Category Archives: Wine Education

Exploring France with Andrew Jefford

Group shot with Jefford

Two years ago, I participated in a fantastic tour of Southwest France. Led by Andrew Jefford, the trip was sponsored by Wine Scholar Guild (WSG).

As the countdown begins to my upcoming WSG study tour of the Languedoc-Roussillon, I am reminded that Andrew lives in this region with his family. His story is both timely and timeless. As an occasional wine writer myself, I am honored to learn from a master.

Andrew Jefford Uncorked: Reflections on a Career as a Wine Writer

 

 

 

Languedoc-Roussillon: 1+1 = 1

This rather lengthy backgrounder sets the stage for a study tour of the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region hosted by Wine Scholar Guild. Renowned wine writer Andrew Jefford will lead this tour October 14-19. Stay tuned for trip highlights!

languedoc_map_thedrinksbusinessPhoto Credit: TheDrinksBusiness.com

I have fished endlessly in deep pools of information – online and in resource books – with no luck in uncovering an explanation (in English), of exactly why the Languedoc and Roussillon regions were combined administratively in 1972. Was wine trade the big driver?

Consider this timeline. In the early 1900s, the first French wine cooperative was formed near Montpellier. By the 1930s, cooperatives had become very popular throughout France, giving groups of small growers the scale of operations they needed to become producers. Unfortunately, quantity prevailed over quality. Thus was born a perhaps unfortunate era in Languedoc-Roussillon history: producing bulk table wine just as demand for quality was on the rise.

Then, in 1968, a new wine classification called Vins de Pays was created to allow for experimentation and innovation outside the strict boundaries of the AOC system. In a list of many firsts, Languedoc and Roussillon vigorously embraced the new concept right away. Was it a device to avoid the regional fragmentation that has thwarted Southwest France in its quest for a unified brand identity? Perhaps joining administratively was the only way to be able draw and blend grape material from both Languedoc and Roussillon? The fact that 56 different grape varieties are permitted today might be considered a piece of evidence supporting this conclusion. Now called IGP Pay d’Oc – one of 150 IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée) designations in France – this Languedoc-Roussillon powerhouse generates 50% of total French wine exports.

It would seem that wine was indeed the big driver. Even so, every wine reference book (and wine writer) begins the story of Languedoc-Roussillon with a plan to discuss the regions separately. Much like the alliance among fractured appellations within Southwest France, the Languedoc-Roussillon is by all accounts really two distinct wine regions spanning five departments (since 2016). Joint administration notwithstanding, they are quite different in many ways.

LANGUEDOC is the “Language of Yes”

Languedoc is situated near the Spanish/French Pyrénées, partially within the Pyrénées-Orientales department. In the Occitan language, “oc” means “yes.” For nearly 500 years, the people of Languedoc have been turning “yes” into “opportunity” with an undaunted spirit of adventure. Just a few firsts from Languedoc include:

  • The monks of Saint-Hilaire “discovered” sparkling wine in 1531 while making Blanquette de Limoux (Mauzac grape) 150 years before Dom Perignon took credit for discovering the bubbles secret in Champagne.
  • Languedoc was the first French wine region to replant vines on American rootstock after the 1863 phylloxera scourge. By 1900, Languedoc had become France’s #1 supplier of wine — at the time nearly half the country’s total.
  • 1905 marked the birth of the first French cooperative in Maraussan near Montpelier.
  • Languedoc was first to adopt the Vin de Pays (IGP) classification of 1968. Today France has more than 150 IGP designations, but by far the most important is IGP Pays d’Oc spanning Languedoc and Roussillon. It is France’s largest wine export.

Historic market pivots have also demonstrated the determination and true grit of the Languedoc people. When the first half of the Canal du Midi opened for business in 1681, Languedoc (and basically all of southern France) was locked out of French and other European markets when merchants from Bordeaux controlled river access. Not easily knocked out of the game, Languedoc stepped up its trade partnership with the Dutch who were prime customers for affordable sweet wine. Score for Languedoc! A little over a century later, production pivoted to dry white wine used as the base to distill brandy for Napoleon’s armies.

Iron-rich (“rousse”) ROUSSILLON

Roussillon is topographically distinct from Languedoc (and many other wine regions). It is surrounded by mountains on three sides, creating the effect of an amphitheater as vines cascade down slopes toward the Mediterranean Sea. Mountains also serve as rain shadows and tunnels of wind from all directions. Roussillon enjoys on average 325 days of sunshine a year, and its mean temperature is the highest in all of France. Seasons are basically compressed from four to two. As the Wine Scholar Guild notes, it is “possible to ski and swim in the same season!” Tall peaks dotting the Pyrénées block Spanish Catalonia from view, but not from the legacy of Catalan language and culture, or from big earthy red wines and slightly oxidized white wines. In fact, Roussillon is still considered to be French Catalogne.

Most of Roussillon’s production (75%) is carried out by 60 cooperative wineries. Roussillon is well known for two things: (1) 80% of France’s total production of Vins Doux Naturels, and (2) more organic and biodynamic producers than any other French region.

An Efficient Bridge…Cooperatives

Cooperatives have traditionally been market leaders in Languedoc-Roussillon, whether it was the boom that came from creating France’s first post-phylloxera cooperative in 1905, or the bust starting in the 1930s that led to a tradition of bulk vin de table production. Innovations in winemaking began to blossom in 1968-79 as new classification rules were developed and eventually formalized to permit broader experimentation outside the appellation system. Wine styles may have changed, but the perception of Languedoc-Roussillon as a provider of plonk hung on for more than 50 years. As the region’s flight to quality took hold in the 1980’s, cooperatives benefited from the competition and technology improvements.

For more than a century, cooperatives have lowered barriers to entry for growers even as the appellation structure was being developed. In Languedoc, the number of AOCs grew from 10 to 50 over the past 35+ years, yet 150 sturdy cooperatives are responsible for 65% of the region’s production. In Roussillon, the story is a bit different. Three of the current 13 AOCs were approved in 1936, initially all for the sweet Vins Doux Naturels. Appellations producing dry white, rosé, and red wines were not established until 1971. But then these two regional stories converge: 75% of Roussillon’s total production comes from 60 cooperative wineries.

According to the French Confederacy of Wine Cooperatives, today there are more than 600 co-ops that collectively produce about half of the wine in France. As nearly all wine cooperatives are members of this federation, it is safe to say that about one-third of them are located in Languedoc-Roussillon.

The future of cooperatives looks bright, once again putting Languedoc-Roussillon into a leadership position. Peter Weltman, the founder of “Borderless Wines,” argues in SevenFiftyDaily (9/3/18) that ”the age of the grower-producer finds many buyers overlooking co-op wines—and missing out…While cooperatives were once startups for survival, the organizations today provide ongoing support for small family farms in grape-growing regions around the world. For Buyers, the wines are valuable for their typicity and breadth.” In an interview with a Greek agricultural official, Weltman heard that “(t)here is no country in the world with an advanced agri-food system where agricultural cooperatives do not play a major role in the main food supply chains.”

In the Wine Economist (7/17/18), Mike Veseth points out that cooperatives account for more than half of all the wine produced in Italy and Spain as well as France. He calls them “invisible wineries,” noting that they are one of the most under-appreciated elements of the global wine trade despite the commercial success of some of the wines. “Cooperatives seem to be under attack to a certain extent…(but) more than anything I think it has been competition that has stirred French cooperatives to raise their game — competition in the retail market and also competition between and among the cooperatives for the declining group of potential grower-members. Competition is disruptive but has obviously been a good thing.”

A Sweet Bridge…Vins Doux Naturels

I have always found the term Vins Doux Naturels (VdN) to be misleading because the wines are actually fortified with neutral grape spirits. (Hardly natural, right?) The fortification process called mutage was discovered in 1285 by Arnau de Vilanova at the University of Montpellier in Languedoc.

Roussillon is the largest producer (80%) of VdNs in France. Other fortified wines are produced only in Languedoc and Rhône. The first three of five total sweet appellations in Roussillon were all founded in 1936: Rivesaltes, Banyuls, and Maury. Dry wine appellations were not established until 1971. The five regions, and their respective styles, are:

Banyuls Grand Cru – red only, primarily Grenache
Muscat de Rivesaltes – white only (Muscat à Petits Grains Blanc and Muscat d’Alexandrie)
Maury – red and white
Rivesaltes – red, white and rosé
Banyuls – red, white and rosé

In Languedoc, there are four appellations for white VdNs only, all made solely from Muscat à Petits Grains Blanc. The four highly regarded Muscat AOCs are Frontignan, Lunel, Mireval, and Saint Jean de Minervois.

VdN fortified wines have a second layer of style differentiation. They are made in two styles: reductive (minimal oxygen, primarily through the use of glass jars called bonbonnes) and oxidative (oxygen encouraged via aging vessels). In Languedoc, all of the VdNs are made in reductive style; there is greater style diversity in Roussillon.

As always when discussing French wines, it is important to know the names of styles and labeling requirements. Rosé VdNs do not have any special or additional style descriptors.

Reductive for red VdNs:

  • Grenat (12 months aging including 3 in bottle)
  • Rimage (2-6 months aging)

Oxidative for red and white VdNs:

  • Ambré – white only – (minimum 20 months aging)
  • Tuilé – red only – (minimum 30 months aging)
  • Hors d’Age – red or white – (“with age” minimum 5 years)
  • Rancio – red or white – (extremely oxidized or maderized, aged more than 5 years)

 

The Answer is 33. What is the Question?

Burgundy 2011

Photos by Kathy Merchant, 2011

How many Grand Cru vineyards are there in Bourgogne?

The answer is not as straightforward as you might think. This is France, after all, where complexity rules the day. Some resources, including Remington Norman MW (author of Grand Cru: The Great Wines of Burgundy, 2011) and Sylvain Pitiot (author of The Wines of Burgundy in 2012 and formerly winemaker at Clos de Tart) declared 32 Grand Crus. The Wine Scholar Guild builds its list of 33 Grand Crus on labelling regulations. And there is a vote of confidence for 34 in the Oxford Companion to Wine. Among these resources, there is agreement only on this: in Chablis, there is one Grand Cru (encompassing seven climats).

Our gentle dispute lies within the Côte d’Or. The confusion comes primarily from two places, both owing to the use of communal boundaries in labeling.

 

Cote de Nuits

In the northern region of Côte de Nuits, the Bonnes Mares Grand Cru straddles two communes — Morey-Saint-Denis and Chambolle-Musigny — and is sometimes counted as two Grand Cru vineyards. It is not recognized or counted as such by the officials who govern Burgundy wine production and labeling. Bonnes Mares is just Bonnes Mares. But be sure to look for the commune name on the label if you happen to love the wines of a particular place.

Cote de Beaune

In the southern region of Côte de Beaune, three Grand Cru vineyards are partially overlapping: Corton, Charlemagne and Corton-Charlemagne. At the time that Norman and Pitiot published their respective seminal works on Burgundy, Charlemagne was not used in alone in labeling. While the area of production for appellation Corton-Charlemagne includes the cru name Charlemagne, it was not then claimed or used alone in labeling. That has changed. Charlemagne is a white-only appellation within the communes of Aloxe-Corton and Pernand-Vergelesses.

And finally, the approved list:

Cote de Nuits
1.       Bonnes Mares
2.      Chambertin
3.      Chambertin-Clos de Bèze
4.      Chapelle-Chambertin
5.      Charmes-Chambertin
6.      Clos de la Roche
7.       Clos de Tart (monopole)
8.      Clos de Vougeot
9.      Clos des Lambrays (monopole)
10.   Clos Saint-Denis
11.    Echezeaux
12.   (La) Grande Rue
13.   Grands Echezeaux
14.   Griotte-Chambertin
15.   Latricières-Chambertin
16.   Mazis-Chambertin
17.   Mazoyères-Chambertin
18.   Musigny
19.   Richebourg
20.  (La) Romanee
21.   Romanée Conti (monopole)
22.  Romanée Saint-Vivant
23.  Ruchottes-Chambertin (monopole)
24.  La Tache (monopole)

Cote de Beaune
1.       Bâtard-Montrachet
2.    Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet
3.      Charlemagne
4.      Chevalier-Montrachet
5.      Corton
6.      Corton Charlemagne
7.       Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet
8.      Montrachet

Chablis Grand Cru

Note: edited and consolidated from two articles previously written for French Wine Explorers blog (2012).

Book Review: Passion for Wine

Passion-for-Wine-Book-Front-Credit-Megan-Steffen

Winemaker Jean-Charles Boisset and Sommelier Marnie Old have written a fascinating book that is part coffee-table gorgeous, part serious wine education with sophisticated infographics, and part brand promotion for the JCB Collection of wineries.

“All that glitters is not gold” (thank you Shakespeare) in this sparkling tour of French and American wine. It is a waltz across sensory experience amplified by some super-serious sections on growing grapes and making wine. Though characterized by Boisset and Old as a book meant to quash the intimidation factor for novices, as well as inspire exploration by all levels of wine afficionados, in less than 200 pages they have achieved a fairly comprehensive — yet entertaining — coverage of the topic of wine.

There is something in this book for everyone, regardless of how much you already know about wine. Marnie Old says it best when describing the personality of “Passion for Wine”: she’s a little bit Sesame Street, he’s a little bit Sex and the City.

I have three personal favorite chapters, starting with #1 covering the history of wine in France and the United States.

This chapter is a short story of origin about quality wine. Sure, there is evidence that wine was made before the first recorded history in France around 6000 BC. Greeks and Romans vie for first-place honors here. But almost everything about wine today can trace its origins to France.

The links and parallels between France and the U.S. are interesting and important, explaining much of what consumers experience in the global wine industry today. Jean-Charles Boisset embodies this connection, describing himself as “rooted in Burgundy with the spark of California.” The maps of France (and the rest of Europe) and the U.S. (plus the rest of the New World, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere) are easy to digest. If you avoid delving into history because it’s usually too tedious to pore over all the gory details of politics, war, religion, nobility, economic crises, crippling vine diseases, industry pioneers, and more — well then, this book’s for you in a deft 17 pages (including the beautiful intro photo).  

Chapter 5 is a wonderfully clear rendering of the vitis vinifera grape varieties that are well known to wine lovers on an international scale:  “France’s royal family.” Perhaps with the greatest of ironic twists, these grape varieties are grown almost everywhere in the world. Everyone knows Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, right? Their familiar names appear on labels. But not in France. What?!? You just have to know that Chablis is really Chardonnay, or that red Burgundy is Pinot Noir, and that red Bordeaux is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (plus partners). Eight of the major varieties, three blending partners, and American Zinfandel, are profiled in this chapter. One of the coolest charts in the entire book, called “The Best of the Rest,” is on page 123.

And finally, the chapter on pairing wine with food with hints for home entertaining is most helpful. Marnie Old provides a straightforward somm’s introduction to glassware, decanters, serving temperature, and cellaring tips. Although a portion of the chapter is described as advanced, I found all of matching principles to be clear and simple, including recommendations for serving wine with vegetables, “wine killer” salad dressing, seafood, and meat/poultry. Bottom line: pair wine to the cooking flavors, not the protein. You could make a fun and successful wine pairing dinner or party if you only read this chapter!

I’m skipping lightly over Chapters 2, 3, and 4, and feeling a bit guilty about it. They are well done, lots of cool graphics, but perhaps try to accomplish too much for this book in conveying technical knowledge in the vast arenas of growing grapes, making wine, tasting wine, assessing wine, understanding styles of wine, and more. All that said, I have to make a special mention of Chapter 4. If you love looking at old photos of cinema’s leading ladies like Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, then this chapter alone is a compelling reason to buy the book.

Jean-Charles Boisset and his family own 26 wineries: 16 in France, 8 in California, and one each in Canada and England. A dozen of the wineries are profiled in the book, complete with gorgeous photos, including the artful modernization of Buena Vista and Raymond in California, and the traditional preservation of the winery founded by JCB’s father in Burgundy.

“Passion for Wine” is available for purchase online (and shipping to most states) from JCB Collection by clicking here.

 

Spanish Fiesta y Cata de Vinos

Blind Tasting of Spanish Wines — Before and After

Wine class with Sommelier Mary Horn is always an adventure, serious in purpose and big fun in the moment. Five of us who are WSET Advanced or Diploma (but who do not work full-time in the industry) gather regularly for a rigorous blind tasting tutorial with Mary. That usually involves at least eight different wines, plus a “mystery wine” to start the class with Mary calibrating the assessment process. We then hunker down quietly for about 30 minutes, moaning occasionally because it is so difficult to discern the provenance and character of each wine in only four minutes!!

54 Glasses of Wine!!

Our January class featured Spanish wines. A selection of Spanish cheeses — Manchego, Mahon, Drunken Goat — fueled discussion of the wines. How did we do? Not so great. This was a particularly challenging class, with only the most powerful Garnachas and classic Tempranillos winning correct assessments.

The line-up of wines, before and after, are featured at the top of this post. As a belated “cheers” to the new year, we enjoyed a Spanish meal of Paella, Fiesta Salad (recipe from Deborah Birckhead), and Crema de Esponja (aka Flan de Valencia). Recipes (adapted to my personal taste) follow. Enjoy!!

Paella (6-10 servings depending on portion size)
Traditional Paella has either seafood or meat, but not both. I really like the combination, so I have adapted a recipe from Rachel Ray she calls “Perfect Paella.” If you don’t already have a Paella pan, there are many options available online. (Note: I am allergic to mussels, so I don’t use them in my Paella. But if you love them, Rachel Ray’s recipe calls for 18 green lipped mussels, cleaned.)

Ingredients
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (add more or less depending on how hot you like your food)
2 cups enriched white rice (the classic rice is bomba, but if you can’t find that type, use either small- or medium-grain rice; do not use long-grain rice)
1/4 t. saffron threads (I typically use a wee bit more)
1 bay leaf
4-6 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 quart broth or stock (I use either all chicken stock or a combination of chicken and fresh fish stock from my local fishmonger)
1 14-ounce can of chopped tomatoes with green chiles
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped (optional)
1 cup (or more) frozen peas
2 lemons, zested
Seafood options: 1 pound of medium shrimp and/or lobster chunks, plus one can of baby clams, drained
Meat options: 2+ pounds of any combination of white/dark meat chicken (cubed) and any type of mild to spicy sausage (sliced). I have also added roast pork or lardons to pop up the flavor.

Instructions:
It is much easier to make this dish doing advance prep, especially with guests present!  I always cook the meat ingredients ahead of time, refrigerate, and then bring to room temperature before starting to assemble the Paella. Use only olive oil, salt and pepper — no additional spices. I make sure the seafood is cleaned, shelled, chopped (for lobster), etc., and ready to be added to the Paella at the end for just a few minutes of cook time.

Preheat the Paella pan, then add 2 T. olive oil, crushed garlic, and red pepper flakes. Sautée rice 2-3 minutes. Add saffron threads, bay leaf, thyme sprigs, and broth. Bring liquid to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer.

After about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, add the can of tomatoes, optional can of baby clams, peas, and lemon zest. Stir. In 2-3 minutes, add the meat which will absorb some of the juice. When the juice is nearly absorbed, add the seafood for about 3 minutes until it is fully cooked. (Don’t be afraid to add a little more broth toward the end with the seafood if you think the dish is getting too dry.)

Remove the bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Serve with lemon wedges and warm, crusty bread.

Fiesta Salad with Lime Cilantro Vinaigrette (6-8 servings)

Vinaigrette
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped shallots
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 T. minced garlic
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Combine first 4 ingredients in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk in oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Salad
3 cups thinly sliced red leaf lettuce
3 cups thinly sliced Napa cabbage
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
one avocado, diced
1/3 cup cooked corn
1/4 cup pepitas or pine nuts
1/4 cup thinly sliced onion (optional)
1/2 cup crumbled queso anejo or feta cheese (about 2 ounces)

Combine all ingredients except cheese. Toss with vinaigrette to coat. Top with cheese.

Crema de Esponja (or Flan de Valencia)
Enjoy these recipes!

Barbaresco vs. Barolo: What’s the Difference?

In my most recent article written for French Wine Explorers, I explore the subtle but important differences between Barbaresco and Barolo winegrowing regions and the resulting styles of wine. Spoiler alert: it’s mostly the Mother Nature factors, but there are a few winemaker choices and aging rules that also explain style differences. Enjoy the story, but more importantly, love the wine! Even better, join French Wine Explorers for the 2018 “Treasures of Tuscany and Piedmont” tour! Kathy Merchant

http://www.wine-tours-france.com/barbaresco-vs-barolo/

Italian Wine Labels

What’s actually in the bottle? Does the wine label tell you the place, the grape, or both? I hope you will enjoy my recent article, written for American wine travel company French Wine Explorers, to demystify the various ways Italian wine labels explain the product within.

http://www.wine-tours-france.com/italian-wine-label/

Introducing “Ask Kathy”

ask-kathy

The world of wine can be intimidating. Where should I shop? Which wine goes best with a certain meal or cuisine, or favorite cheese? What is Carménère? Where is Irouleguy? What’s the best itinerary to enjoy the wines of Tuscany? Why is Pinot Noir so difficult to grow? Where can I take wine classes, and which type of education is best for me? Is Soave and place or a grape? Can you help me “translate” a German wine label? And so it goes…

This is an experiment to gauge interest among readers in addition to my immediate friendship network (and to try using WordPress as the vehicle)! If you have a question, just fill out the “leave a reply” comment box on the “Ask Kathy” page of my website (or use this post), and I will get back to you as quickly as I can.

Photo credit: http://www.geomarketing.com

Southwest France: Diverse by Design?

Southwest France (Sud Oest) is best known for what it isn’t. Frankly, and unfortunately, it’s not widely recognized at all. With an accompanying eye-roll, I must report that many people have asked me – quite genuinely – “where is Southwest France?”!

Let’s get positioned on the map. Sud Oest is the deepest rural France, la France profonde. “In terroir terms, it’s a big area and rather difficult to generalise about, but most of the high-quality vineyard zones…owe their existence to the slopes created by rivers coming down either from the Massif Central, or from the Pyrenees. The overall zone is the Aquitaine Basin, and almost all of the soils…have been developed from sedimentary rocks of various kinds, or by the action of the rivers themselves.”[1]

  • To the west, the Atlantic Ocean curves along the French coastline, moderating altitude and winter weather (along with several smallish rivers) to create both maritime and semi-continental climates with plenty of rainfall.
  • To the south, the Pyrenees Mountains separate France from Spain. Beautifully majestic and occasionally craggy, the mountains are quite permeable. Basque language, food, and culture seep into the foothills on the French side.
  • To the north, Southwest France stretches inland, cupping the edges of Bordeaux and capturing misty river effects to generate some of the world’s greatest (if little known) sweet wines.
  • To the east? Well, that’s a good question. Several of the appellations that comprise Southwest France are actually nestled within the great Massif Central. The city of Toulouse might be a good eastern marker signaling the regional shift to Languedoc-Roussillon.
Map Credit: Wine Folly

Map Credit: Wine Folly

So what is (or is not) Southwest France? It is not an official appellation; it is a collection of appellations, glued together for convenience into a sort of cornucopia. Its terroir is not homogenous, although there are some common threads. It is the spiritual home – exclusive, in some cases – to spectacularly interesting grapes. Despite New World claims to the contrary, Malbec and Tannat can rightly claim Cahors and Madiran, respectively, as their spiritual homes. It’s not all obscure and mysterious, though. The appellations closest to Bordeaux do grow international varieties and make familiar blends.

This all adds up to a perplexing global-market branding nightmare for the winegrowers of Southwest France. There is very little that ties this huge geographic region together naturally as either an appellation or a brand. What might it be called instead? South X Southwest? Pyrenees North? Bordeaux Near? Gascony? High Country? l’Aquitaine?

Contributing to the overall brand issue is the fact that only about 25% of the 330 million bottles produced in Southwest France is AOC wine. Most of it – nearly 2/3 – is a regional designation of IGP (formerly Vin de Pays), and the rest is basically table wine for local markets. It is difficult to lift up and distinguish the highest quality wines.

It’s quite possibly impossible to create a proper synthesis of the region. While this alignment and branding problem is being sorted out, perhaps at a smaller scale on an appellation by appellation basis, the interim solution seems clear to me. Take a deep breath, hire a driver, plan a wine route that matches your sense of adventure, and enjoy by design the diversity of Southwest France. Just be sure to plan enough time to make the most of the >1,800 km touring experience!

Up next: Part 2 | History, Food & Wine

[1] Thank you to Andrew Jefford for the use of his extensive reference notes and excellent leadership of a Wine Scholar Guild tour of Southwest France.

Tradition Meets Innovation in Bergerac, FR

(This article was published October 20 by Wine Scholar Guild)

Day one of the Wine Scholar Guild (WSG) study tour of Southwest France, led by Andrew Jefford, was a very special opportunity to spend quality time with the owners/winemakers of three appellations, each providing a different glimpse of the diverse terroir of the region.

A bit behind schedule, we stopped for lunch at La Flambée near Bergerac just before 1:00. Bruno Bilancini had earlier explained the region’s daily rhythm of cool mists lasting until about 1:00, then giving way to warm sunshine (and thus perfect conditions for botrytis). The daily weather story was right on schedule!
Back on the bus, warmed by a lovely meal and and a preview of a white wine from Château Tour de Gendres, we headed to our third and final visit of the day in Bergerac with winemaker Luc di Conti. Instead of vineyard cats, we were greeted enthusiastically by a boisterous pooch who was determined to latch onto the knitted scarf of one member of our group.

In Ch. Tour’s vineyards we walked high atop a hill where we could see clearly the patchwork quilt of soils that provide great diversity and a perfect setting for organic farming (since 1996) of each parcel in a different manner. While the complete picture of the di Conti family vineyard holdings encompasses 50 ha, Luc farms 20 of them, choosing the 6 ha closest to the winery and cellars for biodynamic farming. When asked whether organic farming is more expensive than traditional commercial methods, Luc said unequivocally “no. If you are playing chess, you are always one step ahead. The same is true of viticulture.” After 20 years, nature is in balance at Ch. Tour and inspires new directions such as the dozen amphorae where Luc is also making orange wines.

Our tasting included a sample of Sauvignon Blanc from amphora (no skins, 10 days in the vessel) to compare with SB from a wooden vat. The amphora sample was cool, cloudy, slightly effervescent and sweet. The vat sample was warmer and also cloudy at this stage; though there was no sign of effervescence, there was more residual sugar. Continuing with comparisons, we tasted a vat sample of 2016 Bergerac Blanc (Muscadelle a Petits Grains) and a finished sample from 2014 which had been aged 80% in vat and 20% in amphora. The vat sample was quite leesy and tasted of pamplousse (grapefruit), while the finished wine was rich and full bodied with a slightly saline character. The vines for a 2014 Sauvignon Blanc are 80 years old, grown on calcere soil, resulting in a style typical of SW France. The final taste was a sample of 2015 Cabernet Franc, aged 14 months in a vat, ready to spend a year in bottle prior to release.

Chateau Tour Des Gendres

Chateau Tour Des Gendres