Category Archives: Essays

Hidden Côte d’Azur

We are not in Cannes, Menton, St. Tropez or Nice. This isn’t the Riviera extravaganza of tourism, movie stars and casinos. We’re in the western corner near Toulon, heading towards the Pyrenees, an area locked in the seventies even after tourism tried to finesse its way into the storefronts, boulevards and villas. In my heart there’s nowhere like this. My great aunt’s story here is a mistral echo. The genêt, lavender and thyme, opioids and the dreamy haze that captures a pinkish glow bouncing off the calanques and tree shoulders, it’s a history of war and escape, of hideouts and solidarity. There is a peace out of time here. I can taste it in the wine, read it in the trees, feel it in the water.

The port in Cassis was quiet. I remember music even if it was only in my head…I couldn’t humm it  the tune was so faint and on a strange musical scale. The closer we came to the calanques, the more concentrated the movement of the water. Miniature waves flipped and curled onto themselves, small folds of foam diamonds and translucent jade.

Bandol.

I can’t remember feeling this calm. The taste of fennel and parsley, the olive oil stretching every flavour. The earth was trying to tell me something, but naive and full of angst, I couldn’t read it. Now, years later I understand this was the beginning of the letting go.

It was on the occasion of my aunt’s death that some of the family decided to come together for the first time and carry her ashes to the sea. The search took all afternoon but we found the place. It felt like a place she would have gone dipping with her friends, in between searching out someone to help organise the rescue of refugees and getting them visas before it was too late.

Understanding Wine: Time, Place, Climate & Soil

“[Wine] is a distillation of the earth’s rocks, and in its composition we see the secrets of the universe’s age, and the evolution of stars.”

-Richard Feynman, The Feynman Lectures on Physics

PLACE

Wine is fermented grape juice. Fermented grape juice has been consumed by humans for over 7,000 years. Grapes grow on vines that flourish in sunny, warm, temperate, dry climates, generally near a body of water in valleys, on hillsides, and sometimes in high altitudes. These vines can produce grapes for decades before starting to decline, some even lasting over 50 years (typical is 20-40, but the oldest vines in the world are a mind-blowing 400 years old in Maribor, Slovenia which still produce wine!). Wine is innately connected to the culture, people, time and place it comes from. It is an expression of the tastes, values, soil and sun; a labor of love that is dedicated to its cultivation and expression. When you drink wine, you are traveling to another place and time.

CLIMATE & SOIL

Unlike most plants, for a grapevine to thrive it actually needs to be pushed to struggle, to survive. This strengthens the roots, stabilizes the trunk and increases the absorption of nutrients from the soil (mainly nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium), which arguably heightens the character of the grapes produced. This means that the soil cannot be overly moist- in fact, the best soils drain quickly and deeply, encouraging the roots to pull further into the earth for water. There are many kinds of soil with varying benefits. The smaller the particles, the easier it is to retain nutrients and moisture to feed the roots, but over saturation might be a problem. So, the best soils are actually a mixture of several different types, which allows for optimum drainage and nutrient retention. Here is a list of some typical soils, where they are generally found, what kinds of grapes grow well in them and their effects on wine (click on the chart to enlarge):

TIME & STRUGGLE

One of the most intriguing, even sacred aspects of wine is the requisite of time. Especially now, in our modern world, few things take less than a “click” to execute. Such a huge perspective shift we have assumed, our new relation to time and how we see ourselves in it. Regarding grape growing alone, it takes anywhere from 3-6 years for newly planted vines to start producing harvestable grapes. Generally speaking, as young vines mature, the grapes they produce develop more character and consistently produce better wine for a period of about 10 years, until they pass their prime and begin to decline, showing signs of disease. The vines must then be pulled out, the soil is reset, and new vines or seeds are planted. After the harvest, production time takes anywhere from 7 months to 5 years before it’s released to the public*. After the bottle has been sold, it may be another 15 years before it’s consumed, depending on the quality/ageability/interests of the consumer. All in all, you could be looking at a time span of 20 years or more from vine to glass.

The ins and outs of winemaking are complicated, and its harder still to define just what makes a wine great. Some people focus on who made it, others how it was made, or that je ne sais quoi, these days called “terroir”. Take this term carefully, and don’t assume that whomever uses it is using it well. But there is a beautiful, magical thing that happens when all the elements of winemaking come together in a way that is honestly beyond words. In some of my posts I try to describe the sensations it brings me. But here the only logical thing I could do was try leave you with a formula:

Terroir Formula

*this is based on a wide variety of regulations and/or production decisions made by the winemaker, which I’ll talk about in another “Understanding Wine” post.

Understanding Wine: The Effects of Temperature

It might seem like such a little thing, but temperature can really change the way things taste. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ordered a glass of Chinon where it tasted like a rotten pepper cottonball and thought “I tried this wine the other day and loved it. What’s the difference?”.

This is not rocket science. Don’t get overwhelmed. You don’t have to run around with a thermometer or store all your wine with one of these Danish watch-sleeves (cute though, Jakob Wagner):

menu-wine-thermometer-1_grandeIt’s not so much getting the degree down, but understanding that wine, like people, is alive and needs to hangout at a comfortable temperature in order to sustain itself and be the best it can be. This also includes the day(s) it remains open (I’m looking at you bartenders). Just like beer, just like cocktails, wine will suck if it’s too warm. Better chilled than too hot; you’ll NEVER be able to salvage a wine that has overheated.

There are many things that affect the taste of wine. For our purposes we’re going to focus on all things temperature related. If it doesn’t taste good, don’t write it off like the last Avengers movie. Consider the following:

1) Ambient & Storage Temperatures 

How are you storing your wine before it’s opened? How about after Cork/Vacuum/Coravin/Other? Most restaurants have a cellar situation set up already, where bottles are kept relatively cool (under 63 degrees F) and even store their whites separately in a fridge. The part that’s often overlooked is once the bottles have been opened as glass pours. Oxygen plays a factor in rising temperatures, so make sure that if you have open bottles, they are kept in a low, cool place, preferably off the bar, where they don’t get exposed to heat. Do not store your glass pours next to the dishwasher or near a window with sun exposure.

The parameters for happy wine are 39-64 degrees Fahrenheit (4-18 degrees Celsius). Generally, the higher the sugar content, the colder the storage. Of course, there are many exceptions, but storing wine at 50 degrees Fahrenheit is agreeable for most.

Next, where are you? Outside, inside, AC, humid sponge box? Your body temperature and surrounding climate are often overlooked factors, but play a big part in what you order and how it tastes. Think about where the wine comes from, the climate and topography, the people, the food, and then check your location. If they match up, chances are you’re onto something good.

2) Stemware

It turns out that drinking out of a paper cup is a totally different experience than drinking out of Zalto mouth-blown crystal glassware. Those are extremes, but basically the goal is to drink out of something that interferes as little as possible with the sights, smells and tastes of the wine. The thinner the lip, the cleaner the substance (plastic bleeds into the liquid), and the shape can elevate or torture its contents. Easy Self Test: try the same wine out of 3 different types of glasses and see which one lets you taste the wine easiest.

3) Grapes Are Like People

They have personalities and come in all shapes and sizes. They have different needs, including the temperature they like to be served at. Remember, this isn’t only the wine’s temperature, it’s also the place you’re located (AC, outdoors, fall, etc). Here are 3 examples:

Champagne (the Obvious) – Warm bubbles are a slap in the face. They’re hard to swallow, taste sour and throw off everything refreshing, invigorating or otherwise pleasurable. No.

Poulsard, Pineau D’Aunis, Pelaverga, Freisa & other weird light red varietals (the Not So Obvious) – Turns out there’s a weird glitch in these lighter reds that makes them tastier slightly chilled. This is particularly true for lighter reds produced in a Biodynamic or otherwise Natural method. Who knew? Try it, and let them come to room temperature in your glass. The transformation is amazing.

Tannat, Syrah, Carignan, Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon & other reds with earthy qualities (the Surprise) – Think of wines from areas of dry heat (South West France, Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence, Portugal) and you’ll understand that these wines are best drank on the warmer end (63 degrees F). In fact, they’re even better outside on a dry, hot day believe it or not.

These temperature examples are a result of grapes, terroir (oh no, I said it), and production method. If a wine was produced in a Natural method, chances are it will sustain itself for several days after being opened, and even develop further. If it is a white grape, chances are it’s better served cold. If it comes from a hot, dry climate, it probably tastes best when you are drinking it in that kind of weather.

Understanding Wine: The Quick & Easy

Don’t drink wine? Drink bad wine? Breaking out of your old Merlot/Pinot Grigio habit might seem scary, but my bet is you’re drinking something better fit for cooking, something blended 5 ways before getting pumped with color additives and preservatives. Worst part? It no longer tastes like the grape from the soil it came from. You’re missing out on a lot of important things that make wine taste great, such as:

AROMA
Taste
Character
Balance
Texture
WEIGHT

This is not fancy talk, these words help you figure out what wines you like. It can be hard to parse through all the flamboyance and find something good that doesn’t break your wallet. So how can you get started?

The Quick & Easy 

1) Get Curious. Try a lot of wineask a lot of questions, take risks (no more “I don’t drink white” or “I only drink Syrah…or is it Shiraz?”).

2) Get Focused. Wine comes from grapes. Choose a grape and try as many different bottles as you can. You’ll be able to understand the way a grape tastes a whole lot better if it’s not competing with 3 others in a blend. Try single varietal bottles that are easy to find,  grapes like Gamay, Cabernet Franc, Barbera, Tempranillo.

3) Get Local. Wine comes from grapes cultivated by people. Understanding wine, the grapes, its styles, and regions can be broken down if you familiarize yourself with the people behind the wines and their philosophies. Discover who made it, who brought it to your area, and who sells it. Put a face to the name. The effort put into selecting grapes, locations, production techniques, fighting importation restrictions, opening a wine store, etc., are all part of the labor of love that is your good glass of wine, and no two are quite the same.

All the rest is details. Best vintages, producers, methods, blends, etc., all of that is subject to opinion. We all taste differently, and all like different things. It’s ok to not know everything. Just know what you like and be open to trying new things.

20131001-215756.jpg

Alright, using the above as a guideline, on to our first taste of delicious. This is a bottle of Cabernet Franc (100%) from the Loire Valley in France. It’s produced on a small, bio-dynamic vineyard called Château La Tour Grise by the couple Françoise and Philippe Gourdon. As the name “Surclassée” suggests, this wine is “underclass”, aka no frills or signage needed. Needed…or wanted? In the wine world, everything is endlessly marked with appellations and certifications (partially due to regulations, and partially due to ego), and these guys ditched it. This wine is a statement in every way, starting with its rejection to be classified as anything other than wine “253”. This stuff is unfiltered, loaded with character, and slightly effervescent. And the best part is, it varies with every vintage, so 253 is something to explore again and again. Go ahead, I dare you.

What To Drink Now: Nebbiolo

This is a tough time of year for wine drinking. We’re not quite into the fall, but we’re in denial that summer’s almost over. We’ve exercised an exhaustive study of rose (let’s face it), and you can only drink so much Riesling until you start carrying around a needle to satisfy your sugar craving (it’s just not good for you). Everyone’s telling you it’s all about unctuous whites, but I say turn to red; turn to nebbiolo.

Nebbiolo is an incredibly curious grape. Known best when wearing its Barolo or Barbaresco hat, its subtle complexity, aromatics and mouthfeel are totally stunning. But you don’t need to hunt down an incredibly expensive vintage Barolo to experience nebbiolo. In my opinion, Langhe Rosso (the categorical “table wine” of the region’s producers) is one of the greatest, character-driven styles out there (please note: although nebbiolo exhibits beautifully in other regions of Piedmont such as Carema, where it is known as “picotèner”, in Ghemme and Gattinara as “spanna”, or in Valtellina as “chiavannesca”, I’ve decided to focus on Langhe for the time being to keep things simple. Also, whereas Langhe Rosso may indicate a blend of nebbiolo and other grapes that can be equally delicious, I am focusing on pure expressions of the varietal). I’ve found that they are delicate, feminine and aromatic, with strong character and an excellent range of expression. Find one, and you’ll be able to taste the same grapes used to produce the high end Barolos at a fraction of the price.

Native to Piedmont, this varietal has been cited as far back as the 1300s. It is characteristically thin-skinned and slow to ripen, favoring limestone soil and often harvested late in October or even November (the general harvest is in September). It is considered a noble grape with incredible aging ability, elevating Piedmont’s status as the Burgundy of Italy, where nebbiolo is their answer to pinot noir. On the palette it displays a subtle, complex structure of aromas ranging from wild roses to truffles to cinnamon, tastes of dried red cherries, and is quite high in tannin (despite its thin skins).

Given this grape’s incredible ability to mature into some of the most honored wines in the world (Barolo & Barbaresco), I believe that exploring the no-name, younger, “table” wines are equally as exciting and much more accessible. Look for Langhe Nebbiolos (or Rossos that are all or mostly nebbiolo). Some of my favorites include:

  • GD Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo (2012), $24: elegant yet rustic, ripe raspberries, floral with supple tannins. Incredible wine.
  • Roagna Langhe Rosso (2008), $28: grippy tannins, bright, focused and very energetic.
  • Cascina Chicco Langhe Nebbiolo (2012), $19: excellent young nebbiolo. vineyard powered by solar panels; highest selection of vineyard’s grapes cultivated to produce this wine in a sustainable method.

Tour de France 2014: The Wine Trail, Part II

Wine Tour de France Map_ALTERNATE

WINE STOP STAGE TOUR LOCATION WINE REGION STYLE or GRAPE
F 15 Tallard/NimesCarcassonne Languedoc-Roussillon & Provence Grapes: Rosés made from Mourvedre, Carignan, Cinsault. Appellations: Cassis, Bandol. BONUS: nicoise olives, aioli, thyme, lavender!
 
G 16 Carcassonne/Bagneres-de-Luchon Pyrenees/South West Grapes: Orange Wines made from Folle Blanche, Muscadelle, Ugni Blanc. Reds from Malbec, Tannat.Appellations: Gaillac, Irouleguy, Madiran, Marcillac. BONUS: Brebis & Cognac!
17 Saint-Gaudens/Saint-Lary Pla d’Adet
18 Pau/Hautacam
 
H 19 Maubourguet Pays du Val d’Adour/Bergerac Bordeaux Grapes: famous blends created from various combinations of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot. Appellations: Saint Emilion, Médoc, Graves. BONUS: Foie Gras, Bordelaise, Canele, and Oysters of Aquitaine!
20 Bergerac/Perigueux
 
I 21 Evry/Paris Champs-Elysees Loire Grapes: Cabernet Franc, Gamay, Chenin Blanc, Pineau d’Aunis, Melon de Bourgogne, Sauvignon Blanc.Appellations: Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume, Muscadet, Chinon, Saumuer Champigny, Jasnieres, Cheverny, Touraine, Anjou. BONUS: Tarte Tatin, Mushrooms, Charcuterie!

And we’re back for Part II. After discovering the tastes of northern regions, you’ll notice the flavor structure start to really change as we progress down and across southern France. Take note of your preferences, as well as how the changes in the landscape and climate might give you clues as to how and why these changes occur.

Wine Stop F: LANGUEDOC-ROUSSILLON & PROVENCE

The breathtaking landscapes bursting with genet & lavender, the omnipresent ocean breeze…enough to turn anyone’s head and sigh wistfully. For me, there is something unstoppable about this area, especially in Provence. Maybe that’s why it suffers under it’s own rosé cliché, but we should remember that trends and clichés originate from incredible novelty. Mourvedre, the grape most common in rosé and native to both Provence and Languedoc, is thick-skinned and bursting with flavor. In red wines, it is generally used as a blending grape due to its intensity. But as rosé, its true character is revealed: the nuances in texture, color, and aroma are finally given a chance since the thick skins are removed much earlier during the maceration period. You then realize that the subtleties you are tasting are a reflection of actually a quite rugged and harsh coastal environment: the strong mistral wind from the north, the conglomerate of soils types (limestone, shale, clay, sandstone, and quartz) and the intense dry heat of the mediterranean sun. This truth, the balance of harsh and delicate, are what make the region unique, and will always surpass the clichés.

Camille Fourmont, proprietor of the incredible La Buvette in Paris, says: “In Provence, wines from Guy & Thomas Jullien, vignerons from the appellation Beaume de Venise, Jean Christophe Comor and also le Chateau Sainte Anne à Bandol… in le Languedoc,  Jean Baptiste et Charlotte Senat in le Minervois.”

Wine Stop G: PYRENEES & SOUTH WEST

Where are we? Why are we here? This relatively unknown region has some of the most exciting wines I’ve ever tasted. Maybe it’s the influence of Spain next door, the extreme altitude of the Pyrenee mountains, or the fact that the farmers love their soil….or all 3. Dirty, barnyard, herbaceous, leather, bodacious, are a few words I would use to describe them (these are good wine words). Do yourself a favor and get acquainted. I have yet to try a wine from this region that lacks extraordinary personality.

Eric Asimov, Wine Critic for the New York Times, coincidentally just returned from a trip here, and told me his favorite producers include: Domaine Ilarria, Domaine Brana, Herri Mina, Amextia Etzaldia and Arretxea.

Wine Stop H: BORDEAUX

The definition of old world: Eleanor of Aquitaine, “Entre-Deux-Mers”, “Cru”, St. Emilion, Rothschild, Latour, Margaux, Haut-Brion….it all came down to a few grapes that were cultivated, blended, reshuffled, sampled, and labeled, over time becoming so prestigious that the region is sometimes all we know about the wine. But what makes a Bordeaux, anyway? Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec are the most common red grape varietals, blended in varying percentages depending on the appellation and chateau. The thing is, there are so many blends, crus, vintages, etc. it’s easy to get lost without finding a bottle that actually satisfies your palette and your budget. I’ve had a lot of trouble with this myself, and asked another favorite wine friend for her suggestions.

Cat Silirie, Executive Wine Director for the Barbara Lynch Gruppo, says: “It can be tough to parse through the prestige of the region and find a bottle that actually gives a sense of place. When looking for a bottle, think about the geology and microclimates, focus non classified growths and appellation-emphasized bottles. The variations are incredible:  some wines offer a delicate, minerality while others a more structured, textured body, high in tannin. The right bank  tends to produce more Cab Franc & Merlot, while the left bank is heavier on Cabernet Sauvignon. The emphasis should be on the vigneron, not on the cellar. A producer I love and have been working with for over 20 years is Chateau Haute-Segottes (St. Emilion), and local shop the Wine Cask in Somerville has a lovely, affordable selection.”

Wine Stop I: LOIRE

I’ll be honest: the Tour doesn’t actually go through the Loire this year, but it would be a tragedy not to include this region in our otherwise comprehensive wine expedition. The Loire is home to some of the most exciting, progressive wines on the market today, thanks to the efforts of small-vineyard farmers who, more than anything else, uphold the value of quality over quantity. Much of the region is situated on or fed by the Loire River, creating an extremely fertile and abundant span of countryside to cultivate grapes. Popular grapes are Chenin Blanc, Melon de Bourgogne, Poulsard, Pineau d’Aunis, Gamay, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir, to name a few. You might recognize some of these as their appellations or subregions, such as Muscadet, Chinon, or Sancerre. Needless to say, there is such a diversity and abundance of vineyards and production methods, no two are quite alike and the result is an extraordinary array of elegant, bizarre, texture-filled wines.

Zev Rovine, Wine Importer Extraordinaire, recommends anything by these producers: Robinot, Tessier, Paonnerie, Clos Rougeard, and Domaine la Chevalerie, just to name a few.

So that’s it. Think you appreciate French wine a little more? What region(s) do you prefer? Which grapes? Why? Send me your thoughts.

Tour de France 2014 : The Wine Trail, Part I

Wine Tour de France Map_ALTERNATE

Given that we can’t be in France to ride it firsthand, why not experience the Tour through the glorious wine regions they pass through? By tasting the incredible variety throughout the country, we’ll be able understand the style & flavors that define them and get a great sense of place.

Now that we’ve crossed the Channel into the motherland, we’ve got some serious taste-touring to do. I’m going to take you through the stages as they parallel the surrounding wine regions. You’ll be given a different set of grapes and BONUS! point food pairings for each Wine Stop. I’ve asked a few of my favorite wine people to throw in their recommendations for each Stop, wines that really show off the region at its best, and can hopefully be found at your friendly local wine shop. The table will outline the entire Wine Stop’s grapes, appellations, and local food pairings, as well as help you locate where we are on the handy Wine Map above. The goal is to follow the bikers as best we can by having all the wine they’re missing out on while touring. Somebody’s gotta do it, right?

WINE STOP STAGE TOUR LOCATION WINE REGION STYLE or GRAPE
A 4 Le Touquet-Paris-Place/Lille Metropole Near Normandy Grapes: we’re going with CiderBONUS: Oysters & Calvados!
5 Ypres/Arenberg Porte du Hainaut
 
B 6 Arras/Reims Champagne Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier.BONUS: more bubbles!
7 Epernay/Nancy
 
C 8 Tomblaine/Gerardmer La Mauselaine Alsace & Lorraine Grapes: Vin Gris, Riesling, Gamay Rosé, Pinot Noir, Aubin Blanc, Auxerrois Blanc, Pinot Meunier, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Gris, Muscat.BONUS: Quiche!
9 Gerardmer/Mulhouse
10 Mulhouse/La Planche des Belles Filles
 
D 11 Besancon/Oyonnax Jura Grapes: Poulsard, Trousseau, Savagnin Blanc, Vin Jaune.Appellations: Arbois, Cotes de Jura, L’Etoile.BONUS: Comte cheese!
 
E 12 Bourg-en Bresse/Saint-Etienne Burgundy, Rhone Valley & Alps Grapes: Pinot Noir, Gamay, Grenache, Carignan Syrah, Viognier. Whites include Picpoul, Clairette.Appellations: Cote de Nuits, Maconnais, Beaujolais, Crozes-Hermitage, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Chateauneuf-du-Pape.BONUS: mustard from Lyon!
13 Saint-Etienne/Chamrousse
14 Grenoble/Risoul

Wine Stop A: NORMANDY

An historic region of epic proportions, the timeless taste of the land is brought to you not by wine but by Cider- yes, Cider. This is not the taught, overripe American stuff thrown in the beer section at your local mart because nobody knows what to do with it. This is the apple-based equivalent of Champagne. It is a perfect starter for the Tour as a bright, slightly sour, low alcohol sparkler that goes down amazingly well with oysters and seafoods, not to mention crepes with mushrooms and Camembert cheese.

Try: Etienne DuPont Cidre Bouché Brut, Le Père Jules Cidre

Wine Stop B : CHAMPAGNE

We are in bubble country- the most famous of bubble countries. Take a moment to appreciate the fact that there are only 3 grapes produced in this region: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, and they’re all fermented to bubbly perfection. Most often, Champagne is made from 100% Chardonnay, known as Blanc de Blancs, but try the more rare Blanc de Noirs (all Pinot Noir) for hints of blackberry, and sometimes a slightly purple color in the glass. There are an endless number of methods used to perfect taste and texture, but the most famous was championed here in Champagne, known as the Méthode Champenoise, which set the standard for the world of bubbly wine.  Describing the intricacies of this and othermethods will be saved for another post, but in general, the process of making bubbly wine is introducing enough carbon dioxide into the wine to make it effervescent.

Try: Pol Roger, Saint Chamant, Pierre Peters, Rene Geoffrey, Ruinart, and Pierre Gimonet & Fils

Wine Stop C: ALSACE

Lots of great whites in this region. Chardonnay and Rieslings are super elegant, peachy and buttery, and can have a very full mouthfeel. Since the region borders on Germany, the backbone and substance to these whites is only matched by Gewurtzraminer, another German grape which grows here. It leans towards a more grassy, mineral taste but still bold and beautifully golden in the glass. The mountains lend themselves well to such structured whites, all of which have a moderate to high level of alchohol content (upwards of 15%). Best of all, oak-aging is not a popular sport in Alsace, which ensures that “clean” taste I prefer in white wine. And if you didn’t get enough bubbles, there’s always Cremant d’Alsace.

Lauren Friel, Wine Director at Oleana says: “Try Valentin Zusslin Riesling Clos Liebenberg, or anything by Pierre Frick.”

Wine Stop D: JURA

The name “Jura” from Jurassic, may help in comprehending the profound effect the soil has on the vines in this region. In one area in particular, an appellation known as L’Etoile, fossilized starfish can be found buried among the ancient layers of limestone. So it comes as no surprise that the wines from this region are, by definition, exceptional. Many of the Orange wines I recently posted about are produced here, in a style that tastes similar to their gorgeous cousin, Vin Jaune, but younger and easier to find. Most are made from the grape Savagnin (not to be confused with Sauvignon Blanc), and have an incredibly intense citrus acidity, with hints of nut and spice. Depending on the bottle, some taste akin to a Normandy cider, a Lambic beer, or Sherry (Fino or Amontillado).

Try: Domaine de Montborgeau L’Etoile, Philippe Bonard Cotes du Jura Savagnin, Domaine Jean-Macle Château-Chalon, Cotes de Jura L’Etoile Nicole Deriaux.

Wine Stop E: BURGUNDY & RHONE VALLEY

Some of the oldest single-vineyard establishments stem from these regions. In fact, Burgundy has the highest number of AOCs (Appellations d’Origine Controllee) than anywhere else in France. Where Champagne set the standard for bubbles, you could say Burgundy set the international standard for the everlasting, timeless expression of Pinot Noir. And where most appellations are obscured by the overarching name of the region, Beaujolais has become an internationally celebrated favorite in its own right (ex: when I started drinking Beaujolais, I thought it was a grape) and leads the charge for the deliciously affordable, easy-drinking bottle to share with friends and family. Just slightly further is the Rhone Valley, divided into North (generally producing Syrah and single varietal whites) and South (known for its bold blends that can triumph any steak, so well known that they too have surpassed their region, such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape). I think of these areas as the inspiration for Napa and Sonoma, and often draw flavor comparisons between the two.

Colleen Hein, Wine Director at Eastern Standard says: “In Burgundy, try Phillippe Pacalet, Domaine Fourrier and Comte Armand. In Rhone, Theirry Allemand, Jean Louis Chave, August Clape and Chateau Rayas.”

That should keep you going for the first half of the Tour. Stay tuned for Part II!

What to Drink Now: Orange Is the New Rosé

Summer. As it takes hold, you find yourself craving a cool glass of something tasty to ease into the heat. Friends offer you rosé or white wine, but it always gives you a head ache and it’s too sweet, so you skip grapes altogether. What if I told you there was something else to try?

First stop: remember sherry. You may be familiar with Spain’s answer to every party, meal, beach break or study session. Deliciously dry and high in alchohol (upwards of 17%), it’s an easy alternative when faced with the “beer? wine? or liquor?” predicament (referring specifically to Fino and Amontillado). But you’re getting a little bored with sherry, since there are only so many times you can have La Gitana before feeling like she’s been played out, and drinking fortified wine when you have several hours in front of you has its limitations.

Hello, orange wine.

Consume chilled, sip slow, and gawk at the crazy weird tangerine-burnt gold-auburn as it glows in your goblet (yes, your glass has been transformed into an epic symbol). Have another glass, kick back in the sun, share with friends, have some Cheez-Its, veggies, fish, or pork loin. It doesn’t matter how you rock it, orange wine can take it. The other day I made a plate of asparagus with tabbouleh, soft-boiled egg and shavings of truffle salami, opened a bottle of Domaine Jean Macle Château-Chalon, and it was truly amazing.

So what makes wine orange, and how is it different than white or rosé? Mainly, it’s the crushed white grapes left to age in barrels with their skins intact for a prolonged period of time. Unlike white wine, which is in contact with their skins for a matter of days, these grapes stay in contact for weeks, months, sometimes even years, drastically increasing the level of astringency and tannin. This process, called maceration, paired with time in the barrel, creates an intentional and carefully crafted effect in the wine, similar to oxidation (although there is no actual exposure to oxygen), visually recognized as the orange color. Depending on the producer and their method, these wines may look cloudy in the glass as well (don’t be alarmed).

And how can you be sure you won’t run into the old wine phobia again? Whereas rosé often runs the risk of being too thickly sweet with a lingering throat burn, orange wines will meet you where you want to be: curiously dry, delicately sharp, floral but bitter, and twinges of cedar, spice, fermented apples, minerals, or a “what IS that?”, depending on your bottle. If rosé is Stop & Shop, orange wine is the open air farmer’s market. It’s what real life is all about: a confusing but provocative mixture of knowns and unknowns, challenges and soft moments. There’s a lot of room to explore since there is an incredible amount of variety between bottles, but here’s a few I recommend:

  • Philippe Bornard, Cotes du Jura Savagnin
  • Frank Cornelissen, Munjebel Bianco
  • Domaine Jean Macle, Château-Chalon
  • Chateau Richard, Osé Blanc Sec
  • Domaine de Montborgeau, L’Etoile
  • Vina Cravonia, Crianza
  • Donati, Malvasia dell’Emilia
  • Ca’ de Noci,”Notte di Luna”
  • La Stoppa, Ageno