Category Archives: Wine

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).

Hiding in Plain Sight: Rapeneau Family Estates

Chateau de Bligny

Château de Bligny is the crown jewel of Rapeneau Family Estates, a pristine set of Champagne brands secured over four generations by the Rapeneau family. Today the collection includes three récoltant-manipulant (grower/producer) wine estates and four maisons (houses). All seven brands are highlighted at the end of this story.

100+ Years of Champagne

More than a century ago, the family enterprise was sparked by patriarch and wine merchant (négociant) Ernest Rapeneau. In 1901, Ernest was selling both still wines and Champagne in Hautvillers, a village considered to be the birthplace of Champagne. As the process of delimiting vineyards and setting appellation boundaries began to take hold in France (1927-36), Ernest shifted his business exclusively to the Champagne trade. (In fact, Ernest was involved in creating the regulatory process to protect place and quality.) When he retired in 1965, son Bernard took over with twenty years of experience working side-by-side with his father. Bernard’s son Jean-François developed the brand’s domestic market, while son Christophe joined the family firm (1983) after earning a degree in oenology from the University of Reims. Christophe currently serves as president of Rapeneau Family Estates.

Rapenau Family

(Top to bottom) Ernest and Christophe Rapeneau

All three of Christophe’s sons have joined the business as well. Two of his sons run the winery with their father, while son Jean-Remy represents the brand in North America. According to Jean-Remy, “the business runs by consensus. My mother isn’t involved in the business, but she drinks a lot of Champagne!”

Acquisition Strategy

Christophe purchased Château de Bligny in the Côte des Bars in 1999. This purchase marked the beginning of the family’s intentional acquisition strategy in vine-saturated Champagne. “My family wanted to buy as much vineyard property as possible to control the supply of Champagne so we could control the brand,” said Jean-Remy.

Although there are over 15,000 winegrowers in Champagne who collectively own about 90% of all Champagne vineyards, the big Champagne houses such as Moët & Chandon and Veuve Cliquot are much better known global brands. Rapeneau Family Estates is the largest grower in Champagne, one of few family-only growers (no shareholders) and “very Champenoise” –no investments in other countries or French appellations. “It’s not just a business, it’s our passion for Champagne,” said Jean-Remy during a recent visit to Cincinnati as part of the Shaw-Ross Lineage Collection event hosted by Hyde Park Gourmet Food & Wine. “We are definitely competing with the big brands.”

Passion for Place: Côte des Bars and the Village of Bligny

 France-Champagne-SWE-Map-20161

The property’s location in the southern reaches of Champagne, in the Aube region of Côte des Bars, lends several elements of distinction to the brand.

The Côte des Bars makes up about one-third of the Champagne appellation. Château de Bligny owns 30 hectares. Among the thousands of Champagne winegrowers, Château de Bligny is the only grower-producer to use “Chateau” in its name, and to bottle the bubbles on site at the vineyard property. Jean-Remy shared proudly: “There may be 10,000 chateaux in Bordeaux, but only one in Champagne!” Inspired by its proximity to Bordeaux, its name signals the importance of the Château’s Grande Reserve cuvée (house style) to the brand.

The vineyards of Château de Bligny are planted with seven traditional grape varieties on the limestone soil that signals the route to Chablis in the northernmost area of Bourgogne. “The taste of Champagne from the southern area (of the appellation) is completely different from the (mountainous) north.”

Rapenau Glass

Terroir notwithstanding, the village of Bligny owns an important spot in history as home to the Bayel crystal glassworks factory since the 1300s. Once the largest producer of crystalware (cristallerie) in France, Bayel’s production peaked in the late 1800s. There are just a few employees remaining today. Bayel crystal is highly collectible. The Rapeneau family has several neo-Gothic stained class windows in its cellar marked for visiting on the “Champagne Tourist Trail.” Paying homage to the town’s deep history, the family has amassed a collection of more than a thousand champagne glasses.

About Jean-Remy Rapeneau

Jean Remy

As the fourth generation of the Rapeneau family, Jean-Remy was literally born into the business of Champagne the same year (1983) that his father joined Rapeneau Family Estates. “I was born for a reason,” he said with a smile in his voice.

Even as a young boy, Jean-Remy worked in the vineyards and helped to make the bubbles. After learning all about winery operations through the family enterprise, Jean-Remy decided to complement his hands-on experience by studying international business (London, Westminster University). In 2008, he moved to the United States to introduce Rapeneau Family Estate brands into the North American market. “It was a natural process,” he said. “We were already working successfully over four generations with everyone in France and Europe, so North American expansion was the only way to grow.” At the time, the family’s brands were distributed only in California, so he settled in San Francisco (and also wanted to be near the Napa/Sonoma wine country).

Three years ago, the family decided to focus primarily on grower brands. Today, grower Champagne represents only 5% of the total Champagne market in the United States “so there is room to grow”! Jean-Remy spends about half of the year in France, and the other half in the U.S. and Canada. A charming, gracious and super-smart family representative, Jean-Remy revels in having “fun introducing people to grower Champagnes.”

Visiting Champagne and Château de Bligny

Quite intentionally, there isn’t much information available online about the Rapeneau family, or even about Château de Bligny. “We don’t want to put the family’s name on the labels. We want the wines to speak for themselves.” That said, the family is keen for Champagne lovers to visit, to experience the winery for themselves! The renovated Château has been open to the public since 1999. You can visit the house, which, along with its land and the village of Bligny has great historic, architectural and wine-making heritage. The dining and reception rooms have retained their decorative woodwork and ceilings painted with cherubs and cupids. Fun fact: there is a nightclub in the cellar, complete with a disco ball, for private events!!

By appointment only:
10200 Bligny, France
Telephone +33 3 25 27 40 11
(Or fill out the contact form on the winery’s website)

Maisons (Houses)

Rapenau - House

H. Martel & Sons was the Rapeneau family’s first acquisition, purchased in Epernay 1979. In 2015, its historic crayères (chalk cellars) were named a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Champagne Victoire is made from grapes grown in the family vineyards, a cuvée of mostly premier cru grapes.

In the historic heart of Reims, Maison Charles de Cazanove was purchased in 2003 because of its strong international brand.

Champagne Vieille France is an historic property in the Côte des Blancs, also purchased by the Rapeneaus in 2003. Today, the cuvée is a blend of grapes from the winery’s traditional vineyards blended with reserves from Rapeneau family vineyards.

Récoltant-Manipulants (Grower Producers)

Rapenau - Grower

Château de Bligny was built in the 13th century by the Marquis de Dampierre. It is situated in the heart of the Côte des Bars, in the historic and architecturally significant village of Bligny. “Grande Reserve” is the Château’s cuvée (50% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir). Three thousand (3,000) cases are distributed throughout the U.S. The Château property is available for events such as weddings.

Charles Orban is a legacy winery of a family that had been growing grapes on the left bank of the Marne since the 1770s. Best known for Pinot Meunier, both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are also grown.

P. Louis Martin was founded in 1864 in Bouzy, an area devoted to Pinot Noir. Martin family members are credited with helping to found the first cooperative in Bouzy.

Photo credits: Society of Wine Educators, Château de Bligny/Jean-Remy Rapeneau, winery websites.

Interview with Jean-Remy Rapeneau August 8, 2018.

Shaw-Ross Lineage Wine Tour

 

wine-tasting-101

No one knows exactly how many wine brands there are in the world today. Market dynamics in wine-world are wild and wooly. The space is crowded, complicated and consolidating.

I actually tried to research the answer to this brand volume question. (Scroll down to catch a glimpse of some fascinating trends.)

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My motive was to contrast the noise of a crowded marketplace with a very special limited edition experience recently presented by Cincinnati’s Hyde Park Gourmet Food & Wine and hosted by Miller Gallery. This tasting was like a treasure hunt where the “X” was already drawn on the map! Shaw-Ross International Importers represents a small collection of prestigious family vineyard brands. Its Lineage Collection emphasizes “the ‘savior faire’ of the winemakers who create them.” It was deeply gratifying to meet the current generation of family winemakers, and in coming weeks I will share their remarkable stories (and wine tasting notes) with you.

In the meantime, here’s a short introduction to the winemakers and wines. You can purchase (or order) these wines from Hyde Park Gourmet Food & Wine.

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Clockwise from top left: Jean-Remy Rapeneau, Patrick Leon, Jake (and Ben) Fetzer, Ophelie Loubersac, and Jose Luis Muguiro

Château de Bligny, Jean-Remy Rapeneau
Third generation grower/winemaker/owner

  • Brut Champagne
  • Blanc de Blanc Champagne
  • Rosé Champagne

Château Les Trois Croix and Château d’Esclans, Patrick Leon
Consulting oenologist and winemaker for Sacha Lichine’s brands

  • Château Les Trois Croix (2012)
  • Château d’Esclans (2016): Rock Rosé, Les Clans Rosé, and Garrus Rosé

Masút Vineyard & Winery, Jake Fetzer
Third generation winemaker/owner

  • Pinot Noir

Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Ophélie Loubersac
Oenologist and communications manager

  • Mouton Cadet Reserve (2015)

Marqués de Riscal, Jose Luis Muguiro, Jr.
5th generation family owner and brand ambassador

  • Rioja Gran Reserva (2005)
  • Bar de Chirel Reserva (2010)

Now back to the context of market dynamics. The number of brands changes faster than the International Organization of Wine and Vine (OIV) can track them. OIV’s 2017 statistical report on world “vitiviniculture” (based on 2015-16 data) sheds interesting light on the dynamic situation.

In the past decade, the volume of wine production has increased 24%, and the value by 61%. The top five wine-producing countries in rank order are Italy, France, Spain, United States, and Australia. In the race for vino market share, China is in hot pursuit, eclipsing a steady pack of countries better known for producing wine: South Africa, Chile, Argentina, and Germany.

According to The Drinks Business (2017), China now has two of the top ten brands in the world (#10 Great Wall Wine Company and #4 Changyu Pioneer Wine, which is venturing into e-commerce). The brand structure looks a bit different in China than in most of the rest of the world. There is a single brand name, but as many as 50 different styles of wine ranging from sweet to dry, sparkling to still, and more. At #2 in the world, the Chilean conglomerate Concha y Toro is primarily a single big brand, albeit with multiple sub-brands to differentiate quality and style. Rounding out the top ten is a small but mighty group of big global companies that own multiple brands:

  • Constellation > 100 (#7 Robert Mondavi)
  • E & J Gallo > 70 (including #3 Gallo and #1 Barefoot)
  • Treasury Wine Estates > 70 (#9 Beringer)
  • Trinchero Family >40 (including #6 Sutter Home)
  • Accolade Wine >20 (#9 Hardy’s), and
  • Casella Family Brands, a relatively small portfolio that includes #5 Yellow Tail.

I love the tradition of independent, family-owned wineries, and I loved experiencing these wines. My case selection is on its way!

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!

Darioush: “Show Your Dreams to Others”

November 6, 2017. My interview with Darioush Khaledi took place on a momentous day. By the numbers:

  • It was the 49th wedding anniversary of Darioush and Shaphar Khaledi.
  • Twenty-nine years ago, on their 20th anniversary, the Khaledis visited Napa Valley and added love of the NoCal wine country to their enduring love for each other.
  • Twenty years ago, after a three-year global search for vineyard property in Bordeaux and California, their anniversary trip to Napa turned a dream into reality.

In 1997, the Khaledis happened upon and purchased the property on Silverado Trail that today houses the Darioush winery, corporate offices, visitor experience center, and family home. Despite the fires that raged randomly through wine country for several weeks in October — devastating neighboring Signorello Winery — the winery known simply as Darioush escaped serious harm with limited damage to the physical property.

Photo credit: Kathy Merchant (11.6.17)

Determined, Independent, and Adaptive

Darioush Khaledi’s successful career has been well documented in American public bios since the late 1970’s when he and brother-in-law Paul Varzin first bought a supermarket in Torrence, California. This quick summary offers a glimpse into the enduring character and temperament of a man who has excelled in construction, retail grocery, and commercial wine industries.

Educated as a civil engineer in his home country of Iran, Darioush was a natural entrepreneur. In just five years he built a construction company capable of winning major government contracts. Sensing (and experiencing) the growing challenges that led up to the 1978-79 Iranian uprising in which Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi was overthrown, Darioush emigrated to the United States in 1976 in search of stability and business opportunity.

Unable to return home to Iran after the revolution, Darioush again demonstrated the power of his entrepreneurial spirit. He (and Paul) grew one store into an empire of 41 supermarkets focused on filling underserved Hispanic neighborhoods. As the business expanded, so did his influence within the grocery industry. Darioush provided sector leadership for more than a quarter century as a director on the board of Unified Grocers, Inc., the largest retailer-owned cooperative supplier for independent supermarkets in the Western United States. Now retired from his company (K V Mart) and Unified Grocers, Inc. — the latter acquired earlier this year by Minnesota-based SuperValu — Darioush devotes his time to the winery and his many art and philanthropic passions.

Inspirations

So many of Darioush’s life pursuits were shaped by his childhood years and became threads throughout his life.

Not many people can say they sampled wine — never mind liked it! — when they were only 6 years old. Darioush’s family lived in Shiraz, sharing a name (but not provenance) with the grape Syrah/Shiraz. Like many locals, his father made wine in cement casks in the basement of their home. With a twinkle in his eye, Darioush describes sneaking down to the basement for a sip, using a towel to soak up some nectar of the vine because he was too small to fetch a proper taste from the casks. Clearly this was a harbinger of good things to come!

Darioush learned to play violin by ear as a young boy, instilling the love of music that he nurtures and supports today. For example, Darioush serves on the board of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and is the founder of Festival Napa Valley (2006), a 10-day music extravaganza featuring more than 100 name artists. One evening of the festival is held at the Darioush winery to benefit Juvenile Diabetes Research Association, a cause close to his family’s heart.

Living the Dream

As an adult, trips to France inspired Darioush’s love of red Bordeaux wines and launched a wine collecting journey. Working several Bordeaux harvests planted the seed of a dream to make wine commercially. By 1994, Darioush and Shaphar were keen to buy a vineyard property and focused their search on both Bordeaux and Napa. On that fateful anniversary day (November 6, 1997), they were headed toward William Hill winery along the southern section of Silverado Trail when Darioush noticed exposed layers of volcanic soil around the partially built foundation of a new cellar facility under construction. It was then known as Altamura.

The voice of the civil engineer commanded “Stop!” to examine the soil in closer detail. It was, in short, perfect. But the winery wasn’t for sale. Undaunted, Darioush met with George Altamura, and 10 days later became the new owner of 39 acres of vineyard property. Further evidence of the fate surrounding the purchase is that Altamura introduced Darioush to Napa winemaker Steve Devitt before the negotiations were even complete. Steve was hired on the spot and remains Darioush’s winemaker to this day.

The Darioush winery property is located a half mile south of the Stag’s Leap District on the Silverado Trail. It is a cooler, maritime-influenced, microclimate compared to other parts of the Valley. Altamura had been planted primarily to Chardonnay. Darioush grubbed up those vines to replant mostly Bordeaux varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot). A small block is planted to Syrah/Shiraz on what Darioush considers to be the best vineyard site. The cool climate allowed Darioush Winery to pursue an elegant style of wine with composure and grace. Today Darioush owns 120 acres of vineyard property in Napa Valley, Mount Veeder, and Oak Knoll AVAs.

“The door of our house is always open to you.”

This Persian proverb, prescient in this moment, invites visitors to the website and the winery. The winery’s sophisticated tasting room opened in 2004. Inspired by a palace complex at Persepolis (518 BC), and designed by architects Ardeshir and Roshal Nozari, the 22,000 square foot property houses corporate offices and the visitor experience center. In the manner of a French chateau, the Khaledis’ family home is also incorporated into the winery facility. Designers Kelly Wearstler (American) and Martin Margiela (Belgian) partnered with the architects to create “architectural elements (including) a grand staircase, interior stone columns with carved plinths, and throughout the structure stylized floral decorations such as rosettes and acanthus leaves.” (Napa Valley Register, 2004)

Visitors are greeted by 16 free-standing columns lining the long entry drive, stone “trees” signaling the grand tone of the experience to come. Yellow stone for the welcoming columns and winery property was quarried near the region of Persepolis and exported to both Turkey and Italy for cutting.

The winery’s extensive range of wines includes the flagship Signature Series “bridging old-world traditions and modern style.”  Varietal wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier. It also includes Pinot Noir from grapes grown in the Russian River Valley.

Rounding out the portfolio are these unique Darioush offerings:

  • Wines produced from new vineyard sites intended for inclusion in the Signature Series are called “Caravan” to signal winemaking experimentation and vineyard enhancements.
  • Duel is experimental, combining varieties into interesting blends. The current release is a Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon blend.
  • Darius II is the “crown jewel” of the Darioush estate. A Wine Advocate review of the 2014 (current) release Cabernet Sauvignon calls it “a serious wine, with a fragrant nose of graphite, blackberry, cassis and hints of toast and chocolate. Full-bodied, with an expansive, savory texture and a long, pure finish.”
  • When harvest conditions permit, Darioush produces a late harvest Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc with “deep character, grace and poise — so suited to share its name with Darioush’s wife, Shahpar.”

Visitor experiences include a portfolio tasting of the Signature Series, opportunities to learn about wine and cheese pairings (“Fine Wine, Artisan Cheeses”), and a “Culture of Wine Experience” with wine historian Nina Wemyss that features limited winery-exclusive wines paired with dishes prepared by the winery’s chef.

The Khaledi Family

Darioush and Shaphar have a daughter and two granddaughters who live just outside of San Francisco. Their son, Kashy Khaledi, has just started a new winery called Ashes & Diamonds after a career in music and media. Ashes & Diamonds celebrated its grand opening on November 5, the day before this interview and his parents’ wedding anniversary, and just two weeks after the Napa fires were declared contained. Napa winemaker Steve Matthiasson, and Sonoma winemaker Diana Snowden Seysses (also of Burgundy’s Domaine Dujac  fame), are co-winemakers. There was much to celebrate!

Perhaps foreshadowing this moment in time, Kashy selected a poem written in the 19th century by Cyprian Norwid (Poland) to scroll across the pages of the winery’s website:

Ashes and Diamonds

“So often are you as a blazing torch with flames

of burning rags falling about you flaming,

you know not if flames bring freedom or death.

Consuming all that you must cherish

if ashes only will be left, and want Chaos and tempest.

Or will the ashes hold the glory of a star-like diamond,

the Morning Star of everlasting triumph.”

Photos Provided by Darioush

Iconic Italian Wine Regions

The wines of Tuscany, Piedmont, and Bolgheri are perfect pairings for this holiday season! Enjoy a short romp through Montalcino and Montepulciano in Tuscany, a glance at the subtle differences in expression of the Nebbiolo grape in Piedmont’s Barolo and Barbaresco DOCGs, and a taste of Super Tuscans from Bolgheri. A short essay on how to read Italian wine labels takes the stress out of holiday shopping! Click here for the Essential Guide.

French Wine Explorers

Barolo and Barbaresco

The Nebbiolo-based wines of Piedmont Italy are some of the finest in the world. Enjoy this limited selection of wineries from Barolo and Barbaresco DOCGs. Although the French Wine Explorers “Treasures of Tuscany and Piedmont” tour is sold out for 2018, stay tuned for future offerings to taste these treasures in person!

http://www.wine-tours-france.com/find-nebbiolo-wines/

Napa Saved by the Vines

I was in Italy on October 8 when news of rampant fires in the wine country hit international media. Friends and family texted alerts and updates to make sure I knew “real time” what was going on. But ”real time” quickly became very confusing as the multiple fires, and stories about the fires across social and mainstream digital media, raged faster than the fires themselves.

I arrived in Napa yesterday (November 6) to interview Darioush Khaledi, who is chairing the 2018 Cincinnati International Wine Festival. I frankly braced myself for the worst, with pictures of the fires and resulting damage fresh in my mind. One of the early “real time” reports, cascaded throughout multiple media outlets, was that Darioush had burned to the ground. (Spoiler alert: it did not.) That incorrect news was swept up in early reports — sadly correct — that the Signorello property was lost. Darioush is right next door.

Exactly one month later, it’s a different story. If I hadn’t known about the fires — well, I might not have observed much difference. Driving to the property on Napa’s Silverado Trail from SFO was just like every other fall visit to the Bay Area. The skies were crisp blue, puffy white clouds announcing a future rain with striated wisps of gray, and there was plenty of traffic. Just like always. Until I got to the old dairy business on Highway 121, just west of Domaine Carneros. It was gone, multiple buildings melted into the ground, trees and underbrush turned to ash from tinder. I held my breath as I rounded the curves toward Domaine Carneros, letting it out only when I found the winery to be untouched.

Then all returned to normal. Until I turned into the driveway of Darioush.  The charred hillside where Signorello’s winery once stood made it all quite real. I am only including this one photo. I am not a professional photographer, and I couldn’t bring myself to go in search of further tragedy. So just this one:

Entrance to Darioush and the site of Signorello (to the left) lost in the Napa fires

To the many stories that have already been written about the fires and the aftermath, I would like to add perspective from my interview with Darioush Khaledi and winery president Daniel DePolo. According to Dan, “the fire was a humanitarian and housing disaster. Only six wineries were lost or seriously damaged. But 3,000 homes were damaged and people have no place to live. The vineyards served as a firebreak. Vines don’t burn.”

Indeed, the vineyards in Napa look just like any other fall harvest cycle with the leaves turning brown to prepare for winter. At Darioush, only the olive trees and landscaping was burned. “The fire skipped around randomly” as evidenced by the total loss of nearby neighbor Signorello. In Napa, the sturdy oaks and general lack of ground cover protected the Valley to the east of the pine-covered Mayacama Range. “We are all beyond grateful,” according to Darioush Khaledi, who with his wife Shaphar lives at the winery in the manner of French chateaux.

More good news: 80-90 % of harvest was complete for most vineyards. The plan at Darioush? Test the remainder of the crop, and if the grapes are tainted, they will be discarded. Dan DePolo believes this will be the Napa standard so that consumers can be confident in future purchases of the 2017 vintage.

Wineries may not have been physically touched, but business is down 50% during what would ordinarily be Napa’s peak season for tourism. That said, the Darioush tasting room was busy, the streets are bustling, and both wineries and restaurants are welcoming customers with open arms. The mood of the community is upbeat, full of well deserved pride for the communal response to a crisis (including firefighting crew from near and far). “Things are not back to normal yet. We lost a month of business. But you can’t really tell just by driving around.”

Kashy Khaledi, who is Darioush’s son, celebrated the grand opening of new new winery called Ashes and Diamonds just two days ago. In a perhaps prescient act, the new winery’s website includes a poem written by 19th century Polish poet Cyprian Norwid that scrolls across the bottom in stanzas on each page:

“So often are you as a blazing torch with flames of burning rags falling about you flaming, you know not if flames bring freedom or death. Consuming all that you must cherish if ashes only will be left, and want Chaos and tempest. Or will the ashes hold the glory of a star-like diamond, the Morning Star of everlasting triumph.”