — Along the Dordogne River, on the Arcachon Bay, and Through the Vineyards

Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur vineyards also line the wide Dordogne River. There, several new families have taken up residence and are re-working the traditional vineyards according to the new AOCs’ specs. Near a traditional river fishing-hut with its winched-up net, Frederic Mallier is also going organic at Château de la Vielle Chapelle. Despite the frost, hail and other problems during the 2007 season, he has produced an extremely nice “everyday Bordeaux” with 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc which was my favorite in the tasting.
Also along the river are Dominique Meneret’s park-like gardens, golden at the end of the day, next to his vineyards. Since he acquired Château Brondeau in 1980 and Château Courteillac in 1998, he has been working to make a “cashmere wine,” smooth and elegant. Many of his wines have the feel of a Cru Classé; the 2009, still in barrel, was extremely promising, too.
Next door, at Château de Bel, Olivier Cazenave has fulfilled his dream of establishing his young family in a small house with vineyards. When we arrived one evening, we found he had also invited friends from Chateau Belgarde and Chateau La Mothe-du Barry to come over with their wines for an informal dinner. This was preceded by a long Apéritif during the sunset on a deck over-looking the river, where we sipped everyone’s wines while waiting for the mascaret – an remarkable, twice-daily tidal bore that comes up the Dordogne 70 km from the sea during certain seasons. And impressive sight I had never heard of before; I learned that in warmer months when the wave is higher, people surf this wave all the way up the river.
We experienced true historical life at Stefaan Massart’s Château Vilatte, where he grows his own wheat and bakes bread in the 19th century oven he renovated. He took over the estate at 19, when his father died in the early 1980s. Stefaan’s friend brought over a buggy drawn by a spectacular draft horse, to take us on a tour of the vineyards. Back at the house, looking at his curious collection of historic winery machines, we enjoyed a traditional, regional stew Stefaan had been cooking all day. Even his wines tended toward the historic, meant for ageing, like his merlot-based 2000: big, fruity and vibrant and great to drink right now, ten years after it was made.
Xavier Milhade of Château Recougne chose a different mode of transportation: he took us out on a simple oyster barge on the bay at Arcachon (Bordeaux’s seaside getaway). Along with blue-eyed, curly-haired Jonathan, our pilot, we had our aperitif wine – sauvignon blanc with a good balance of crisp and fruity — on the boat. Afterward, we went back to Jonathan’s oyster shack and feasted on fresh seafood matched to Xavier’s wines.

To hear more about my travels through the region, listen to me on iwineradio
To learn more about the region, visit the Planet Bordeaux visitor center – it’s about 20 minutes east of the city of Bordeaux — or check out the Planete Bordeaux website

Bordeaux Soup, Part I — I mean Bordeaux Sup. [Supérieur]

Excellent wines are pouring out of Bordeaux, at prices from $10 to $25 –several notches up from what you’d expect at these prices – a great choice for a “weekend wine.” Look for the words Bordeaux or Bordeaux Supérieur on the label.
The winemakers refer to Bordeaux Superieur as Bordeaux Sup., which I can’t help envisioning as Bordeaux SOUP. (Yum) I had a great time exploring these wines earlier this fall, meeting the winemakers at their homes, in a variety of picturesque scenes and activities. And getting some of my questions answered.
For instance, have you been wondering what happened to Merlot? Didn’t it use to be a great wine? Yes, and it still is, in Bordeaux. The Bordeaux and Bordeaux Sup red wines are Merlot-based — sometimes blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Cabernet Franc. And they’re very good: structured and fruity, meaty and lightly tannic. Wines for a meal you can sink your teeth into, wines that are served with grilled steaks and stews, pâtés and all types of cheeses.
In addition, most of the producers in the southern and eastern parts of this region make white wines that are usually a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. These whites are an integral part of the local ritual of the Apéritif: a chilled glass is poured, a plate of sliced pâtés and salamis is brought out, and people come together to relax for a few minutes and talk about their day, before lunch or dinner. Always a very welcome respite in the hectic schedule our little band of writers maintained for our week in Bordeaux.
Traditions like these die hard in the countryside, and for that I’m thankful. It’s part protocol and part hospitality. Like the kids: every single child we met said a polite hello and kissed every guest on both cheeks, or shook hands. As they did at Château Bellevue, where genial Yves de Ponton d’Amécourt and his artistic wife Sophie have six beautifully-behaved children, each of whom came out to the vineyards next to the house to greet us as they arrived home from school.
In the rolling hills along the border of the Dordogne region, in addition to his other red grapes, Yves now plants a little Malbec, too. As does his neighbor, Regis Chayne of Château Ballan-Larquette – to add character to the wines, they explained over dinner. As at most of the chateaux (wineries) we visited, they also make some white wine. Two of my favorites at that meal: 2007 Château Ballan-Larquette dry white, with good fruit and enough body to pair with turkey for dinner, and then, with Camembert, the 2005 Château Bellevue “Friends Reserve” red.
To hear more about my travels through the region, listen to me on iwineradio
To learn more about the region, visit the Planet Bordeaux visitor center – it’s about 20 minutes east of the city of Bordeaux — or check out the Planete Bordeaux website