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:

carlo-rossi-chablis_1

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

 

 

Morgon AOC

I tasted my first Beaujolais Cru while in my French Wine Scholar class a few years ago.  As a Pinot Noir fan, especially the earthy/dirty/funky kind, these Crus were right up my alley. I was smitten!

Morgon

They’re complex and interesting – and generally won’t break the bank. Depending on the specific Cru, flavors can range from peach, apricot and flowers, to spice and meaty undertones.  And these wines are drinkable year-round.  Delicious, and can even take a slight chill during the toasty summer months, and downright perfect for the upcoming holiday season.  Beaujolais Crus are excellent “default wines” that can go with everything from an outdoor BBQ to a Thanksgiving table.

The only issue I have with them is that they’re somewhat challenging to find. Although, with the recent support and buzz from sommeliers, that might (hopefully) be changing soon.

Each of the ten Crus has its own personality – Fleurie is aromatic and floral, Moulin-a-Vent is usually fuller bodied and age-worthy, while Morgon tends have ripe cherry fruit flavors and silky tannins.  And it’s my favorite of the Crus 🙂 which is why I started my Beaujolais section with it – here’s the outline for Morgon.