“And the Oscar Goes to”: Wine Masters Documentary

I’m a sucker for wine movies.  Fact or fiction, drama or documentary – if it’s even remotely related to the world of wine, sign me up.  However, even though I will watch most anything about wine – I’ll also know within ten minutes whether I’m going to keep watching it . . .

So when a few minutes into my first episode Marcel Guigal talked about how his father, winery founder Etienne, saw his family’s future on the steep hillsides of Côte-Rôtie, I knew that I was all-in on Wine Masters.  Wine Masters is a cinematic documentary series that aims to tell “the stories about terroir, taste and tradition through the experience of some of the most prestigious wine producing families from each wine region.”  Currently shooting their second season in Italy, with Spain already chosen for the third season, the producers plan to shoot a total of seven seasons for the series (fingers crossed for a Pacific Northwest season!)

The producer of Wine Masters, Klaas de Jong, provided me with a complimentary screening link to watch the first season of the series in exchange for an independent and honest review.  My thoughts are as follows (spoiler alert: I enjoyed the series so much that I ended purchasing it so I could watch in the future when my temporary link expired!).

The first season of Wine Masters covers five different wine regions in France: the Rhône, Loire, Alsace, Burgundy and Bordeaux.  In each episode, a local wine producing family is featured who share their winemaking stories – including their family’s history, plans for the future, unique styles of wine and challenges faced.  The series does an excellent job of taking wine regions that are rather intimidating (Burgundy and Bordeaux – I’m looking right at you two) and making them more approachable through these winemaking families. These are very recognizable names like Guigal, Trimbach and Drouhin.  Families who truly ARE Wine Masters.

Although each family is unique, a major overarching theme is the relationship between the generations and the passing of the baton from one to another.  This was probably my favorite part of the series – the interaction (and sometimes subtle conflict) between the traditional/formal older generation and the more experimental/innovative younger one.  While the younger generation is focused on issues like internet sales and online presence, the older concentrates on – as Bordeaux winemaker Hubert de Boüard de Laforest so eloquently puts it – “keeping the soul” of the winery.

One of the great things about Wine Masters is that in order to enjoy the series you don’t need to know anything about wine.  This is thanks in large part to two very important supporting roles featuring Tim Atkin and Jeannie Cho Lee. In fact, since this IS Oscar season, let’s just go ahead and give these two – and others – their awards…

Outwines Oscars

Live! From the Red Carpet – Outwines is proud to present the Wine Masters Oscars! 

Best Supporting Roles.

In addition to the winemaking families, two Masters of Wine are present in each episode to help guide the viewer along the way: Tim Atkin and Jeannie Cho Lee.

These two MWs help set the scene of each region by discussing its location, varieties grown, climate, food pairing (particularly interesting in the Alsace episode!) and more.  They also add various anecdotes throughout the series – my favorite being that Napoleon’s troops used to salute Le Montrachet when they went by the famed vineyard (who knew?!).

Tim and Jeannie’s commentary not only make the regions come to life a bit more, but they also explain concepts on a level that even a relative wine newbie can understand (Hubs can attest to this!).  From the myriad of soil types in Sancerre to the rather confusing sweetness levels of Alsatian Riesling,  the MWs do an excellent job of analyzing these issues in plain English.

Technical Awards.

The cinematography was absolutely gorgeous throughout the series.  I’ve only been to two of the five regions (Rhône & Burgundy), and the scenes very much reminded me of being there – particularly Côte-Rôtie. And for the three regions I’ve yet to visit, the producers did a VERY good job of making me want to go there.

Guigal vineyards
I stood right in front of Guigal’s vineyards in 2016!

The score was beautifully done as well.  For the majority of the series, it was a lovely, melodious part of the background.  Except for that one cooperage scene at Guigal – have your volume button on the remote handy for that one.

And now for some other Awards  . . . and yes, I realize these sound more like High School favorites than film categories:

Best dressed.  Marcel Guigal is the consummate gentleman.  Especially with his jaunty beret and suit jacket traipsing through his vineyards alongside his more casually dressed son, Philippe, who was sporting a Seattle Mariners baseball hat.  Which of course gets major props from this Washington native! 🙂

Best line.  Hubert de Boüard de Laforest on why Cabernet Franc makes up such a large percentage of their blends: “it makes your mind more happy.”

Most Athletic.  The entire Bourgeois Family.  There’s a scene where they’re tasting and evaluating their wines – and their beautifully accurate projectile spitting was flat-out impressive.  I still have to have a cup literally RIGHT in front of me, and even then there’s the occasional dribble.

Best Foreign Language.  Many of the older generation.  So unless you’re fluent in French, make sure to have your subtitles turned on so you understand what they’re saying (something I unfortunately figured out once I was well into my first episode).

Most Likely to Succeed.  Anne Trimbach.  Well aware of the challenges that Riesling has on markets due to lack of clarity as to how sweet the wine will be, Anne discusses implementing a “sweetness scale” on Trimbach bottles in the future.  Something like this will definitely help consumers embrace this often misunderstood variety.

Best Scene. Family dinner with the Drouhins where they open their bottling of a 1978 Grands Échezeaux.  Seeing some of the family member’s expressions of pure delight after sipping this wine is . . . well, delightful. They’re sharing a simple meal of cheese and bread with a bottle of wine that would cost well over $1,000 in today’s market.  Just enjoying an afternoon and each other’s company – and isn’t that what wine should be all about?

I’m already looking forward to seeing what Wine Masters has in store for their second season in Italy.  If you’re a fan of wine (if you’re reading this blog, I’m assuming the answer is yes!) – check out the Wine Masters documentary series.  To conclude, in the spirt of Sally Field on her Best Actress acceptance speech: you’ll like it, you’ll really like it!













The Vintner Project Article – Vincent Carême: A Champion for Chenin

I recently had the opportunity to write another piece for The Vintner Project – a collaborative effort of wine writers from around the world who focus on the stories of wineries, and the people behind them.

As mentioned in my previous post about Chenin Blanc, winemakers Vincent and Tania Carême are incredibly passionate about this grape – splitting time between their estates in the Loire Valley and South Africa . . . which basically means working year-round!

Vincent Carême: A Champion for Chenin

Please click through the link above to read the article at The Vintner Project and learn more about the Carêmes as well as the many differences between their two chosen growing regions.  Hopefully, some of their enthusiasm for Chenin Blanc will rub off on you . . . I know it did for me!

Tania and Vincent

Vosne Romanee: It Hurt Just a Little

Anyone who has read Bianca Bosker’s “Cork Dork” is undoubtedly familiar with La Paulée.  Or at least, the New York City version of it.  Bosker dedicates almost an entire chapter in her book to “The Orgy” – the nickname she gives to Paulée.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m a member of the La Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin (aka, the “Chevaliers”), and thus far have attended a grand total of two Paulée.  However, neither have reached anywhere near the level of debauchery that she describes – whether this is fortunate or unfortunate, my jury is still out.

Chevaliers initiation
September 2017 at the Seattle Chevaliers induction dinner

After moving earlier this year, I looked into transferring from the Seattle Chevaliers to a local Southern California chapter.  And luckily, I found a wonderful group not too far from where we lived.

The first SoCal Chevaliers event I attended was Paulée, which I attended solo as Hubs was out of town.  Paulée was traditionally a celebration in Burgundy where Cistercian monks invited their vineyard laborers to a banquet event to culminate the end of harvest.  The modern day Chevaliers’ version is a grand dinner party where guests bring a bottle (or two) from their cellars to share with other members.  Both Paulée I have attended have been hosted in beautiful stately homes, served with delicious Burgundian-inspired cuisine and fabulous once-in-a-lifetime bottles of wine.

As Bosker says in her book: “The golden rule of La Paulée was bring the best you can bring. Whether you’re a hedge fund CEO or an unemployed journalist, it should hurt just a little.”  I’m not going to disclose the amount spent on my bottle for Paulée, mainly because it would be in poor taste.  But also because Hubs edits my posts. 😉  Suffice it to say, it did hurt a little.

My wine was a 1998 Domaine Méo Camuzet Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru ‘Aux Brulées’.  Purchasing a grand cru probably would’ve meant Hubs leaving me, so I opted for premier cru instead – but made sure it was from a top producer.  Plus, founder Étienne Camuzet previously owned the Château du Clos de Vougeot – and was responsible for getting it into the hands of the Confrérie – so that was a fun bit of trivia to share along with the wine.  While my bottle was far from being the most prestigious at Paulée, I am pleased to report that I at least held my own.

Vosne Romanee map

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos of the extraordinary bottles at  Paulée.  Not because I didn’t want to (believe me!) – but because nobody else did.  And I certainly wasn’t going to be “that person” – especially at my first event at the new chapter.  I do wonder about this though . . . are the other members not as impressed with these wines as I am? Is drinking Corton-Charlemagne a regular occurrence for them? Or, since most of the attendees were of a different generation than me, do they just not have the incessant need to document every single wine that they drink on social media?  I’m guessing its the latter.  And there’s something to be said for that.



A lack of accompanying photographs notwithstanding, here are some of the highlight bottles from the event…

1990 Joseph Drouhin Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru ‘Les Amoureuses’.  This was served in a magnum and was simply gorgeous in all its gossamer goodness.

1966 Nuits-Saint-Georges – from a producer I was unfamiliar with and now cannot remember. :-/   This reminds me of a quote from Bosker’s book when she refers to her evening at Paulée: “I tasted my favorite wine of the night and I had no idea what it was.” Lesson learned for me though, next time I’ll rush to the loo and write the name down.

1972 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti.  This wine would cross off two Biggies on my wine bucket list: a DRC itself, and my first birthyear wine. I say “would” cross off because even though I had a small glass of this wine at Paulée- I’m conflicted because the bottle was missing its label.

Now, I’m absolutely certain that the member who purchased it did so at a reputable auction.  Because after master counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan – due diligence has to increase exponentially when it comes to these wines.  Since I’ve never had DRC, I have nothing to compare this wine to, but it truly was beautiful. Layered, complex, earthy and still lively (us ’72s are still kicking!)

However . . . I’m a bit cynical.  And a wine professing to be DRC, but without a label, gives me pause.  So, I’m leaving these boxes on my wine bucket list unchecked.  I’ll get to them someday – even though I know when I do, it will hurt A LOT. 😉

(For those interested – I just put up my outline on Vosne-Romanée. Mind you, this is broad overview of the area. Entire books have been dedicated to this village if you’d like something more in depth).


Chenin Blanc: Overlooked and Underappreciated in the Wine World

There are several significant milestones in a wine blogger’s early life:  The first time you hit the “publish” button and put your thoughts – and yourself – out there to the world.  The day you get a follower who isn’t a personal friend, or someone you’re related to. And then there’s the day you receive your first wine samples to review.  One year into my blogging adventure I have officially hit this particular milestone – and let me just say, it was worth the wait.

Tania and Vincent
Tania & Vincent Carême (photo credit: Cape Classics)

As one of their contributors, I’d been asked by The Vintner Project to write a piece on Vincent Carême and his wife, Tania – winemakers in both the Loire Valley and South Africa.  So, while I require a nap on most days, these two are busily making wine in two different hemispheres!  The primary focus of  their production in both regions is Chenin Blanc.  Now, I’m not overly familiar with Chenin Blanc – and while I don’t actively avoid it, I also don’t necessarily seek it out either.  Unfortunately, the majority of what I have had has been either underwhelming as a whole, or overwhelmingly full of that classic wet wool aroma that you can get in Loire Chenin Blancs.  (Which isn’t an altogether unpleasant aroma – but one that I’d usually prefer in my winter sweaters as opposed to my wine glass.)

So before I cracked open my samples, I did a little background research on Chenin Blanc with the hopes that I could understand (and appreciate) more of what I was tasting.

Chenin Blanc – The Grape.

Chenin Blanc originated in the Anjou region of France – which is located in the central portion of the Loire Valley.  The grape might have been cultivated as early as 845 A.D. – although the words “Chenin Blanc” don’t appear in print until 1534.  Today, France has just under 25,000 acres devoted to the grape.  And down in South Africa – it’s THE most planted variety at 46,000 acres. Chenin is also grown in Argentina, my beloved Washington state, as well as California.

Chenin Blanc is incredibly versatile and used to produce a wide range of wines from still, to sparkling (i.e. Crémant de Loire), to lusciously sweet wines (i.e. Quarts de Chaume) and even some fortified wines, particularly in South Africa.  As a still wine, Chenin is often quite high in acidity with aromas and flavors of citrus (tangerines, lemons), green or golden apples and honeysuckle . . . which is right in my wheelhouse of wines.  So, I have to ask myself: why aren’t I drinking more of this stuff??!  Chenin Blanc Unit 2

Unlike ubiquitous Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, Chenin Blanc isn’t very prevalent on restaurant wines lists or on wine store shelves.  It also isn’t a trendy grape like Assyrtiko or Grüner Veltliner (although it IS a helluva lot easier to pronounce!)  I mean – my WSET Unit 2 textbook even specifies that one of Chenin Blanc’s negative attributes is that it’s unfashionable! The fact is – I don’t drink a lot of Chenin Blanc because I don’t THINK about it.  It’s out of sight out of mind.  But a good producer can change all that . . .

Chenin Blanc – The Wines.

Onto the samples . . . and as always, all opinions and thoughts are my own…

Terre Brûlée 2017 ‘Le Blanc’ Chenin Blanc, Swartland, South Africa. (13% abv)

  • Color: Pale lemon-gold
  • Aromas: Yellow apple, Meyer Lemon, faint honeysuckle, minerality (wet stone), there’s some herbal notes in here too
  • Palate: Medium- body, high acidity.  More tart on the palate than expected with additional flavors of green apple and unripe pear.
  • My Thoughts: Super-refreshing, crisp wine.  The acid is definitely at the forefront and while I like (and actually gravitate towards) acid bombs, it might be a wee bit much for some people.  If that’s the case – I’d recommend balancing it out by pairing with a light salad dressed with a snappy vinaigrette.
  • Technical Bits: The Terre Brûlée estate was established by Vincent and Tania in 2013.  Located about an hour north of Cape Town, the soils here are mostly shale and granite.  Grapes are hand harvested and whole bunch pressed.  Only natural, wild yeasts were used for fermentation.

Domain Vincent Carême 2017 ‘Spring’ Vouvray, Loire Valley, France. (13% abv)

  • Color: Pale lemon-gold
  • Aromas: Slightly riper yellow fruits on the nose with this one – apples and pears, white flowers, hints of cheese and white mushrooms
  • Palate: Medium body, medium+ acidity. Picked up flavors of honeysuckle and chamomile.  Riper palate and creamier texture than the ‘Le Blanc.’
  • My Thoughts: This wine was a little more complex to me than the first.  The acidity was less linear/searing, making the wine feel more in balance.
  • Technical Bits: Chenin grapes for ‘Spring’ are outsourced from growers who have worked with Vincent for years and who allow him to provide input and assistance throughout the year.  Soils from these vineyards range from clay to flint to limestone.  Like his South African Chenin, grapes are hand harvested and whole bunch pressed – and native yeast fermentation is used here as well.

Domaine Vincent Carême 2015 ‘Le Clos’ Vouvray, Loire Valley, France. (13.5% abv)

  • Color: Medium- lemon-gold
  • Aromas: Yellow apple (yet again!), honeysuckle, soft cheese, white mushroom and a slightly nutty quality
  • Palate: Medium body, medium+ acidity.  Long-ass finish.  Creamy texture here as well.  Flavors all over the board here with some tangerine, orange blossom, apricot and the beginnings of something marmalade-like.
  • My Thoughts: This wine is freakin’ delicious.  I love a wine that I can keep going back to and find something different on the nose or a different flavor.  The first night I had this wine without food, the second I paired with a chicken/mozzarella pasta – it was awesome both times.
  • Technical Bits: ‘Le Clos’ is a single vineyard wine from 50-70 year old bush trellised vines.  ‘Le Clos’ translates to “enclosed vineyard” and this six acre property is indeed enclosed by an ancient stone wall.  Soil here is the famous tuffeau – a chalky, fine grained type of limestone found only in the Loire Valley.  As with the other Chenins, the grapes here were also hand harvested and whole bunch pressed.  Native yeast fermentation was carried out partially in clay amphora followed by 12 months lees aging.

Careme wines

Overall, I was incredibly impressed with these samples and will seek out more Chenin Blanc at my favorite local wine store.  If any of these wines sound interesting to you – please visit Cape Classics for information on distribution in your area.  (And that’s not a paid advertisement – I just really liked their wines!) 🙂

My article on Tania and Vincent for The Vintner Project is forthcoming and I will have a link HERE when it’s up and running! In the meantime, if you’d like more information – here’s my outline on Chenin Blanc.


Bandol AOC

I love this photo.  It’s such a juxtaposition of extremes: a bottle of rosé from an area in Southern France with 3,000+ hours of sunshine a year, nestled into several inches of Pacific Northwest snow.

Provence is world-renowned for its stunning beaches, fragrant fields of lavender, and some of the best rosé on the planet.  Not only is Provence France’s oldest winemaking region – it’s also the only region in the world to focus primarily on the production of rosé. And they do a pretty kickass job of it.

Rosés from Provence are often light, crisp, delicately fruity wines that are perfect for sipping away an idle afternoon. Bandol is a rosé dominant appellation located within the southern part of Provence, right up against the Mediterranean Sea. And Bandol rosés are nothing like your typical, pink porch-pounders.

For starters, Mourvèdre is the dominant grape in these wines – lending more savory, and sometimes meaty flavors.  Quite different from the usual floral and bright red fruit notes found in rosés where Grenache or Cinsault are the leading players.  Mourvèdre is a grape that loves the heat (it originated somewhere near the toasty Mediterranean coast of Spain) and the steamy vineyards of Bandol are a perfect environment for it to thrive.

Also, unlike the majority of Provence rosés that can be sipped with nothing more than your sandals, Bandol rosés have a degree of heft and complexity (and higher alcohol content) that make them almost need food in order to shine.  I’ve actually found that they can be overwhelming on their own, and enjoy them so much more when paired with the right food – which can range from a burger fresh off the BBQ to roasted chicken to ratatouille (a classic dish of the region focusing on vegetables – which probably explains why I’ve never made this myself). 😉

Like other rosés, it drinks best when well chilled.  So stick it in your fridge or a snowbank for a bit before enjoying. 🙂

And here’s the outline on Bandol!


Chablis AOC

One of the most memorable wines I’ve ever had was a bottle of Chablis with my Dad. I was 22, my Mom had just passed away, and he and I sat on my bedroom floor with a sleeve of saltines, a hunk of Tillamook cheddar, a bottle of Chablis and we went to town.

Oh yeah, and it was this kind of Chablis:


Note that I said this was a “memorable” wine, not one of my favorites. 🙂

I’ve obviously learned since then that this jug-juice was, in fact, NOT truly Chablis. It was a blend of various white grapes from somewhere in California.  True Chablis hails from the Northern edge of the Burgundy region in France and is made with 100% Chardonnay grapes.

Unfortunately, there are still some wines on the market labeled “Chablis” that have nothing to do with the actual Chablis region in France, or even with the Chardonnay grape.  Why is this??

Well . . . in 2006, an agreement between the United States and the European Community on Trade in Wine addressed the use of certain “Semi-Generic” designations on wine produced outside of the specific European country where the wine designation originated (i.e. terms such as “Chablis”, “Champagne” and “Port”).  The Agreement states that while no new wines may use these geographical terms incorrectly, wine brands that already use these terms are “grandfathered in” and are allowed to continue this (IMO) misleading, butchering use of the geographical term.

Unlike the jug-juice, true Chablis has been crafted and perfected over thousands of years – since the Romans introduced vines to the region.  The area has survived two major World Wars (heavy bombardment destroyed many vineyards), the phylloxera epidemic and numerous winter freezes.  In fact, the entire 1957 Chablis vintage was wiped out due to frigid weather.

Chablis is grown on specific soils that exist only in certain, small pockets of Europe that were formed over 150 million years ago. It’s this soil, and the region’s northerly location and climate, that give Chablis its unique characteristics and make this Chardonnay taste unlike anything else in the world: electric and racy, full of minerality and flintiness, with citrus and salinity.

Chablis has earned its name, and the use of it by any other type of wine is complete misappropriation – even though it’s technically “legal.” :-/ I’ll get off my soapbox now, and send you to the outline on Chablis.

Oh, and I’ve made plans with my Dad to share a bottle of 2014 Montée de Tonnerre next time I see him . . . he’s 86 years old now, so every bottle with him is memorable. 🙂Dad