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White Burgundy

I was excited to taste a range of top class white Burgundy. To me, when you get a good one, they are the best Chardonnays in the world, hands down.

Why? Great white Burgundy can have a level of complexity and depth that you rarely find in other Chardonnays. They are also usually drier and more minerally on the palate than most New World wines, with a natural acidity that dances across the palate.

The top appellations to look for are Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet. It’s often a good idea to cellar these wines for a few years, and I would also consider decanting them. Also, don’t serve them too cold, and remember they can be a beautiful way to end a meal with some soft cheeses. When these wines are on they’re some of the best white wines in the world.

Chablis

If you don’t like big oaky Chardonnay then maybe Chablis is the ticket. This region, in the northern reaches of Burgundy, makes the most minerally, crisp and lean Chardonnays on the market.

The colors are always pale and the green tones not only indicate youth but can possibly lead you to a Chablis. The nose can be very light and delicate, without much intensity or definition. I always hated Chablis in blind tasting exams because of their neutrality. But the best wines show more intensity, a purity and focus, with notes of wet stones, lemon rind, and granny smith apples.

The palate is always bone dry, with many of them in the light to medium body camp, and defined by this chalky mouthfeel and vibrant acidity. At their best these are stylish wines that are elegant and refined, without any oak, or obvious signs of it. If most Australian Chardonnay is like Dolly Parton then Chablis is more like Kate Moss, minus the coke.

If you go big and buy the Grand Cru wines then make sure you cellar them for at least 5 years before opening them. Great Chablis can cellar 1-2 decades, or more.

Merlot – Soft and Smooth

I just love a nice rich Merlot. They’re just so soft and smooth.

If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard that, well, you know the story. In the 90’s it was all the rage. From businessmen to 20-something socialites, everyone loved Merlot. Grape growers planted it like mad, and the market boomed. But then along came Sideways, a Hollywood movie that vilified Merlot, and suddenly the party was over. It wasn’t cool anymore.

But Merlot will always be one of the best grape varieties, and true wine lovers remain perplexed by the market’s fads. Its quality potential is up there with the best in the world, showcased by wines like Chateau Petrus. So whilst Malbec and Shiraz are now the current popular choices, Merlot isn’t going to go away any time soon.

Grape growers love Merlot. Surprisingly, it is the most widely planted grape in Bordeaux, and you’ll find plenty of it in the south of France, northern and central Italy, Australia, New Zealand, and both North and South America. It’s even the most planted grape in Romania, and you’ll be able to quench your thirst with it at dozens of wineries in Bulgaria. Can’t wait.

Growers love Merlot because it ripens a week or two earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon. In frost prone areas, or places that can get serious downpours in the Fall, that extra week or two can make the difference between a successful vintage and a wash-out. 1998 in Bordeaux is a good example of this. It’s was a spectacular vintage in St.Emilion and Pomerol, but the Cabernet dominated vineyards of the Medoc were not so lucky. It started pouring with rain before the grapes were fully ripe.

Another reason for its popularity amongst grape growers is because it can yield a bumper crop. I know that wine is all about the romance to those who drink it, but when you’re trying to make money out of producing it then yield becomes one of the most critical factors. Some varieties, like Pinot Noir, tend to produce lackluster wines when cropped above 4 tons per acre, but not so with Merlot. And as a grower, I want to produce as many grapes as possible, at quality levels suited to my commercial goals.

Merlot is also tolerant of a variety of different soil types, and doesn’t mind being planted in heavy clays. This is the primary reason why it thrives on the so-called Right Bank of the Bordeaux region, which is dominated by clay and limestone. But you’ll also find it producing some superb wines in the silty loam soils of Washington State, and some Okanagan wineries even have it planted on pure sand. So when it comes to soil types Merlot seems to be less picky compared to various other varietals.

So if you’re contemplating planting a vineyard then Merlot is often on the list of potential candidates. It’s popular, you can grow lots of it, it’s not so fussy about soil types, and it will even ripen early for you. Hey, it might even turn out to be great quality and sell for big bucks.

But grape growing issues aside, much of the final quality will depend on how it’s made in the winery. At the top estates in the world you’ll typically see it treated to a lengthy maceration of 2-4 weeks, with the goal of extracting plenty of flavor and tannic structure. It takes well to oak, particularly French, and can be matured for 2 years in barrel before bottling. Although it has a reputation for being soft and smooth, high quality Merlot can require at least 5 years in bottle before it comes around to showing its potential quality.

On the other hand, if you are making Merlot for the cheaper end of the market, then you’d typically go for a much shorter maceration, perhaps just one week or so, to limit the tannin extraction. And those French oak barrels can run you $1,200 a pop, and so many wineries opt for wood chips, which cost a fraction of the price but don’t give quite the same result. Obviously the marketing department is not inclined to tell you their wine is matured using their finest oak chips. Once it gets into bottle you can open these types of wine immediately, and they are usually more pleasant to drink than a Cabernet of the same age.

You’ll often find Merlot blended with other grapes, especially Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc, but also potentially Malbec and Petit Verdot. This can be done for both premium and inexpensive wines, and is the way a winemaker can sculpt his product to the house style, or adjust it to meet market demands.

So the quality of Merlot can be all over the map. You can buy a bottle at the gas station in the U.S. for peanuts, or you can go a little crazy and load up on a new vintage of Petrus at $3,000 a bottle. But the glut of uninspiring Merlot, along with the impact of Hollywood movies that have slandered the grape, has caused it’s popularity to wane. Despite this current fashion for other varietals, when it comes to truly fine wine, there’s never been any question that Merlot is amongst the very best grapes.

After all, the finest wines can age for over 50 years. True, they don’t have quite the same longevity as Cabernet Sauvignon, but they certainly do have better ageing potential than Pinot Noir and most others. So when it comes to stocking the cellar for the long haul you’ll certainly want to consider the finer Merlots as an option.

So what should you buy? Well, the great wines of St.Emilion and Pomerol on Bordeaux’s Right Bank are still the benchmark. Pomerol is the classic appellation because the wines typically have a higher percentage of Merlot in them, usually around 80%, with just a splash of Cabernet Franc and maybe Sauvignon. These are usually tiny estates, producing a few thousand cases of wine, and hence the prices can be stratospheric. Enter stage left Petrus, Le Pin, Vieux Chateau Certan, La Conseillante and a dozen others. One of my best ever bottles was a 25 year old Petrus. I finally understood what all the fuss was about. It left everyone almost speechless.

But the top wines of St.Emilion are spectacular too. Ausone, Angelus, Le Dome, and so many others. These tend to be slightly less opulent than Pomerol, but are always dense and concentrated all the same. If you can wait for 10 years or so you’ll see the deep ruby color turn a shade of brick red, the nose open up to reveal a spectrum of complex nuances that can include fruitcake, licorice, black cherry, chocolate, coffee, tobacco, vanilla, mushroom and wet earth. They’re to die for.

If you are intent on drinking a French Merlot but only want to spend $20 then the south of France is your best option. Since the 1990’s there have been huge plantings of this grape in the so-called Pays D’Oc. But the wines, whilst deep and full bodied, tend to have much less complexity than in Bordeaux and are more suited to a casual BBQ.

In north eastern Italy there is a surprising amount of Merlot, but I wouldn’t be in a hurry to buy these. They tend to be light in every way – color, body and ripeness levels. Instead, buy the Super Tuscans that have a heap of Merlot in them. Masseto and Tua Rita are the benchmarks, 100% Merlot, and astronomically expensive. My personal favorite is Luce, which is a blend of Merlot and Sangiovese, and is a very fine wine for around $100.

If the recent turmoil in the stock market has you searching for a deal on European Merlot then you probably can’t beat the prices of Hungarian, Romanian and Bulgarian wines. It’s surprising just how much is planted here, and the prices can be under $10 a bottle. I’ve tried several and the quality can be pretty reasonable, but most west coasters just can’t get over the negative brand image of most of these countries. I suppose they might slip down better if you’re hoping for a return to Communism.

If I was looking for a high quality Merlot from the New World then I would be heading for the California and Washington sections of the store. Duckhorn in Napa made a mark with some gorgeously rich and plummy Merlots, and now the grape is widely planted in California. These wines tend to have less earthiness than their Bordeaux counterparts, and burst with ripe berry fruit and the warmth of higher alcohol.

In Washington State Merlot is the most widely planted grape, and it typically plays a role in many of the finest wines. These are under-rated by consumers, but not under-priced. The local demand in Seattle for the best wines results in prices being in the high $70’s+ in western Canada.

South America, especially Chile, can produce some exceptional Merlot, both in terms of value for money and absolute quality. Sena is a benchmark amongst the famous labels, but I’m also impressed with the likes of a basic Errazuriz Merlot for just $15.

New Zealand is a sleeper, that has recently shown what it can do with Merlot. A few years ago the best wines from Hawke’s Bay on the north island were put up against the finest wines of Bordeaux, and guess what? The Kiwis stole the show. But I’m more inclined to drink Pinot Noir from New Zealand, just like you would be to drink Shiraz from Australia.

One of the nice things about Merlot is that some of them can be drunk without food. They don’t have the astringency of most Cabernet and so they can slip down without much “bite”. But really these go so much better with red meats, and so whether it’s a steak, roast beef, a leg of lamb or a burger you’ll enjoy them much more than flying solo.

WINE & FOOD PAIRING

Chateau Petrus , Pomerol 1990, with a nice inheritance

Chateau Le Bon Pasteur, Pomerol 2000, with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding

Chateau Grand Mayne, St Emilion, 2005, with steak Frites

Tua Rita, IGT Toscana, 2005, with pasta in a tomato sauce

Duckhorn, Napa, 2000, with leg of lamb

Woodward Canyon, Washington State, 2006, with stew

Errazuriz, Sena, Chile 2006, with bison

To be a Mediterranean Vine…

If I was a vine I would want to be planted along the Mediterranean coastline. My ideal vineyard would be perched on a hillside, where I could bask in the sunshine whilst looking out to sea.

After all, the Mediterranean is a more inviting climate compared to being planted in the frigid parts of northern Europe. In cold climates vines can struggle to ripen the grapes and sometimes people would criticize me for producing acidic and astringent wines. And the blistering heat of fiercely hot climates isn’t that appealing either. The grapes might get over-ripe, resulting in raisin and cooked flavors. What’s worse, the French would tease me about making confiture (jam) rather than wine.

But in a pleasant Mediterranean climate, where the winters are mild and the summers are long, I would thrive. Plus I’d get to take 2 hour lunches and have a siesta in the afternoons.

And so it is. The wine regions that sit along the Mediterranean coastline are responsible for a huge percentage of the world’s wine production. In short, the climate is well suited to viticulture and can produce very good quality wines that are well balanced.

A huge reason for the way a wine tastes relates to the composition of the grape at harvest, namely, the balance between sugar and acidity. If the climate is too hot then wines can sometimes lack acidity and taste soupy. If the climate is too cold then the grapes can lack sugar and flavor, and taste thin and astringent. It’s rare that you see these excesses or deficiencies in wines from around the Mediterranean.

What I like the most about wines from this area is that they are usually made from indigenous grape varieties. This means that they deliver flavors that differ from the usual repertoire of international grape varieties, such as Chardonnay and Shiraz. There is also an abundance of choice. The wine regions of the Mediterranean produce a prolific number of different wines.

Let’s start with sparkling wine. Spanish sparkling wines, known as Cava, come from an area called Catalunya. Barcelona is the major city here, and responsible for guzzling huge volumes of the local bubbly. The main grapes are indigenous Spanish varieties such as Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel-lo. Try letting those roll off the tongue at your next dinner party. Intriguingly, Spanish Cava is made in the same method as Champagne, with the second fermentation taking place in bottle. They are excellent value for money and the perfect way to kick off a party.

But Spain is not the only country producing sparkling wine. In north western Italy, within striking distance of the Mediterranean, is the small DOCG of Franciacorta. This region lays claim to making the finest dry sparkling wines in Italy. The varietal mix and the methods are closely modeled on Champagne, with excellent results. I recently tasted the range from Ca’ del Bosco, arguably the leader in the region, whose wines are considered amongst the best sparkling wines in the world. Sublime.

In dry white wine, the Mediterranean also produces a plethora of choices. The most unique has got to be Retsina from Greece. This white wine is flavored with pine resin. Yes, that’s right, pine resin. The reasons for this date back centuries to a time when resin was used to help preserve wines. Over time people became accustomed to the taste of resinated wines and so it became its own style of wine. Retsina certainly has its followers. Be aware that the wines can actually smell of pinesol cleaner so shall we say “it’s an acquired taste”.

More my bag would be a Viognier from the south of France. This varietal has beautiful aromatics of honeysuckle, peaches and floral notes. If you like Gewürztraminer then Viognier might hit the mark. The wines are dry, usually with a touch of residual sugar, quite full in body, with a pleasant richness in the best ones. Try a Vin de Pays D’Oc Viognier with roast chicken or a white fish.

In Rose, the beautiful wines from Provence rank amongst the very best roses in the world. They typically show vibrant pink colors, aromas of spice mingled with fresh strawberries, dry and crisp, and bang-on in the rose stakes. These are perfect for sipping on the deck; they pair well with a fresh seafood salad, and are liquid romance whilst watching the sunset. Take me to Saint Tropez.

In red wines, there is such a huge choice that making a handful of recommendations is no easy task. If you are looking for a classic wine, something big and burly but with depth and concentration, then look no further than Priorat in Spain. Many of the very best are made from Garnacha and Carinena (Grenache and Carignan in France). This is classic stuff, and 100 points from Robert Parker is not unusual.

Then you have a huge number of high quality wines from appellations in southern France like Corbieres and Minervois. Here, you can expect Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre to feature in the lead roles. These are the best value red wines in France and would go well with a steak frites.

It would be unfair not to make mention of the wines from Corsica, Sardinia, and Sicily. Now we start getting into the really unusual grape varieties. How about a glass of red from the Nielluccio grape in Corsica? Grapes such as Nero D’Avola from Italy are gaining a following as some wine lovers tire of the world of Chardonnay and Shiraz. Most are such good value that it’s not a fatal experiment if you don’t like the flavors.

Lastly, fortified wines are also alive and well in the Mediterranean wine regions. My favorite is Banyuls. This exceptional wine comes from the steep terraced vineyards in the foothills of the Pyrenees, where France meets Spain. Grenache is king in this fortified wine, known as a vins doux naturel. The winemakers suggest that these Port-like wines are paired with chocolate. A bottle of Banyuls, a chocolate mousse, and you’ll ascend into heaven.

So the wine regions bordering the Mediterranean offer an abundance of unique and exciting wines. The indigenous grape varieties offer the wine lover new flavors to discover. So give them a try. Besides, as you sip your way through the bottle you can dream of those gorgeous vineyards perched on a hillside, overlooking the Med.

 

More Champagne, Darling?

If you crack open a bottle of Champagne at a dinner party you can be guaranteed that someone, usually an attractive lady, will start swooning, flicking her hair, and then launch into a very public declaration that it is her “absolute favorite wine”.

At that stage I usually smile, mutter words of agreement, and make a mental note-to-self that time spent with the said individual could be fun for me, but not for the VISA.

I’m full of admiration for the way the Champenois have marketed their bubbles. Nobody else has done a better job. They’ve made it synonymous with luxury, romance, special occasions, and living the good life. Simply put, we’ve fallen in love with their fizz.

The history of Champagne is fascinating. Firstly, there’s a dispute over who was the first to make it bubbly, because originally it was a “still” wine. In the region, Dom Perignon lays claim to being the inventor, but the winemakers in Limoux, an obscure region in southern France, accuse him of riding down on his donkey and stealing their winemaking secret, and then galloping back to Champagne to begin creating the most famous luxury brand in the world.

But in all likelihood it was not the French who were the first to make sparkling wine in commercial volumes. Instead, it was likely the English who created the glass that was strong enough to withstand the massive amounts of pressure in the bottle. But whatever the case, we do know that the first Champagnes were incredibly sweet, even sweeter than the dessert wine from Sauternes in Bordeaux.

Once it was made, it had to be sold. And the proximity of the Champagne region to Paris was a definite advantage because not only was there a large urban population, but it was also the home of the aristocracy. The Champenoise plied the monarchy with free bubbly, and the elite followed suit. Monkey see, monkey do. Jean-Rene Moet, of Moet et Chandon, even built Napoleon a mansion in Champagne, just in case he stopped by.

But it wasn’t just the monarchy and aristocrats in France that sipped Champagne at lavish banquets. The Champenois also managed to convince the Tsars in Russia, and the Royal Family in England, that they too should become devotees. And so, for lack of a better word, the brand of Champagne was established as a luxury product, with prices to match.

But for a luxury brand to endure it has to be consistently high quality. And on this critical point, the Champenois have delivered, at least at the pinnacle of production. Houses like Krug, Roederer, Dom Perignon, Salon, Pol Roger, Billecart-Salmon, Laurent Perrier, Lanson, Bollinger, Taittinger, and Veuve Clicquot continue to make a quality of wine that is unmatched by sparkling winemakers in other countries, and other regions in France.

One of the great things about Champagne is that it is quite easy to visit, because sooner or later everyone goes to Paris. It’s just 90 minutes away by car, or 30 minutes by TGV from the airport. If you give yourself 2 days, including one night of romance, you’ll have seen enough to get the general idea. After all, every House makes pretty much the same thing, in essentially the same way, although every producer puts their own unique spin on it.

The major city is Reims, and here you’ll find many of the major Houses, as well as the stunning cathedral. But in fact most of the vineyards are 30 minutes away surrounding the pretty town of Epernay. Driving over the hillside into Epernay is quite breathtaking, as you can see vineyards sloping down towards the river Marne, and right into the outskirts of the town itself.

There are three key sub-regions in Champagne to be aware of. The first is the Montagne de Reims, which is a little misleading because it’s more of a large hill than a mountain. This is primarily planted to Pinot Noir, a grape that benefits from the southerly exposure that the hillside provides, in order to help ripen the grapes in this cool climate.

At the bottom of the hill, and following the river, is the Valle de la Marne, which is predominantly planted to Pinot Meunier, another black grape. The reason is that Pinot Meunier breaks its buds later in the Spring than the other varieties, and so it is less prone to the severe frosts that can result in crop loss. Keep in mind that a major reason for most Champagne being non-vintage (i.e. a blend of several different vintages) is because the Spring frosts can decimate a crop.

Finally, you have my favorite region, which is the Cotes des Blancs, home to some of the most refined wines based on the Chardonnay grape.

In terms of grape-growing, or viticulture, each village in the region has been graded on a quality scale. It ranges from 80% up to 100%, and the classification is based upon the quality potential of the vineyards in that little village. If you own vineyards in a Grand Cru village, rated 100%, then you’re laughing all the way to the bank because the Houses pay a premium for grapes from these terroirs. I love the names of some of the villages, and suggest you make a stop in Bouzy before heading to Dizy. Obviously, if you own vineyards in a village rated 80% then you’re not quite so sought-after.

One of the key aspects of the terroir is the chalky soils, and in many places it is pure chalk, good enough for a school mistress to use. In some places the chalk is so deep that it extends to a depth of 400 feet, although I can’t vouch for that personally. This chalky soil helps reflect light back onto the grapes to assist with ripening, provides excellent drainage in this wet region, and gives the wines a certain finesses, elegance, and class, that you rarely find outside of Champagne.

Once the grapes are picked in September, which is always done by hand, they are rushed to the press in order to minimize oxidation. There are strict laws regulating the amount of juice you can extract from a press load, because the harder you squeeze the grapes, the worse the quality becomes. Other sparkling wine producers in other countries have no such regulation, and should take note.

Once the juice is extracted it is then placed in stainless steel tanks, which have largely replaced the oak barrels that were commonplace until the 1970’s. The first fermentation proceeds, generally triggered by inoculation with commercial yeast, and the wine is fermented to dryness.

Now comes the true art of making great Champagne, which is the blending, or assemblage, as they call it. Each House will have a portfolio of wines, which may include a luxury cuvee, a vintage wine, the standard non-vintage, and maybe a Rose, amongst others.

The amazing part to me is that the winemaker, with the assistance of an experienced team, often has over 500 ‘lots’ to work with. A non-vintage, will include wines held in reserve from previous vintages. The potential permutations are endless. A little bit of Chardonnay from this village, a splash of Pinot Noir from another town, some reserve wine from 2, 4 or 7 years ago, 1% of this, 3% of that… and so on.

What never ceases to amaze me is that the winemakers are able to foresee how these different lots will marry together, and what they will taste like when enjoyed years later. In some cases, the wines will not be released for 10 years. Making a pink Champagne that is destined for long ageing is the greatest challenge of all because it is so hard to get the color right, and hence the fact they are generally the most expensive wines in the luxury cuvee category.

Once the blend is made, the wine is bottled and then a small amount of yeast and sugar is added to trigger the second fermentation, which creates the carbon dioxide that dissolves in the wine. This is kept inside the bottle by sealing it with a crown cap.

And then it is taken down into the underground cellars, which are dug out of chalk, and one of the wonders of the wine world. Some of the largest Houses have several million bottles in stock, all slowly maturing, and the largest producer, Moet, has a staggering 96 million bottles ageing.

After the yeast has eaten the sugar and created the bubbles, plus a tiny bit more alcohol, it starts to breakdown, or decompose. The long ageing time on the dead yeast cells, called the lees, contributes a bready, toasty, biscuit character to the wine which all contribute to the complexity and depth found on the nose and palate. No other sparkling wine region has minimum ageing times as long as the Champenois impose on themselves.

To ensure that what we actually drink doesn’t have any sediment, or dead yeast, floating around in it there is an elaborate process of gradually turning the bottles into a vertical position. This is called riddling, or remuage, and at some Houses it is still done by hand. A riddler can turn about 40,000 bottles in a day, with a precise motion that causes the sediment to gradually slip into the neck of the bottle. This is something to see, and I suggest you visit within the next 20 years because machines, called giropalettes, are taking over from the human touch.

When the bottle is almost upside-down, and the sediment in the neck, the bottle is dipped in a freezing brine solution and the sediment is frozen into an ice plug. The bottles then rattle along the bottling line, the crown cap is removed, the sediment shoots out from the massive pressure of the bubbles, and then the final sweetness of the wine is adjusted in a process called dosage. After that the bottle is labeled, the wire muzzle placed over the cork, and a long capsule, or skirt, placed over the neck. And voila, the wine is typically shipped shortly thereafter.

So, what should you buy? And what foods should you pair these Champagnes with? Now if I wanted to make myself popular with the Champagne lover, and I’d taken her to a 2 star Michelin restaurant for an 8 course dinner, I’d go for a line-up like this.

Roederer – Cristal – Vintage
The ultimate way to declare your love, perhaps with a few oysters to up the ante.

Lanson – Noble Cuvee – Vintage
One of the great winemakers in Champagne is Jean-Paul Gandon, who makes a stunning luxury cuvee, that pairs well with smoked salmon tartare.

Taittinger – Comtes de Champagne – Vintage
This exquisite Blanc de Blancs, made just from Chardonnay, is a model of elegance, delicacy, yet intense power. Scallops St Jacques please.

Krug – La Grande Cuvee – NV
A spectacular Champagne that is very rich, and pairs well with a dish such as Halibut.

Billecart Salmon – Rose – NV
A fantastic pink Champagne, which has a touch more body than most whites, and pairs well with a morsel of veal.

Bollinger – R.D. – Old Vintage
An old Bolly that has been recently disgorged, and pairs well with creamy cheeses, such as goats cheese.

Veuve Clicquot – Demi-sec – NV
A sweet champagne, perfect with a light puff pastry with strawberries and raspberries.

Laurent Perrier – Ultra Brut – NV
This has absolutely no sugar added during the dosage, and I would explain to my new friend that it’s the equivalent of a diet Champagne, enabling one to remain slender, and best sipped as the dawn approaches.

Published on James Cluer’s The Vancouver Sun blog on Dec 9, 2011.

Barrel Tasting In Burgundy

Côte de Beaune, Burgundy
To fully appreciate the diversity of the terroir of the Côte d’Or in Burgundy one must see it with the naked eye. To feel the soils under your feet, and to appreciate the varying degrees of sun exposure along the Côte, I highly recommend a vineyard run (regardless of how rough around the edges the previous evening’s festivities has rendered you!).

Then there’s the romantic and picturesque town of Beaune. You start your day at one of the many town squares with a perfectly crafted pain au chocolat and a café (read: four), as you witness the town wake up. Breakfast is followed by strolling through the narrow cobblestone roads, picking fresh cheeses, baguettes and local produce for your afternoon picnic, and eventually settling into a cozy chair outside one of the many wine bars to taste wines by the glass as you watch the Beaune world go by. Beaune, FranceIn the evening you descend into one of the dozens of ‘cellar’ restaurants that could double as barrel rooms where you undoubtedly enjoy fine wines and gourmet food from the region. How does foie gras, escargots, coq au vin and boeuf bourgignon all cooked a la bourgignonne – in Burgundian wine – sound? Followed up by enough cheese to sink a ship!

Maison Louis Jadot:

Louis Jadot, BurgundyMuch to our surprise, Louis Jadot was the favourite visit, and here’s why: considering the current trend of cult/small-grower-preferred wines, we did not expect to receive such a warm, intimate, and ultimately the most memorable, welcome from one of the prominent producers of this region. Jadot has the power of the qi. The winery is in the shape of an octagon, at the heart of which a small platform is perched six feet off the ground under a domed skylight. During long harvest days this is the spot where workers come to re-energize.

Louis Jadot Cellars, BurgundyOnto the extensive barrel room! Louis Jadot produces an astounding 125 wines, of which we were fortunate to taste 19 from some of the top sites – Puligny Montrachet, Meursault, Chassagne Montrachet, Gevrey-Chambertain, to name a few… and your spittoon comes in the form of the gravel floor underfoot.

Merci to Monsieur Olivier Masmondet, our very fun and very suave host.

Domaine Comte Senard:

Domaine Comte Senard, BurgundyThere is no better welcome to a Domaine than that from a Grand Cru Chardonnay-eating Golden Retriever. Domaine Comte Senard, located in Aloxe-Corton, is set high up on the Côte with its Grand Cru sites enclosed by an ancient stone clos. They produce the only red Grande Cru in the Côte de Beaune. Comte Senard owns the oldest cellars in Burgundy which they discovered during an expansion, and in their good fortune unearthed intact bottles from the region – what a coup!

Alex Gambal:

Alex Gambal Visit in BeauneIn contrast, we capped off our Domaine tours with a visit with Alex Gambal, a modern day Texan making modern wines… in Burgundy? Who would have thought this was possible?! With the Napoleonic Code of land inheritance, farmers rule this region. Alex Gambal has gracefully managed to penetrate the traditional political landscape. He shared some of his tales of trials and tribulations of doing business here where verbal contracts are only as good as the Texan pony he rode in on. Well done Alex.

If you’re planning on visiting Burgundy, it’s a pretty good idea to contact these wineries well in advance to ask for an appointment, giving a specific day and time you are available. If you’re in the wine trade, you’ll have better luck sealing the deal!

Originally written by Megan Mallen and Tracey Dobbin

In Awe of Alsace

Alsace, France

Arriving in Alsace by way of Champagne is the way to go. The route heading east takes you over the infamous Vosges Mountain range to a lush valley, more Germanic than French, where Riesling reins supreme. The Alsatian valley is a long and narrow one, dotted with historical villages, each with a steeple peaking through the red-tiled roofs and brightly coloured buildings of yellow, turquoise and red all decorated with bogenvelia spilling from every window sill. It’s not hard to imagine Hansel and Gretel skipping around the corner hand-in-hand.

Alsace is renowned for its production of single noble grape varieties vinified to preserve the freshness and purity of the fruit and the minerality of the soils, packaged in elegant flûted bottles. Typically dry to off-dry, there are also two other classifications of Alsatian wines depending upon the ripeness of the grape: the sweeter styles of Vendange Tardive (Late Harvest) and the botrytis-affected Selection de Grains Nobles. The top examples of Alsatian wines have the ability to age for decades. Organic and biodynamic vinification and minimal intervention winemaking is the status quo for this region.
On our inaugural visit to Alsace, Tracey and I were honoured to have been welcomed into four prestigious domaines.

Alsace by iPhoneClos St Landelin, René Muré
This is clearly a family-driven winery as we were welcomed into the tasting room by René Muré himself, the 11th generation of the business, our purchases of the day were delivered to our car by his son Thomas, and our subsequent correspondences have been with his daughter Véronique. The nurturing and care given by the family to the vines, which surround the domaine, is evident in the glass. Common among many Alsatian winemakers, René Muré produces the full range of varietals and styles of the region.

Alsace, France - Domaine OstertagDomaine André Ostertag
The front gates of the modest Ostertag Domaine open to a tranquil backyard lined with well-tended, biodynamically farmed vines. André classifies his wines into 3 categories, according to the expression of the unique terroirs: ‘Vins de Fruit’ wines emphasize the purity of the fruit, ‘Vins de Pierre’ expresses the soils and ‘Vin de Temps’ includes the wines that have the greatest longevity. The captivating labelling is another personal touch to the wines, as each bottle is adorned with the original artwork of André’s wife. André’s gentle nature revealed itself during a stroll trough his pet project: a small plot of vines that he planted in a yin yang formation above his cellar. It must be said that all 3 styles embody the passion, intensity and austerity of the winemaker himself.

Alsace, France - Domaine WeinbachDomaine Weinbach
Colette Faller et ses filles

The wines produced by this family are of outstanding quality as each exhibits the power, character and elegance of the women behind the Domaine. The winery and family home are one, located in the middle of the walled Grand Cru Clos des Capucins. This experience blew our mind. From being greeted at the door by the family monarch, Colette Faller, to tasting 19 unique wines with the stunning and sophisticated Catherine, at the dining room table while Mother prepared the morning breakfast in the adjacent kitchen. Where else in the world would you taste top flight Rieslings to the crackle of bacon and eggs? We reluctantly parted ways, knowing that we will soon meet again, as Catherine hand packaged our order including a few gifts from the house. The experience was exquisite.

Alsace, France - Anne Trimbach of Maison TrimbachMaison Trimbach
Maison Trimbach is a big player from the region, as evidenced by the company with whom we shared the extensive tasting: top buyers from around the world. Led by the young and graceful Anne Trimbach, who commanded the room with ease and charm, we tasted the range of the Trimbach portfolio including back vintage examples of their prestige and collection wines. The wines, especially the Cuvée Frédéric Emile and the domaine’s top wine, Clos Sainte Hune, are benchmark examples of Alsatian Rieslings. We wrapped up our day with a tour through the winery which houses both traditional and modern equipment and the rustic family cellars.


Alsatian wines, with their purity, power and broad food pairing abilities, are enough to draw any wine enthusiast to the region. However it is the charm of the villages and the openness of the people with their emphasis on family that will make every visitor a fan, leaving wanting more.

Needless to say, as we departed for Burgundy and bid Alsace adieu, our luggage bags were downgraded to being stuffed into the back seat of our Peugeot, making room in the temperate trunk for the copious amount of wines we collected along the route. What else would you want with you as a third passenger on a car ride through France?

Originally written by Megan Mallen and Tracey Dobbin