Food & Wine – Salmon and Sweetness

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Ok, so this post actually dates back to a meal we had a while ago, so it is not completely in season. I do however found it very interesting in winepairing, so just keep it in mind until next winter, okay?

For a long time, wines with a bit of sweetness were the bane of the wine world. Mosel wines with Prädikat or not, Vouvray demi-sec, a whole range of Alsacien wines; all of them have fallen or are still falling in disarray. Sure, the producers are at times to blame as well, like the whole Blue Nun fiasco still impacting the image people have of German wines, or the complete lack of residual sugar indication on the label in the Alsace in the past. Nonetheless, there still seems to be an at times stupefying aversion when people find something sweet, yet not overly sugary in their glass. They can wax lyrical about the wine’s aromas and presence on the palate, all to ruin it with a nasty ‘it is a bit sweet, isn’t it’ which more often than not is the end of their judgement. It is like they don’t know what to do with them. ‘Do I drink it on its own, do I pair it with food and oh God, what the hell am I going to eat with this?’

The average wine literature on food and wine pairing has not played the best of roles, as it goes for correct but safe choices: If you taste the sugar, go for a desert, if it is red, go for anything with chocolate and if it is Riesling, stick to spicy and Asian to match with. There is however so much more. I have said it before and will continue to drive home the message: Once you start considering sweetness as a component of the wine’s entire structure instead of just a precursor to a specific set of aromas or the addition of sugar, your food-pairing universe will expand exponentially. To put this to the test, a standoff between two wines: Frisson d’Ombelles 2013 by Domaine de la Marfée vs. Xavier Weisskopf’s Les Borderies 2014 démi-sec.

First up though, the food! Seared salmon has a reputation as being one of the few fishes that can be matched with red wines, pinot noir specifically. I, however, totally disagree. The rather intense flavor will completely overwhelm whatever nuance the wine possesses, and more often than not I end up enjoying neither the dish or the wine. In white, I would look for something with structure, not too opulent but still with a certain density to it.

The risotto is prepared the classic way, with parsley root, Jerusalem artichokes and salsify (‘a poor man’s asparagus’) added. These are almost archetypical winter vegetables with distinctive earthy notes, and in the case of the Jerusalem artichokes, quite a fragrance as well. The wine to match would need to be grounded, not too much on the fruit, yet sufficiently intense on the nose to not being crushed. All in all, I would definitely go for something medium in body, not too much overt acidity, and reasonably aromatic on the nose.

Our first contestant is Domaine de la Marfée’s Frisson d’Ombelles 2013. This estate, located near Montpellier so mainly working in the Languedoc, has been doing great things. I bought a couple of their wines to try once, kind of forgot about them for a few years and only started to drink them recently. They were wonderful, really underplaying their humble VDP origins.  and I can wholeheartedly recommend them in both red and white. This cuvée is a 70% rousanne & 30% chardonnay blend, aged in oak for about a year. The rousanne is really dominant in the nose with hints of apricot, yellow peaches and a creaminess that I associate with the wood. Rousanne is a variety that often focuses more on the gras than on liveliness, so the addition of chardonnay is quite nice here as the body has weight, yet does not pull you down.

Contestant number two is Rocher des Violettes’ Montlouis les Borderies 2014. I met Xavier’s girlfriend two years ago at the Salon des Vins de Loire and was struck in awe by the white wines I tasted. Gentle, nuanced and a succulent quality that is a natural motivator to empty a bottle. Les Borderies is an exemplary wine of what Montlouis is capable of, gentle on the nose, quite mineral actually, but much richer on the palate. No one tasting this blind would call this sweet, yet it is at 10g/l of residual sugar, which really lends it an almost velvety quality. At less than 15 euros, this is an absolute steal.

Now, both wines are worthy contestants, a bit to my surprise to be honest. There is a nice, grounded quality to Frisson d’Ombelles that matches perhaps just a bit better with the risotto, especially aromawise, yet les Borderies’ palate manages to put up a better fight to both the quite intensely flavoured salmon as well as the creamy texture of the risotto. All in all, there is no wrong match here, but looking at what was left in the bottles afterwards, les Borderies was clearly enjoyed more, so that has to count for something!

 

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Food & Wine – Asparagus galore

We are nearing the end of the growing season of one of my favorite vegetables: white asparagus. I grew up in a town that has in recent years styled itself as Belgium’s hub, and rightly so. Kinrooi is one of the biggest producer of white asparagus, and unlike the big, fat stems that are more about volume, here they are properly treated as a foodie’s treasure. Even though I have lived in Brussels for the past couple of years, I would never dream of buying my asparagus anywhere else, and it is always a great way to welcome Spring. What better way to now end the season than with two Belgian classics?

Winewise, the literature is not a fan. Too herbaceous is an often-heard argument, but more importantly is the impact that it has on your palate, as the asparagusic acid it contains can make a wine taste lean and metallic. Overly fruity wines or sweet wines are therefore considered a no-go, but there are of course loads of wines that do prove to be up to the challenge. My go-to country would be Germany, where asparagus is also a true classic on the menu, but today we broaden our horizons.

Let’s start with a dish that my mom used to make to inaugurate the new season: asparagus à la flamande. Deceptively simple but simply delicious with only a couple of extra ingredients: parsley, eggs, a bit of nutmeg and high-quality butter. How did the following wines fare?

IMG_5263First up, the German selection may be familiar with those who have been following my writing since the beginning: Am Stein’s Innere Leiste Silvaner 2012. It just goes to show that I don’t just write about the wines I like, I actually tuck them away in my cellar as well! Silvaner seems to be a good match with asparagus as it also has an herby, spicier side. It is more pungent on the nose than I remember, but on the palate, it has a nice, mineral intensity to it. It has clearly benefited from a bit of bottle time, and I think that it can still develop wonderfully for the next couple of years. The combination shines in its completeness; preserving an herbaceous balance against the parsley and asparagus, yet retaining a sense of gras to match the butter. A great wine in its own right, lifted to a higher level when paired with the right dish.

Staying within the minerality theme, a South African chenin blanc: Mullineux’s Kloof Street chenin blanc 2015. I had not tasted the bottle before and bought it solely based on the producer’s reputation. It comes across a bit austere with a flinty, reduced nose on the first day. There is a bit more fruit afterwards but overall it is rather muted. Soft on the palate, and nothing that really stands out. Unfortunately, it did not stand a chance against the eggs and butter; the slight astringency that was already present as an afterthought was suddenly much more noticeable, so let’s just chalk it up as a learning experience!

Finally, the most surprising match: Giovanni Almondo’s Roero Arneis ‘Bricco delle Ciliegi’ 2013. The bottle was chosen completely at random from the cellar, as I remember it being quite tight and mineral in flavor, so I was hoping it would work. It wasn’t until basically just now that I found out that the terroir of Roero is also ideally suited for asparagus! Perhaps the most subtle wine when it comes to the aroma, but very nice. Mostly on spring flowers, a bit leafy and a freshness that also dominates the palate. The tightness is still there, but there is a lovely tension that actually goes really well with the dish, a great discovery.

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While asparagus a la flamande is in essence an easy dish that can uplift an average weekday, the next meal is something that requires a bit more work: Slip soles with fresh North Sea shrimps and asparagus with a white beer mousseline sauce. Granted, shrimps are hideously expensive these days, but combined with a couple of perfect slip soles as well as a velvety mousseline, they are just irresistible. It is a richer dish, so we would need a wine that can handle a bit of pressure.

I looked for something that could match the mousseline first, so something with a bit of structure, perhaps a hint of butter, yet something mineral as well, as the delicate flavours of the shrimps could easily be overwhelmed otherwise. Finally, there are the asparagus, which would only pick a fight if a wine had the audacity to show fruit. So round yet minerality and a more muted yet intense character led me to the Jura, to what it perhaps my best Chardonnay discovery of the year: Domaine Pignier’s A La Percenette 2014.

I haphazardly discovered this estate when I was served a deceptively basic Cremant de Jura in a restaurant a couple of years ago. I was stunned by what I found in my glass, a wine with a complexity that surpasses like half the offer of Champagne at this price point. I jotted down the estate’s name, but of course I lost the note and forgot about it. When I encountered the winemaker at la Renaissance two years ago, I had the opportunity to taste a couple of other wines, which were so convincing that I bought a selection of their wines to taste at home.

Pignier is one of the oldest estates in the Jura, with the seventh generation currently at the helm. The wines are the epitome of slowness; taking the time to allow the wines to find their own natural balance, giving them the opportunity to literally prepare for the ages, as the estate confidently states that their wines can easily go for 10 to 20 years. A la Percenette is a wine of crystalline precision; not something that you notice at first but that sneaks up to you and captivates your attention. It is a lively, yet calm wine, with a depth that goes fantastic with the mousseline sauce, and a freshness that really complements the herbiness of the asparagus and the salinity of the shrimp. A match made in heaven.

 

2017 week 6 – Domaine des Cavarodes, Franche-Comté rouge 2014

IMG_0884For years the Jura remained a blind spot on my wine radar. About ten years ago I followed your very basic wine course which was more about drinking than actually learning anything. I was ticked off that I had to miss the one class on regions that I knew nothing about, Jura and Savoie, but quickly forgot about it. A couple of years later, when I was getting more and more into wine, I came across an invitation for a Jura wine tasting in Antwerp, organized by Terrovin. It turned out to not only be my first real introduction to the wines of the Jura, but also to the world of natural wine. I have visited a lot of tastings over the years, but this is one that stayed with me, because the wines were so different from what I had drunk up until that point. My tasting notes can be summarized by ‘subdued, coolness, crunch, length, stinky, pure, shifting in the glass, and geuze, geuze, geuze’.

Since then however, my interest in the Jura was properly piqued, and even though I have had the opportunity to discover many more wines since then, I still am nowhere near a proper grasp on the region. Scarcity plays a role, although I think that there are a couple of importers who can be considered groundbreaking in this regard, but there is something more. Every time I get the idea in my head that I can relax and assume that I got it, I pass by the Jura winemakers at Dive Bouteille and slap myself for overconfidence. One of these winemakers who regularly manages to surprise me is actually one of the first I met; Etienne Thiebaud, owner of Domaine des Cavarodes. He was present at the Antwerp tasting, but to call our conversation brief would be an overstatement, as the man seems to have a very limited quota of words he can disperse in a day. Nonetheless, contact over the years has been better at la Dive, and a taste of his latest vintage is always one of my first stops.

Five grapes are currently allowed in the Jura, but these are only part of the story. Near the end of the 19th century, there were over 40 varieties commonly associated with the region, but alas, phylloxera as well as the drafting of the AOC rules has condemned the vast majority to the annals of vinous history. Nonetheless, there are still parcels lying around here and there, and these are simply treasure troves; centenarian vines, often neglected for decades so untreated, and affordable for those crazy enough to want to work with them.

Today’s wine, a Vin de Pays de Franche-Comté 2014 is the result of one of these efforts. 1/3 of pinot noir, 1/3 of trousseau and the remaining third consisting of Poulsard, Gamay, Pinot Meunier, Argant, Portugais Bleu, Enfariné and Mézy, the latter being varieties that I assume are not your everyday drink for most readers! Semi-carbonic fermentation gives it freshness, little red berries with ample crunch, yet there is also a tannic structure that needs some time to unwind. It is a perfect wine to drink with these early spring days, refreshing without lacking depth, and surprisingly low in alcohol at only 9.5%, what more do you need for a nice, sunny evening?

Other Jura wines talked about: 

Food & Wine – Moroccan chicken pastilla

IMG_4812This week I will be joining the Winophiles, a group of bloggers united in their love for French wine who commit to an article on a shared topic. This month: Cross-cultural food pairings with French wine! This is really something that I love, as it forces you to think outside of the box; to put aside wine conventions that are mostly based on regional cuisines and that have been developed and semi-set in stone.

Saying life in Brussels for a foodie has its perks is an understatement. Plenty of restaurants, an it-scene when it comes to new cuisines being offered and basically all ingredients imaginable within reach almost qualifies for a Walhalla. The usual ride from work takes me by the Chatelain market; the place to be for an aperitif in spring/summer, and otherwise a favorite stop for your everyday market vegetables as well as something a bit more international. Afterwards I cannot help but walk by my local wine merchant, and everything for an extra special weekday meal is practically ready.

First stop: buying a pastilla. I first discovered this when we spent a couple of weeks traveling through Morocco in 2015. The country’s cuisine is amazing; incredibly diverse, which is not something you would assume based on what I generally find in Belgium, and just so savoury and intense in flavor. Be forewarned, there will be a lot more food pairings to discuss in the future, and I think that a pastilla, being a complex presentation of so many different aspects of Moroccan cuisine is a good starting point. It combines delicate pastry with slowly cooked poultry, massively spiced but not without losing flavor balance. The Moroccan vendor at Chatelaine market uses cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, cumin, a healthy dose of saffron and just a tiny hint of dried chilly. Everyone can make his or her own version, this one was with chicken but I have eaten it with pigeon as well, and the spice mix is also up to your own liking.

Second stop: fresh veg from whatever vendor’s shouting catches my ear. I had a bit of time to spare in the kitchen, so I made a simple carrot salad with cumin, parsley and garlic that I discovered thanks to a French chef in Essaouira, as well as Ottolenghi’s charred broccoli with a tahini dressing. Add some Persian flatbread with homemade hummus, and for little money you are set for a semi-decadent meal.

Third stop: the wine. It is not the easiest cuisine to find an ideal pairing. You are dealing with intense yet delicate flavors, so getting complementarity just right is challenging. Wine and food matching theory will tell you to go more and more south as you add more spices, which I get, but find a bit boring. The meal is in essence quite pure without becoming simple, so I opted for two wines that show depth without becoming heavy or too dominating. To spice things up, two completely different regions: the Loire and the Rousillon.

I talked about Domaine Porte Saint Jean a while back, and a bottle of Saumur-Champigny, Les Beaugrands 2011 seemed to be a daring but most interesting match. The wine itself is fresh in character, but with aromas of middle eastern spices and a headiness that even overcame the scents coming off the pastilla, so it worked actually quite well! It helps that the pastilla was filled with chicken meat, and that the pastry was wafer-thin and light; with pigeon for instance I think that the flavors would be too overwhelming. With the vegetables, the wine met its match, especially texture-wise, as the broccoli tahini dressing proved to be too rich.

IMG_0887Now, the safer and classic match was Roc des Anges’ Reliefs Cotes de Rousillon 2013. I have to admit that the South of France has been a blind spot on my wine radar for too long, and every year, when I encounter one of those fantastic wines that show that the Rousillon is so much more than a cheap swill factory, I tell myself that I need to pay far more attention to it. For now, it is but a note on my never-ending list of wine-related to-do’s.

 Roc des Anges, however, is one of those estates that you can always find in my cellar, both in white and red. It is a classic Rousillon, with a hefty dose of Carignan next to Grenache and Syrah. Very juicy in impression, black ripe fruit, quite peppery as well, even a bit inky, something I somehow always associate with Carignan, but soft on the palate, tannins are very present, it is only 2013, but overall it is very complete, very harmonious in all its elements.

The match with the food is good, it does go a lot better with the vegetables, in particular the sesame seeds on the broccoli. I get why this type of wine is the standard match for intensely flavoured dishes. It does have a bit of heat that may become too much after a couple of glasses, but overall it is something that is not overwhelmed by the spiciness in the dish, so wine and food matching theory does have a point.

Be sure to check out the pairings concocted by the other winophiles!

Martin from Enofylz Wine Blog pairs Bordeaux with Cajun and Italian Classics

Michelle from Rockin’ Red Blog asks “Do Empanadas Bordeaux?”

Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla will match a Vin de Pays d’Oc Chardonnay and an Edible Mollusc from Monterey

Gwendolyn of Wine Predator highlights Taco Tuesday: Chicken Mole Strawberry Salad with 3 French Wines

Jane from Always Ravenous takes us to the islands with Chicken Colombo: A Blend of Caribbean Flavors from the French West Indies

Lynn from Savor the Harvest informs us that Tortilla Española Crosses Wine Borders

Jill of L’occasion describes A World of Flavors in Marseille

Jeff from FoodWineClick! reports as Loire Valley Wines Take the Spicy Thai Challenge

At The Swirling Dervish, Lauren covered A Feast for the Senses: Viognier and Indian Spices

2017 week 4 – Domaine Huet, Clos de Bourg demi-sec 2001

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Looking back at my short but intense stay in the Loire region, I realized that I haven’t talked enough about Chenin Blanc, despite my love for it. Only one wine was put into the spotlight, 2009 Les Choisilles by Francois Chidaine (of which I incidentally drank my last bottle just a week ago, still fantastic). There are some changes coming up on The Wine Analyst, but given my adherence to self-imposed deadlines in the past, I’ll refrain from making big declarations. For now, I can only say that there will be more attention paid to Chenin Blanc in the future, starting with Domaine Huet’s Clos de Bourg Demi-Sec 2001!

Very blunt but true, people are idiots if they think that residual sugar should be dismissed in assessing a wine’s quality. I get the point if you were presented with a glass of something that is basically a very expensive syrup, but as I mentioned when I talked about Germany’s Pradikat wine, the wines that get it right, the wire walkers between acidity and sweetness are among the best you can encounter. Like Riesling, Chenin Blanc is one of the rare grapes with this capability. Vibrant, shining fruit and an energizing acidity that is ever so rightly countered by a hint of opulence added by the residual sugar are all you need for a thrilling wine.

Off all the Loire subregions, Vouvray most likely has the highest reputation when it comes to producing wines with residual sugar. Domaine Huet has played a pivotal role in establishing the region’s fame. It is a benchmark of what chenin blanc can be, proving its versatility and longevity. A combination of obsessive, meticulous attention to details, a focus on top-vineyards and an early adoption of biodynamic viticulture have guided its ascent to the top and despite a change of ownership in recent years, continues to do so. Clos de Bourg is one of the most acclaimed vineyard sites in Vouvray, with the vines having the most direct access to the tuffeau bedrock (soft type of limestone) thanks to a relatively thin topsoil, which is credited for the deeper, more complex character of the wines in comparison to the other sites.

It is a tricky wine, in the sense that at first it does not really stand out or shine. Clear evolution in the nose, honeycomb, waxy notes and a toasty, fresh-marmelade-and-bread type of fruitiness. Initially the palate does not deliver what the nose promises, moderate in weight but no real presence. I was initially a bit disappointed, so I finished my glass, stoppered the bottle and forgot about it for a couple of days. Retasting it later on was simply joy. The wine was much more fleshed out, really more savoury now without even giving a lot of sweetness at first. It was only in the finish that the influence of the residual sugar kicked in, not in sweetness, but in length and intensity while remaining oh so delicate. A stunning wine for it’s 16 years of age, and something to cherish.

Other Loire wines talked about: 

Loire Tripping 2017 – The Salon & La Levée

Finally, my impressions from a day at the Salon des Vins de Loire. Contrary to last year, I only attended on Tuesday, due to the Salon changing its calendar and starting a day earlier, thus overlapping the numerous off-events. I don’t really know why this was done, nor did I get a straight answer from basically anyone, but I do think that it is to the detriment of the Salon. Visitors were few, perhaps also because it was the final day, but compounded with the fact that there was an entire tasting area gone in comparison to last year, this is not a good sign. I get that you want to be the biggest and the best, but look at Millésime Bio and Vinisud facing off just a week before the Loire events; no one really wins. Continue reading

Loire tripping 2017 – Dive Bouteille

img_4974Dive is the type of chaos with a flair that only the French know how to do right. Get annoyed at the lack of navettes between the Saumur station and the Ackerman cellars where la Dive takes place or walk. Get pissed off at the crowds of backpack-carrying groupies who just hang out with their revered winemaker of choice, or simply mingle with them. Finally, get paralyzed by the fear of swallowing due to the lack of spittoons, or carry around your own in a trolley, trumping backpacks in annoyance, like a certain couple of Dutch wine merchants (although you never know with the Dutch, they may as well have been creating their own very special blend of salvia-textured wine vinegar).

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2017 week 3 – Domaine Dupasquier, Roussette de Marestel 2012

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Continuing with regions in France that I do not remember too fondly from gazing at them while studying, the Savoie! It was basically the Sud-Ouest all over again, albeit on a much smaller scale (about 2000ha). On the surface, it looks deceptively simple: three major appellations: Vins de Savoie, Rousette de Savoie and Seyssel. So far so good, but than you get to the crus, all with their own set of rules: 16 for Vins de Savoie and 4 for Rousette de Savoie. You may wonder what the big deal is, isn’t the appellation structure in Burgundy for instance far more complex? Yes, but at least there you are only talking about two world-renowned grape varieties whereas in the Savoie, only pinot noir and gamay will ring a bell with your average wine consumer. The other twenty-one permitted varieties are only trackable in various degrees of obscurity, both in the bottle and the vineyard.

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2017 week 2 -Domaine Plageoles, Vin de Voile 2000

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A return to winegeek territory!

During my studies, the Sud-Ouest was without a doubt the most frustrating region to get a grip on. The diversity in appellations and varieties as well as the relative scarcity of these wines in Belgium made it very difficult to retain a lot for the long run. It is a shame really, as there is so much to discover. I have great memories of a 1998 Chateau Montus (Madiran), continue to be charmed by everything that comes out of Jurancon, and, after a terrific tasting organized by a fellow sommelier-conseil just before Christmas, have set myself a quota of Cahors to discover this year.

Today’s focus will be on Gaillac, which is the third biggest subregion following Bergerac and Cahors. Honestly, it is a clusterfuck of appellations and permitted styles: white dry, white sweet (traditional), white sweet (vendange tardive), vin blanc perlé, sparkling méthode ancestrale, rosé, red, red primeur and vin de voile! 9 different type of wines entitled for a Gaillac AOP. Given that there are also a couple of grape varieties that you will find nowhere else, you can hopefully understand that it is a bitch to learn if you’ve never actually been there.

In all fairness, this diversity should be applauded, as it is an indicator of a long history. In fact, it is one of the oldest winegrowing regions in France. Like other subregions in the Sud-Ouest however, it’s still struggling to recover from the devastating blow dealt by phylloxera in the 19th century. What I think will be its saving grace is the pride of several growers, determined to protect their indigenous varieties and techniques.

Domaine Plageoles has been around for two centuries and is a veritable treasure trove of ‘lost’ varieties. Ondenc, Verdanel and Loin de l’Oeil are some of the varieties that you can still find here. I have tasted a couple of the estate’s wines, and am particularly charmed by what it can do with Mauzac, the go-to variety for white Gaillac wines. Even so, Plageoles has seven different types of Mauzac planted in their vineyards. One of them, the Mauzac roux is used for an oxidative wine, today’s Vin de Voile 2000. The wine is left in the barrels without topping these up for the part of the wine that evaporates over time. A ‘voile’, a layer of yeast cells appears on top, resulting in a controlled oxidation. Attentive readers will recall that I have talked about such a wine in the past: The Tokaji Szamorodni 2003.

This type of oxidative wines is often characterized by an enormous aromatic complexity, and an intense, dry mouthfeel. This Vin de Voile sure delivers with hints of spicy honey, a lot less nutty than I would have expected, and very very floral notes. On the palate the best description I can come up with is savoury, mouthwatering dry but not as lean and focused as I am used to with Jurassic Vin Jaune. It is quite rich in style actually, but clean and fresh in the finish.

img_4859As a bonus, Domaine Plageoles’ Prunelard 2013! Prunelard is ancient and actually an ancestor to Cot (malbec) which is the key grape in nearby Cahors. There is very little of it left, about 30ha I’d guess, and it is only permitted in IGP Cotes du Tarn, probably as there is so very little of it. The wine itself is a bit muted as first, prunes and a bit rustic on the palate on the first day, yet drinking along nicely at the same time. Very different on the second day with liquorice and spiciness, especially on the nose. Aromatically it is a wintery wine, warming yet low in alcohol, the tannic structure and density on the palate would make it the perfect match for a big, juicy cut of boar!

 

A different kind of pink

There are a couple of tropes that you can count on in wine writing. Champagne is reviewed to bits around the holidays. March-April is all about Bordeaux with both supporters and critics of the primeur system basically repeating the exact same argument that they have had for the past five years. Summer is about rosé, which, based on what you read, is always better than the year before, higher quality, vintage-impact non-existent and seemingly the only wine you can chug when you pass 25°C, only to be completely forgotten and ignored come September. The rosé hype of the past couple of years remains on the up and up. Given that marketeers figure out something new to keep the buzz going every year (brosé,  rosé-infused gummy bears, or this year’s frosé), I doubt that we will see an end to it soon.

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Week 37 – Guiberteau, Saumur Rouge 2014

IMG_3688When is a wine faulty? There are plenty of times when this is clear from the start; a messed up colour, raging volatile acidity, vinegar,…. Other times it is not always clear. For a long time, I did not like Cabernet Franc as there is often something unpleasant in the nose at first, especially in the case of young wines. You get aromas of degraded fruit, barnyard or just plain shit. This most often happens with wines that have been created in an oxygen-depraved environment, like I mentioned already when talking about Hanami about a year ago, but the trick is finding out if the smell stays, which makes it a fault, or if it dissipates and adds character in combination with other aromas and flavours.

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RAW, the Artisan Wine Fair 2016

IMG_3625The 2016 RAW fair took place in London this weekend, and just like last year, it was an intense but terrific experience. An increasing number of winemakers seems to realize that it is a unique opportunity to showcase their wines to both old fans and people who are a lot more open-minded than the ones attending Prowein or Vinexpo. Of course, estates come and go but the showing does remain impressive. Those with long-established reputations stand side by side with those who are only just stepping into the world of wine, often presenting their first vintage to the public, nervous about the impression that they’ll make or the feedback they will receive. Continue reading

Dinner at De Jong in Rotterdam

Note: A love for wine is inextricably linked with a love for food but in the vast majority of restaurant reviews it is woefully ignored. I suspect that this is either because the writer erroneously thinks that there is insufficient interest with a mainstream public, or that the writer himself does not care or does not know enough about wine to form an opinion on it.

For a winelover this can really be a source of frustration. I recall a 400-word review of a hyped wine bar in Antwerp that mentioned the word wine four times, and even then basically said nothing (1 – she loves wine so she starts a restaurant, 2 – there are 200 wines on the list, 3 – there are 15 wines by the glass, 4 – the wine is good). I am not a chef nor do I have anything resembling a culinary training so this is definitely not the place for intricate opinions on the kind of wood use to smoke a salmon or the best phase of the moon to dig up potatoes, but an honest reflection on memorable dining experiences where everything clicked; food, wine and and atmosphere. Past and future posts can now be found under Wine & Dine, added in the menu bar. 

jongbinnenThe culinary reputation the Netherlands has with its southern neighbours is sketchy at best. A first day in Rotterdam sadly confirmed this view when we were served what was supposedly Basque cuisine in a restaurant on which the less is said the better (the only two Basque wines on the menu where even sold out!). Being friends with wine merchants on Facebook does have its benefits, and so on a sunny Sunday evening we ended up in Restaurant De Jong.

The concept is simple. Two menus to choose from, a meat/fish set and a vegetable set. The website will leave you clueless as everything is decided in the morning when the kitchen staff takes stock of what the supplier has available and what they can build a menu around. Simplicity in construction but not in execution is the result. The same refreshing lack of fumbling complexity can be found in the wine list, which was a concise but inspired selection of natural wines. You cannot get around incrowd names like Ganevat, Julien Guillot or Craig Hawkins, but I was pleasantly surprised by several other names offered at reasonable prices.

Aymeric Beaufort hails from a reputed winemaking family in Ambonnay but set up shop near Nimes with Domaine l’Ocre Rouge. La Perle Noire, 100% Pinot Noir true to his roots, is the perfect accompaniment for the starters on both menus, Cod with radish and mushroom ravioli on the one side and a delicious combination of green asparagus, candied lemon and sunflower seed puree on the other.

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The second course, which was the same for both menus, was the first highlight of the evening; lightly grilled asparagus with foam of Comté cheese. Asparagus is one of those things that needs to be sourced locally and not grown in a greenhouse if you want that unique earthy flavour. Just a week earlier we had our first taste in a hyped Brussels restaurant and it just was not right, weak and lacking in taste. This time it was different though, as the crunchy asparagus flavour was a great match to the texture of the Comté foam.

We had moved on to red at this point with Philippe Bornard’s Poulsard Point Barre 2013. Bornard may have become famous thanks to “L’amour est dans le Pré”, which is basically dating for farmers on national television, but he is first and foremost an excellent winemaker. I met him at the last two editions of Dive Bouteille but had until now only been able to try his white wines (which you should definitely seek out!), so I was curious to see what he did in red. Red berries in the nose, a bit reductive at first but showing nicely with a bit of time. Very direct in the mouth with good acidity but more towards juiciness instead of astringency. Earthy and mineral in the finish.

IMG_3471 (1)The main courses were terrific on their own, but whereas one was intensified by my wine choice, the other one was more enjoyable on its own (the slight disadvantage of not knowing what you will get beforehand). The match was spot on with the Baamburgs Big, which Google tells me is a unique species of pig cultivated near Utrecht, and different preparations of beetroot. The earthiness of the wine and the juiciness of the meat worked terrific together. The other main course, potato gnocchi with smoked peas served with crunchy potato skins was a bit more difficult. On itself the dish was delicious, but the peas did not work well with the wine.

What really blew our minds was the dessert, which was an unconventional but immensely interesting and tasteful combo of rhubarb, buckwheat ice cream, hangop (Dutch goat yogurt) and flakes of beer yeast. This is without a doubt the strangest combination I have encountered up until now but to my surprise it worked. The sourness of the hangop, the tartness of the rhubarb together with the texture of the beer yeast flakes and the freshness of the ice cream just seemed to click. A daring bet but definitely one that stayed with me!

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We had a great evening. Service ran smooth and the atmosphere was nice given that we could still have an enjoyable conversation in a fully booked restaurant. What really stayed with me (aside from the terrific dessert which I could not shut up about) was the creativity and drive in the kitchen. Constructing a different menu every day is challenging. Keeping up the originality and coming up with new and surprising creations is definitely an accomplishment which convinces me to visit again on a next trip to Rotterdam!

Getting around to reliving Dive Bouteille

Note: sommelier studies and papers to write have led me to neglect The Wine Analyst yet again. From now on though, things will be different and posts will actually be published, even on a more or less regular basis!

To start with a bit of hipster news, beards are out, moustaches are the new thing (in all likelihood in solidarity with those struggling to grow a full beard)! Dive Bouteille has developed quite the rapport with the wine hipster community and continues to enjoy increasing international attention, not in the least thanks to Alice Feiring and Pascaline Lepeltier.

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An overdue reflection on the Salon des Vins de Loire

If you are a serious winelover, France is definitely the place to be in the beginning of the new year as large events are organized throughout the country. Millésime Bio gives the kick-off in the final week of January, leading directly into the Salon des Vins de Loire (with its numerous off-events) and ending with Vinisud. Unfortunately, some winelovers have completed unrelated day jobs, meaning that choices have to be made. Last year I visited La Dive Bouteille, basically the first off-salon event, and this year I combined it with a visit to the actual Salon (yes, people still go there) as well as Renaissance (formerly Renaissance des Appelations). Even when spending four days in Angers, this still meant that I had to skip Pénitents (Thierry Puzelat and René Mosse inviting friends) and Les Anonymes.

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Week 34 – Goisot, La Ronce 2012

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Today’s a first for The Wine Analyst, as I return to a producer who will be familiar to those who keep track of my weekly reviews. The goal of these articles is to present different wines, not too often with a link or common element, but nearly always to show how diverse wine can be. It speaks to the credit of this week’s winemaker that, even taking into consideration the fact that it is a small estate, the range of wines is astonishing and packed with different identities. Guilhem and Jean-Hugues Goisot playea defining role in putting the lesser known appelations of Auxerre on the map. I already introduced their Saint-Bris earlier this year; today I turn the spotlight on what they offer in red.

Moving up in the appelations that may ring a bell with a general public, Côtes d’Auxerre is located on the right bank of the Yonne, whereas Coulanges la Vineuse was on the left bank, more to the south. It is slightly larger, covering about 200ha but when it comes down to red, vineyards are planted on pretty much the same area as ClV. Wines from Côtes d’Auxerre are capable of a more elegant, different kind of complexity as soils here are a mix of marl and Portlandian, which contains less chalk and fossils than the famous Kimmeridgian terroir of Chablis.

Goisot currently owns about 30 hectares across various appelations, and certain parcels get the single vineyard treatment. One of them is today’s La Ronce 2012. From the get-go there is an astonishing difference in colour, brilliant and not as hazy as last week’s Vini Viti Vinci. There is a reductive touch on the nose that only really disappears on day two in favor of cherries, wild flowers and a rather distinct toasty touch. If I had not known what I had in my glass, I would have been tempted to place it in Germany as this is often something that comes back in young Spätburgunder. Floral aromas on the palate nicely complement the fruit and while tannins present can benefit from aging, the wine as a whole comes across incredibly balanced. There is lovely depth in the finish that you would be hard pressed to find in some of the more famous and at the very least more expensive Burgundian appelations!

Other Burgundy wines talked about: 

Week 33 – Vini Viti Vinci, Grôle Tête 2014

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Last week’s Jura region may not be widely known among the general public, today’s region has in all likelihood not popped up on the radar of your average winelover. Not even Jancis Robinson has a tasting note on this region in her database! To be fair, Coulanges la Vineuse is a tiny appellation that has the misfortune of specializing in pinot noir (as you would you expect in Burgundy) but in a region not remotely associated with red wines: Auxerre. ClV is so small that even on their own website the appellation first mentions the vineyards of Auxerre at 1300ha, before hiding the fact that they only cover 135ha of this themselves.

Nicolas Vauthier ran a renowned winebar specializing in natural wines until he decided to pack up his bags to start a new life as négociant Vini Viti Vinci in the north of Burgundy, focusing on little known appelations. He does not own all vineyards himself but sources grapes from those who work organically or biodynamical, taking full control at harvest. He has only really been making wine for a couple of years with patchy results (according to the merchant where I bought the bottle) as he tries to work as natural as possible with little to no sulphur added.

All his wines have cartoon labels, some more appropriate for the general public than others! Grôle Tête 2014 is one of a few wines produced under the ClV appelation, even though some vintages are sold as Vin de France. The immediate impression you get when popping the cork, is Kriek Lambic. If I had not opened the bottle myself, I would have easily confused it for beer! The colour is not what you would expect of pinot noir, non-filtered but light, almost pinkish red. On the palate it is surprisingly structured though, a lovely acidity with a hint of tannins towards the finish. There is a tiny element of greenness at the end but overall this is the perfect example of a vin de soif, the type of bottle that is empty before you even realize it. I have to admit that it is difficult to judge. It is no way pinot noir, not even wine if you judge it purely on the nose, but it is delicious. Is it not that what counts?

Other Burgundy wines talked about: 

Week 32 – Domaine de Saint Pierre, Les Gaudrettes 2014

IMG_3008When talking about pinot noir in France, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who links it to another region besides Burgundy. Granted, it is nigh unbeatable reputation-wise, as the recent auction at Hospice de Beaune proved with a whopping 39% price increase versus last year. Nonetheless, other regions are perfectly capable of producing unique pinot noir. For instance, Jura wines may not be the easiest, are from time to time hijacked by hipsters and enjoy sudden bursts of popularity on the sommelier scene, but on plenty of occasions they are utterly delicious.

The Jura is only a stone’s throw away from the heart of Burgundy so comparisons are unavoidable. Winemakers used to be quite self-conscious, preferring to use pinot noir as a blending component and operating under the assumption that they could not compete with the Cote d’Or. They are increasingly confident in the region’s own sense of an identity however, and monovarietal wines are on the rise.

The Jura has become popular in recent years in part because the region is a hotbed of natural winemaking. Big names like Ganevat or Overnoy only seem to exist on social media these days but they have laid the path for plenty of winemakers held in high esteem. One of these is Domaine de Saint Pierre, taken over by Fabrice Dodane, the estate’s winemaker for 20+ years, following the death of its founder in 2011. Fabrice was the driving force behind the estate’s expansion to six hectares, as well as the conversion to organic winemaking in 2008.

Les Gaudrettes 2014 is a young wine and is intended to be drunk as such. It is made with carbonic fermentation, in which unpressed grapes are put in a sealed tank filled with carbon dioxide. Without oxygen present, the fermentation process will start inside the grape, and the result is a fruit-driven wine, showing redcurrants and a hint of raspberry (on day 2) in the nose. Juicy and crisp in the mouth, almost too one-sidedly fruity until you get a tangy, mineral streak in the finish. It is a thirst-quencher, charming in its forwardness offering easy drinking pleasure. Open it a couple of hours earlier, serve it a bit cooler than usual and in a large Burgundy glass for maximum enjoyment!

Week 29 – Claire Naudin, Orchis Mascula 2009

IMG_2783When the topic of Burgundy pops up in a conversation, focus will more often than not be on the villages of the Côte d’Or and their lieu-dits, premiers crus and grand crus. Nonetheless, excellent value can be found on other appellation levels as well, sometimes even moreso than in overly hyped crus. Don’t forget, grand and premier crus only make up about a tenth of the entire Burgundy wine production and it is really the regional appellation level that is most important to overall output. For instance, the Hautes Côtes surrounding the Côte d’Or are in my opinion not always given the credit that they deserve. Altitude is the most important differentiating factor as the name implies; full ripening, and thus the harvest, generally takes place later than in the Côte d’Or, even though global warming has made this less of an issue in recent years.

During our Burgundian trip in April we had lunch at Claire Naudin’s place. Unfortunately our strict schedule only left us with enough time for a bite to eat and a quick but interesting tasting of some of the wines that she had on offer, so I did not really get a chance at a proper introduction. I tracked down the Belgian importer a while back and was able to procure a couple of her wines from older vintages to enjoy. Claire tries to work as natural as possible focusing on sustainable viticulture, while intervention in the vinification process is kept to a minimum but not refused by default. For instance, she does not add any sulfur to the wine until the bottling stage, allowing a vibrant retention of the color in her red wines while ensuring stability, not unimportant if you want to ship your wine across the world!

Orchis Mascula 2009 is a blend of three different high quality parcels in the Côtes de Beaune. Like I often find with natural wines, aeration is key to lure the wine out of hiding. After some time in the glass a heady floral perfume arises with little red berries, raspberries and rose buds in the background. A medium intense start, but a deep and intense sensation on the palate with tannins present but well integrated, slightly dominated by the juicy acidity that takes over towards the end. It is a subtle, elegant wine that takes a bit of time to show what it is capable of, but the depth and intensity of its flavours, especially in the finish are magnificent!

Other Burgundy wines talked about: 

A discovery of sweet wines

Berry Brothers wine list, credit to German fine winesYou cannot get a full picture of German Riesling without talking about the country’s tradition in sweet wines. At one point in time they ranked amongst the most expensive wines in the world, even beating a couple of Médoc First Growths. Unfortunately, they took a turn for the worse in the eighties. ‘liebfraumilch’ is largely to blame for the image of sweet German wines that still persists in many parts of the world. Continue reading

On the (un)-importance of vintages

The Bordeaux en primeur campaign has come and gone as it does every year, resulting in the usual commentaries, analyses and articles being spawned. What always strikes me is the emphasis placed on the vintage assessment, more so here than in any other part of the world it sometimes seems. In fact, the general public tends to extrapolate the verdict of the 2014 Bordeaux vintage to France, or even the whole world. Continue reading

The historical value (or lack thereof) of wine

For a recent column in Decanter Jane Anson interviewed Michel-Jack Chasseuil, one of the greatest wine collectors in the world. I had come across his name before, namely while browsing through his book  ‘100 vintage treasure from the world’s finest wine cellar’. Chasseuil is an obsessive collector and the proud owner of some of the rarest and supposedly greatest wines in the world. Continue reading

An overdue reflection on red Burgundy

So, I have kind of used up all possible excuses to postpone writing about Burgundian pinot noir, bar a sudden and inexplicable allergy for the variety. It’s a though one as Burgundy does have some of the greatest, most moving red wines out there which are unfortunately either way too expensive, or hidden in a cesspool of mediocre wines that would have been better off as vinegar (and even then they are sold at prices that would make other regions blush). Continue reading

A reflection on white Burgundy

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been breaking my head about what I can write on Burgundy. All the years that I have been drinking Burgundian wines in a less structured manner, as well as a four-day visit do not exactly entitle me to an informed opinion. At the same time a first visit allowed me to confirm or reject thoughts and assumptions that had been turning in my head for a while. Continue reading

Biodynamic conversion in practice – Francis Boulard

Biodynamic or natural viticulture is a challenge in the Champagne. In my first post on the topic I mentioned that the focus with most growers lies on securing yield, ensuring that nothing happens endangers the amount of grapes you get at harvest. As most growers are dependent on either the grands marques or the cooperatives, you can imagine the impact of the loss of a crop on their finances. Continue reading

Natural winemaking in the Champagne

Fair warning – This may be a bit too much on the technical side for some readers, but stick around and learn something! Biodynamics and natural winemaking are hot topics in the wineworld. You may have noticed a commonality in most of the domains discussed since I started this blog and I have to admit that, though I may not be completely convinced by the gospel preached by the natural wine movement, I do have a great interest in what they are saying. Continue reading

Terroir geekery at Laherte Frères

Success in the Champagne is dependent on different factors. The Grands Marques have the luxury of being able to source their still wines from the entire region and have as such a large supply source, enabling them to create consistent and balanced champagnes over the years. Vignerons who are lucky enough to own land in villages with Grand Cru status can have it easier than others as the labelling alone will often allow them to command a premium price. Continue reading

Champagne – A state of affairs

One of the first wine regions that thoroughly fascinated me was Champagne. This is not a coincidence as it is the closest international wine region from Brussels (sadly, Limburg or the Westhoek are as of yet not recognized as global centers of quality wine) and Belgians are possibly the largest consumer group of champagne (all the wine that Belgians buy on a quick trip to the region is not included in most market research). Continue reading