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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Dijon: Cremant de Bourgogne

No more messing around.  No more obscure regions like Bugey or Jura as posted last Monday.  It’s high time this EU Austerity Drinking Tour got serious.  It’s time for Burgundy, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay.

EU map New York to Dijon Day 129Before leaving Lyon and the Rhône behind, in celebration, we crack a sparkling Burgundy. Crémant de Bourgogne is like Champagne (similar grapes, methods, etc) but made in Burgundy and usually of fantastic value.

This €8.60 value comes from André Delorme, Blanc de Blancs, Brut, Crémant de Bourgogne, France, NV

Delorme BdB Cremant BourgogneAppearance: A clear, mild, lemon color races with rapid med minus sized bubbles. Ar0mas: simple, straight aromas of lemon meringue tart appear. Palate: this is dry, with medium plus acid, med alcohol of 12%, and lightish body. Flavors: it tastes of well-cornered but not sharply fresh lemon juice and rind, sea salt, bit of unbaked bread dough at finish. Med length.

This Crémant de Bourgogne is fine, perfectly functional bubbles (3 of 5).  It previews the light, taught, high-toned wines of Burgundy.  Any remnant of warm weather sheds itself here (especially compared to the soft Crémant de Bordeaux we had in Bordeaux forty days ago). But this lacks the clarity, precision, and complexity of greatness: the cost of an Austerity Drinking Tour.

No matter! To Dijon!

Impressive Chateaux with impressive vineyards fly past our train.

Burgundy CastlesClearly, this makes me miserable: 10599416_10152451869628411_1144754831163425118_nWe leave bags in our no star hotel and hit the cobbles.  We see no tourists, hell no person, as we zig and zag past medieval and renaissance UNESCO sites.

Dijon Rennaissance HomesThe wine and mustard business has been good to Dijon.  Every era of construction flaunts wealth.

Dijon ApartementsThe many fabulous medieval churches flank each other, nearly piled on top homes throughout the city.

Dijon MedievalSince it is off season, and the archaeological museum is only open today, we go.  Placed in a former monastery, we descend into the vaults of the High Medieval gallery:

Dijon Archaeological Museum Yes, this is an art museum. We find ceiling fragments that depict hellish punishments for those who drink too much vino:

Too much wine DijonVine-licious? But far underground, past displays of phallic charms and creepy poles-with-heads-on-them  grave markers we find one of our favorite Roman grave stele:

Roman Dijon Wine Seller The wine seller.  This working class Roman ran a gravity-fed wine growler filling station.  What better way to be remembered?  Even better, the museum made a life size mock up of it:

ROman Dijon Mock Up

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Thirsty Thursday: Pre Labor Day White Garnacha Blanco Vina del Vero

This Thirsty Thursday we need something interesting.  Labor Day will come and we will drink cheap beer.  The last thing we need on Labor Day is a conversion about grape clonal types.  It is a day to eat, drink, and not think.

Group Of Friends Enjoying Barbeque On Beach TogetherBut until the brainwashing, let’s test that gray matter with something familiar but not: Grenache.  Now Grenache has starred in award winning red roles such as: Châteauneuf du Pape, Rhône, Rioja, Priorat, anything big red and Languedoc, and rosé from Provence.

And then there’s Grenache Blanc: a mutation of Grenache Noir, much as Pinot Noir mutated into Blanc and Gris.  Like Grenache Noir, Blanc grows vigorously throughout the Western Mediterranean, producing large, thin-skinned grapes that can reach high alcohols.

Today we find it in Somontano DO: an appellation high in the foothills below the Pyrenees and East of Rioja:

Somontano Map Wine These high hills mean colder nights, which should keep Grenache’s tendency toward flabbiness and low acids in check.

The producer is Viñas del Vero, which sounds like some pure, board room meeting, demographics-tested, genius (like Blue Sky Thinking or Gogurt), but they are real, really.  They own 700 hectares and a real winery: San Marcos estate.  One of their vineyards is solely dedicated to Garnacha Blanco: La Miranda de Secactella. And this is what their 2012 tastes like:

La Miranda de SecastellaLooks: clear, bright yellow like, lemon juice.

Aromas: Think of a medium intense mix of lemongrass, honeydew melon, and white pear that meshes with an exotic, but light, layer of chai tea with cream.

Palate: Dry, perfectly present balancing acidity, a ripe, fullish body, and actually hints of tannin.

Flavors: a ringing line of grassy, snappy, lemon-like greenness runs through this.  Around it layer soft white melon, those chai tea spices, and pear, all of which tighten into a salt-like minerality. Long.

Conclusions: Mouthwatering yet fat.  This reminds me of really good chardonnay from cool climates of the new world: crackling acidity that keeps a rich body in check, while a deft lacing of French oak melds both acid and body into one fairly harmonious whole: very good (4 out 5).  This could take on richer dishes, herbed white meats, grilling, cream sauces, fried things.  And it costs under $15.

So today, grab something new. Test that gray matter, while it still cares.  And then have a happy Labor Day.

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