Apologies to the Wayward Wine army. Moving and panicking into our first house has led to a lull in drinking and thus posts.  Although we managed to celebrate with Champagne. Normal operations and sanity shall resume with Thirsty Thursday’s post.


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Thirsty Thursday: Carmenere, Lapostolle, Casa Grand Selection, Rapel Valley, Chile, 2011

This Thirsty Thursday travels to South America (figuratively) while keeping a firm toe in France.

Back in 1994 Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle started buying vineyards in Chile. She could thanks to her middle name, Marnier. Yes, that Grand Marnier. Being the great granddaughter of the world’s most famed liquor helped, but Alexandra had greater ambitions.

Alexandra Marnier LapostolleShe brought modernity to Chile with Vistalys optical berry selectors, cold transport, and stainless tanks. But she also steer-headed vineyards towards biodynamic farming, wild yeast ferments, and French oak aging.  Hell, even the bottles are 15% lighter and of 60-70% recycled glass.

Today’s wine honors the French grape that Chile saved from oblivion: Carmenère.  Like Carmen Sandiego, Carmenère had disappeared (even though she wore the most blatant red trench coat and wide-brimmed hat? Seriously childhood, didn’t you realize they were trying to teach you history?).

Where in the World is Carmen SandiegoBut unlike a stolen Eiffel Tower, Bordeaux once grew Carmenère in proliferation. Then a few rough harvests saw a massive vine pull in the last century. Carmenère was gone.

Luckily, DNA testing (also in 1994) found Carmenère thriving in Chile (once thought to be Merlot). Today’s offering comes from the Rapel Valley: a warm, dry, and massive region in the Central Valley. The wine is Lapostolle’s entry-level Casa Grand Selection 2011:

Lapostolle CarmenereAppearance: The color looks dark, inky, almost black, narrowly rimmed by red ruby.

Aromas: Complex but controlled aromas remind me of standing at a farm fence, covered in wild blackberries, sun-baked and crushing between fingers.

Wild blackberries Near FarmThe earth, barnyard, and animal musk are all there.

Palate: Dry. Dry. Dry. Acidity rings brightly. Tannins are ripe and round. The alcohol warms at 13%. The body feels fullish.

Flavors: Immediate and intense, the flavors carry the nose of wild blackberry and farm, while adding a clear, cracked white pepper and tobacco that run for a medium plus length.

Lapostolle’s Carmenère is all savor with just enough fruit to remind you that grapes were once involved.  This shows what wine can be: an elevation of grapes beyond their fruity origin.  It is very good quality (4 of 5), and certainly worth $15.  However, it has an extremely narrow window of utility: like an underwater Polaroid camera. This Carmenère begs for aged hard cheese (Manchego?), red sauce pasta, pork, or grilled anything, only then will its fruit shine.


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Thirsty Thursday: Chalone, Gavilan, Chardonnay, Chalone AVA, California 2012

Monday’s EU Austerity Drinking Tour post just reveled in Burgundy.  So let’s see if the US can come close.  This Thirsty Thursday, we drink Chalone’s Gavilan, Chardonnay, Chalone AVA CA 2012.

GavilanNow it seems selfish to get an AVA named after yourself, but then again, Chalone truly forged viticulture into this arid, 50 degree variant, limestone and calcium rich mountainous region of the Gavilan range. Even an 1890s Frenchie called Charles Tamm saw Burgundian parallels here.

Chalone birthed barrel-fermented and aged Chard to California, garnering top scores French alongside Chateau Montelena at ’76’s Judgement of Paris (please watch Bottle Shock).  Today’s bottle is a hand-harvested, approachable, ready brand extension (read value) for this esteemed estate. But does it hold up?

Appearance: It appears a pale but glows bright with a limpid lemon color.

Aromas: Expected browned butter and candied almond fade to reveal tart pear.

Palate: It is dry, snappy and tart, yet medium bodied and silken.

Flavors: Up front pear and melon fruitiness fade to dryness, lemon squeeze, and ashen minerality.

Conclusions: This wine sings a French falsetto, straining at cool, high elevations to create something seemingly Burgundian.  It is very good (4 of 5).  I blink and think I’m back in Beaune, grabbing a $15 Bourgogne Blanc and loving it with a chunk of cheese and baguette (or cream-sauced chicken fettuccine with a dash of lemon).

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Dijon Day 2: A Moses Well, Owl, Museum, Mustard, and Béjot Santenay Premier Cru, Clos Rousseau, Pinot Noir, Burgundy, France 2006

129 days of our EU Austerity Drinking Tour have led us to Burgundy, France.  I get a 50th wind and decide we need to wake up earlier to see more.  Although a thousand museums deep and over art-saturated, we visit Dijon’s Well of Moses:

Well of Moses DijonAround 1400, before the Renaissance had really woken Europe, Dutchman Sluter carved this to bury Philip the Bold.  Drama, emotion, and color.  My itchy pencil can’t help but sketch it.

Well of Moses Dijon DrawingWe swim back to Dijon through the rain.  After a disappointing but mildly familiar lunch at “My Wok”, we pick up fabulous pastries.  Tracy (somewhat inappropriately) touches Dijon’s owl (for luck) at Notre Dame:

Tracy Dijon OwlI am forbidden to post photos of her touching the salamander (for long life).

For reasons beyond us, Dijon’s other museums are free. So we hit up the Beaux-Arts, which has a Renn kitchen that would make Julia Child weep:

Musee des Beaux Arts KitchenWe secretly eat our pastries beneath that magnificent flue.

Claude Louot PastryAfter rooms filled only by us, art, and a school group, we head out to shop away the evening.  Even Christmas displays know we are in Burgundy:

Dijon ChristmasInspired, we buy a moderately festive 2 euro plastic tree from China.  And then, Dijon’s other claim to food fame hits us:

Maille MustardFor once, we splurge on a $28 jar of chablis truffle mustard (which now, two years on, we are still enjoying).  Inspired by our spread-able extravagance, I open one of the most over-appellated (and thus priciest) wines on our trip:

Santenay Premier Cru BejotYes: Jean-Baptiste Béjot’s Santenay Premier Cru, Clos Rousseau, Grand Vin de Bourgogne, Appellation Santenay Premier Cru Controlee, Pinot Noir, Rouge, Produit du France 2006…and breathe!

The sheer number of fonts and font sizes makes my eyes cross.  So, south of us, just before Burgundy turns into the Maconnaise, lay the vineyards of Santenay.  This region may be derided, but one can touch the hem of single plot, Premier Cru Burgandy for around $25.

Beyond the loquacious label, in the glass, this 2006 Pinot retains its ruby core and honorable garnet framing.  It smells complex, if moderately intense, with a range of classic clove and chalk powder dusted on tart red cherry. A hint of wild musk and forest floor pervades.

The palate is taught, tart, dry, riven with vinous tannins, chalk dust, a medium body and no room for laziness.  Flavors are equally austere yet rustic: with bright red fruits playing off of wild game, chalk, and clove that last for a medium plus length.

We hate it.

We desperately need a filet mignon, or something wilder, something mushroom-laden, or slow-cooked pheasant at a street side restaurant with cigarettes infusing our experience.

But tonight, we bask in the green, plastic glow of our Chinese Christmas tree, in our no-star hotel.  A tram rattles by.  Neighbors babble through paper walls.  Yet, with a hand-crafted, state-subsidized baguette lathered in local, funky, melty, Epoisses cheese, Béjot’s Santenay works.  Here, it is very good (4 of 5).

A wine like this needs context.  In a vacuum, everything sucks, especially in this case.  But tonight this rustic red, the shambling hotel, and pungent cheese work.

More Burgundy Next Monday!




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Thirsty Thursday: Fiano, Castello Monaci, Acante, Salento, IT 2011

After last week’s Garnacha Blanca review, we delve into increasingly obscure depths this Thirsty Thursday.  Fiano is our grape of choice.

fianoToday’s example comes not from the vine’s famed Campania but further southeast in Salento: Italy’s sun-bleached heal-tip:

salentoIt is unbearably hot, flat, and dry here. That heat produces nearly half of Italy’s olives. Next, hot climate red grapes Primitivo and Negroamaro comprise equal thirds of wine production.  Whites barely register.  But Fiano keeps a heal-hold.

Castello Monaci, under over a century of family ownership, has 350 acres of vines, with each vineyard vinified separately.  Today’s is called “Acante”.  Desperate night harvests avoid Salento’s mid-day sun stroke. Fermentation shifts to neutral acacia barrels with skins, followed by sur-lie aging on skins to provide extra heft. Let’s try 2011:

Castello Monaci Fiano salento Italy 2011Appearance: Clear, medium, bright lemon with gold highlights.

Aromas: Buckets and buckets of gold, twisting beeswax, kiwi and green melon, linseed oil, birch, salt.

Palate: Dry but ripely fruity, with moderate acidity and alcohol (only 12.5%), followed by a gorgeous, viognier-fat body.

Flavors: That bouquet of beeswax remains, but really bold yet sunny, round, honeyed melon and pineapple juice are on show here. A little driftwood and seaside minerality closes a medium plus finish.

Conclusions: Monaci’s Fiano is solidly good, round, yet refreshing stuff (3 of 5), especially under $15. Seafood, risotto, young cheese, greek salad, or simply itself will cool any brow.

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