It’s always a joy to have the winemakers of France come to Chicago, and particularly delightful to taste the wines of Bordeaux in our fair city. After their recent New York event, Somm’ Like It Bordeaux, Vins de Bordeaux held a tasting at The Herbarium at Bad Hunter that proved enlightening and enjoyable for industry experts and media.
As with many grape-growing lands, two rivers – River Garonne and Dordogne – flow through Bordeaux. One way to categorize their red wines is to note that those from the Left Banks tend to blend their local grapes with Merlot, while wines from the Right Banks tend to blend with Cabernet Sauvignon.
Bordeaux wines come from 65 different appellations, many of which you’ll recognize: Cotes de Bordeaux (“cotes” denotes hillsides that overlook the right banks of the Garonne and the Dordogne Rivers), Saint-Emillion, Pomerol & Fronsac, Medoc and Graves.
The Bordeaux region as a whole produces dry whites (11% of their production) that are fresh and vibrant with good natural acidity. Bordeaux sweet whites are made from grapes affected by botrytis. They’re medium- to full-bodied and are produced mainly in Sauternes and Barsac in the southern part of Bordeaux.
Below are a few of the many standouts at the tasting:
Armand de Brignac occupies a premier position among the many prestigious makers of French champagne. Owner Shawn Carter and Winemakers Alex and Jean-Jacques Cattier, freely admit their goal is simply to make the finest champagnes in the world, designed specifically with the luxury wine collector/investor in mind.
Winemaker Emilien Boutillat came to Chicago recently to introduce Armand de Brignac’s newest product, Blanc de Noirs Assemblage Two, made exclusively with Pinot Noir grapes. They also asked Chef Lee Wolen at Boka to create pairings for the new blend and several other offerings with a view to educating members of the trade and press about their line of fine champagnes.
All of Armand de Brignac’s offerings are non-vintage, said Boutillat, but rather are created as blends, often from three different vintage years. For the rosé champagne, they actually use a blend of white and red wines that yields an orangey-rose color with a very fine bubble that makes a delightful aperitif.
The blanc de blancs stood out strong and smooth and full of character, which may be why the first course paired it with an unusual fish called Striped Jack – also known asShima Aji, categorized in the Jackfish family. Served with a bit of seaweed and potato and flavored with lime, this dish was the least favorite dish I’ve ever had at Boka. The champagne, nevertheless, was delicious and stood up well to the somewhat strong taste and very firm texture of the fish.
The next champagne, Armand de Brignac’s Champagne Gold Brut – its flagship wine – was extraordinarily delicate and so beautifully blended that it felt almost ethereal on the nose and palate and in the mouth. It made a perfect accompaniment to the Chef’s incredibly moist-fleshed chicken breast, stuffed under the crispy skin with house-made chicken-leg-meat sausage. Served with a small pouf of super-fine puree of parsnips, the serving was generous, the dish attractive and satisfying, and the wine a lovely accompaniment.
The next wine, of which Armand de Brignac has only made 2333 bottles, was a truly unique taste in champagne. If felt a bit strange at first on the palate, until I tasted it with the imaginative creation of a tiny piece of lamb tenderloin beside a dollop of creamy, thick apricot sauce. The combination was directly on the money. In fact, I’ve never experienced such a strong feeling of “Oh, yeah, these work perfectly together!” as I did with this pairing. This particular wine, said Boutillat, is made with a blend from harvests of 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Dessert, an extraordinarily light combination of coconut and citrus and exotic tropical passionfruit with tapioca and elderflower, was perfectly paired with the world’s only semi-sweet champagne – Armand de Brignac took the plunge some years ago to create its own demi sec champagne, a task no other luxury champagne company has ever undertaken. By all accounts, and by the taste that so complemented this dessert, they are succeeding admirably.
Boutillat, the 30-year-old winemaker who has been with Armand de Brignac for four years, came around to answer questions about the various wines and tell stories about his experiences around the world before settling down with this high-profile family-owned and -operated winery. His experience is multinational and his passion quite obvious. When asked about his comparative youth, Boutillat explained that senior owner Jean-Jacques Cattier likes to hire young people for the energy and the imagination they bring to further inspire the making of their great champagnes. Judging by the lovely champagnes at this event, luxury collectors everywhere can rejoice.
Another way is to identify an importer that you trust. And it’s good, too, if that importer can also direct you to locations where you can buy the wines they import. And that’s exactly what Pasternak Importers do. First, they select a winery in a specific location. Then they do the taste-testing to make sure the vintage or the blend meets their quality standards. Imagine trying to pick out your own wines from thousands produced in a region, the dozens or even hundreds of wines produced by a particular winemaker! Even master sommeliers, who get paid to do this stuff, have to study diligently and practice for long periods of time before they can do their work of informed recommending.
Pasternak deals in wines in the affordable category and all the way up to premium and even luxury wines – French, Italian, and more. You can search their portfolio by region, varietal or brand, and they have an extremely handy “Find Our Wines” widget that lets you locate multiple places you can find the wines you decide to try. Just put in your zip or city and state – country? – and click to see who carries what you’re looking for.
Recently Pasternak shared a few of their wines in several price categories for review purposes. A few notes about them below:
Valdo Rose Brut, A lovely medium pink bubbly that’s perfect for company or just for fun. Called a “Best Buy” in Wine and Spirits 8/16 issue. SRP $16
Thomas George Estates Estate Chardonnay. Aromas of star fruit, lemon, banana and hazelnut characterize Russian River Valley Chardonnay. Subtle flavors of citrus zest and custard express themselves among stronger notes of stone fruit. The finish lingers long with a nice fullness. SRP $30
Thomas George EstatesEstate Pinot Noir. Wine Enthusiast says: “Raw earth and black tea combine for a classic take on the variety, high-toned in wild strawberry and red cherry. Tightly wound, it opens in the glass, staying light but with texture and body, a floral wine with just enough weight.” SRP $43
Marchesi Fumanelli Terso Veneto IGT. The blend of 50% Garganega, 50% Trebbiano Toscano makes a beautiful white wine. Intense, nutty, and toasty aromas on the nose. The palate is concentrated and powerful with lemony freshness and bready notes. A striking wine with flavors of acacia, lime blossoms and fresh apricots. Amazing acidity. SRP $40
Marchesi Fumanelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC. Brilliant ruby red color, with a pleasant aroma of dark cherry and mature forest fruit. Dry and velvety on the palate, with a hint of bitter almond. Enjoy the touch of sweet vanilla and the soft tannins. A well-structured wine with a soft, intense, long and persistent finish. A beautiful, rich and robust red to love with your Christmas tenderloin roast beef or your finest Hanukkah braised brisket and latkes. SRP $30
Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rose. Strawberry and wild cherry fruit flavors, with a touch of richness on the mid palate. Dry, crisp acidity and a creamy texture and long finish. 90 points from Wine Enthusiast in 2015. SRP $22
Have loved DMK Burger Bar at 2954 N. Sheffield ever since it opened several years back. Been meaning for a long time to get to their Fish Bar around the corner and finally did this weekend.
Seating available inside or out – it was a bit too loud and hot inside we can climbed onto one of the unusually proportioned picnic benches outside (the bench seat is set a little closer-in than average). Rolls of paper towels dot the tables in lieu of napkins. The menu’s interesting, ranging from fresh oysters, Seared Tuna Salad and Head-On Prawn Salad to tacos, sandwiches (including po’boys), entrees, and some smaller items called “Crispy.” I realize only now that the menu did not contain any variety of French fries – and I didn’t even miss them. We really liked the of taste of the wine-of-the-day, Squandra Rosato rosé, and ordered a bottle ($27).
Ordered the seafood special of the day and got two nicely seared, very large scallops served with a little pile of crispy-bacon-lardon-studded Brussels sprouts. Very good. Companion raved about the fried shrimp po’boy ($12) – said it was one of the best sandwiches she’d ever tasted, and the shrimp were entirely ungreasy. A good-sized helping of out-of-the-box-colorful cole slaw was big enough to share.
A favorite for us both was the small plate of Crispy Lemon Rings ($5) served with crispy slivers of onion and slices of jalapeno. Absolutely delicious. The tempura-type breading was barely-there and deep-fried, well, crispy but not greasy. The lemon slices, skin-on, melted into something quite tasty and not at all puckery. This might be a dish I’d want to get with whatever else I order here next time.
If you’re a baby boomer like me, you remember the time when the term rosé attached to a wine meant an overly sweet, syrupy libation called white zinfandel. To most of us in the U.S. back then, that’s all the rosé there was – unless you were already a serious wine aficionado, which meant, of course, knowing French wines because France was considered the source of good wines.
Today, the rosé movement across the United States is all about crisp, food-friendly pink wines, most of which come from Provence in the south of France. You can learn more from a new book out called Provence Food and Wine: The Art of Living by Viktorija Todorovska, a well-traveled author who writes with love about Provence food and drink and includes recipes she makes at home for her friends.
The book tells about pairing Provence dry rosés with food and tells you where to find these wines outside of Europe. Plus, in case you’re moved to get thee hence, she shares a multitude of tips on where to go and what to do when you’re in that delicious part of the world.
Friends and I recently enjoyed a dinner of Provence wines paired with dishes from Viktorija’s cookbook at the beautifully restored restaurant side (reopened in 2012) of The House of Glunz wine and spirits shop, where they carry a select group of fine wines and spirits. Though many are on the pricier side, you’ll also see baskets of highly rated yet affordable deals. The folks who work there know wines and spirits and can help you pick out just the right bottle to fit your taste and your budget.
Meanwhile, if you’ve tasted many of these beautiful dry rosé wines, you know they’re loaded with character and body and come in a gorgeous variety of pinks and salmons. Ever wonder how they do that?
Well, there’s a whole institute dedicated to it in Provence. Since 1999, experts at the Center for Research and Experimentation on Rosé Wine in Vidauban, Provence, have been studying the question of color. They’ve identified four factors that determine the shade of pink a Provence rosé will exhibit, from light to darker, with more of a purplish hue or one that leans toward coral (i.e., salmon pink). Here they are:
Grape variety. All Provence rosés are made mainly from red grapes, but some have more pigment in their skins than others. Those yield the darker pinks.
Climatic conditions. Provence is a country of varying terrains, all with distinct differences in temperature, sun, and soil. In a recent five-year experiment, researchers made wines with exactly the same grape varieties and using the same vinification methods. Growing conditions alone produced striking color variations along with variations in acidity, aroma, and flavor. Proof positive that “like great white and red wines, rosé wines are also ‘wines of terroir.’”
Temperature control during winemaking. Temperature control in Provence begins at harvest (conducted at night, when the grapes are their coolest) and includes the use of refrigerated presses, thermo-regulated fermentation tanks, and cold aging facilities — all to preserve the freshness and color of the wine.
Skin contact time. Finally, what color your finished wine is depends on how long the grape skins are in contact with the clear juices. The shorter the time, the paler the wine. Provence’s palest wines start with pressing grapes right after picking. For deeper-colored rosés, grapes are crushed and then soaked (or macerated) – skins and juice together – for 2 to 20 hours at a specific temperature. Then the pink juice is released into the fermentation tank.
Provence wines are the gold standard for rosé. These winemakers are continually investing in ways to make sure these wines offer beauty, freshness, and balance in a glorious range of colors. For more information visit www.winesofprovence.com and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.