Thursday, July 26, 2018

Cremant Tour de France Stages 1 & 2: Cremant de Limoux & Cremant de Bordeaux

I really need to start blogging more often.

The Tour de France is almost over already, and although I won't be making it past an estimated stage 5 (pending the amount of Cremants I can find from the Loire Valley in my area), I feel like I am way behind. Life has been crazy hectic in the Concubine household for the past few months: my husband was studying for an exam he wrote in late June and I solo parented so he could focus on studying, and then a plethora of visitors visited the unofficial "Concubine B&B" (now that would be one heck of a name for a B&B!) for a few weeks afterwards. Now that life is calming down a bit, I finally have time to kick off my #cremanttourdefrance and share my tastings!

I decided to start Stage 1 in the Limoux AOP. Located 25km south of the village of Carcassonne, the climate here is influenced by cooling breezes from the Atlantic Ocean, and four varied terroir styles due to its proximity to the Pyrenees foothills. Limoux is also the birthplace of a grape varietal called Mauzac, which is credited to have created the first sparkling wine by the monks of St-Hilaire in 1531. Because of this, Limoux is best known for its sparkling wines. Cremant de Limoux bubblies are generally made using a blend of up to 90% Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. Secondary grape varietals like Mauzac and Pinot Noir are allowed in the blend to a maximum of 20% (Pinot Noir is allowed up to 10%). Cremant de Limoux is vinified using "Methode Traditionelle", which means that a second fermentation occurs within the bottle, the same way official Champagne is crafted. 

One of the most prominent wineries to craft Cremant de Limoux is Domaine Delmas, located 20 minutes south of Limoux in the village of Antugnac. Their focus is on both Cremant and Blanquette de Limoux wines, but also vinify a still Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

The Cuvee des Sacres Delmas is composed of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir and Mauzac. Honeyed notes of banana, melon, and a hint of toasted almonds dance on the palate. The bracing acidity on this cremant, as well as the aggressive mousse, pairs well with rich cheeses and seafood in cream sauce. But don't let the intensity fool you; this gem is very approachable and easy to drink!

Limoux is also known for creating another type of bubbly named "Blanquette de Limoux". Blanquette wines are vinified from the Mauzac grape, with a bit of Chardonnay blended in. The wine is aged for 8 months on its lees in old oak barrels. 

The 2011 Cuvee Memoire Blanquette de Limoux also starts off with aromas of honeyed stone fruits, but the flavour profile changes to green apple, lime zest and a strong, steely backbone on the palate. Delicate bubbles (aka "mousse") and crisp, yet refreshing acidity round out the mouthfeel, leading to a strong finish. I enjoyed the Cuvee Memoire on a hot summer's evening, relaxing on my back deck. It was the perfect pairing!

From there, my tour traveled east to Bordeaux. Cremant de Bordeaux was established as an appellation in 1990. The wine varietals allowed in the blend are Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Ugni Blanc, Colombard, and Muscadelle, creating a more unique flavour profile than what can be found in other Cremant appellations.

And a very unique flavour profile was delivered with the Xavier Milhade Cremant de Bordeaux! A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle, prominent floral aromas lead into notes of navel oranges and cantaloupe melon, encased in a mineral mid-palate. The acidity was racy, with delicate mousse. This wine was a treat for me as Cremant de Bordeaux wines are very hard to find in my location!

Now that I have cycled through the better part of Southern France, it's time to head north towards the Loire Valley. Stay tuned for Stage 3, in the coming few weeks!  


Tuesday, May 29, 2018

A Tour of Southern Rhone Reds

In the spring of 2011, My husband and I were fortunate enough to tour and taste our way through Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas and Rasteau. From the moment I stepped into the vineyards of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, I immediately fell in love with the region.

Photo taken outside of Moulin de la Gardette's Tasting Room, Gigondas, March 2011.

There are so many reasons to fall in love with the Southern Rhone wine region of France: The Mediterranean climate, the history and architecture, the local cuisine, and of course, the wine! The Southern Rhone encompasses a large area of sub-appellations, as per the map below:

My apologies for the not-so-good photo, this was taken off of one of my wine posters hung in my basement.

My father is also a huge fan of Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines, but hasn't had a lot of experience with the other sub-appellations. So when he came for a visit in mid-April, we dipped into my wine cellar, pillaged one of our local wine stores, and performed a "taste-off" to see which sub-appellation(s) we liked best.

1. Famille Perrin Vacqueyras "Les Christins" 2015

Concentrated and complex, with notes of cranberries, red cherries, baking spice and a hint of the tell-tale fleshiness that Southern Rhone wines are known for (my WSET Adv teacher referred to them as "Chateauneuf-du-poop" because she's classy like that). Bright acidity and velvety tannins make this beauty very approachable. You could enjoy Les Christins on its own, but it also pairs spectacularly with heavier red meats like sirloin tip beef roast.

2. Chateau de Saint Cosme Gigondas 2015

I was fortunate enough to obtain 2 of the last bottles in my local area after this wine was ranked 5th overall on Wine Spectator's Top 100 List of 2017. Smooth and lush mouthfeel, consisting of red cherry, leather, cigar box and medicinal hints. The acidity is still fairly sharp but the tannins are soft and well-integrated into the body. This baby needs at least 1 hour in the decanter to open up, and she'll need a good 7 years minimum in the cellar, but still reflects the true flavour profile of a Southern Rhone red wine. My second bottle won't see the light of day for another decade, I'm excited to see how the wine develops!

The nose opens up to ripe blackberries and barnyard aromas. Ground cloves and a charcoal finish join the palate, along with focused tannins and mouthwatering acidity. Sadly, the charcoal finish falls off rather quickly. This wine did not speak to my palate, but my dad and husband thought it was decent! Definitely worth tasting.

This wine is showing its age with aromas of dried cherries and dried tobacco. However, the palate still shows bright acidity and a long, lively finish. A flavour profile that includes a hint of smoke and a charcoal backbone adds complexity and depth to the rich body. Absolutely stunning, and if you can find this vintage, worth the splurge (estimated price in CDN is $42).

There were a few other bottles we tasted from the AOC Cotes du Rhone and Rasteau; however, they did not make the short list for this blog post.

It was almost unanimous, but the surprising favourite of our tasting tour is...

Famille Perrin "Les Christins" Vacqueyras! 

Here is how we ranked our top 4 choices:

Sara's Rankings                                                                Dad's & Husband's Rankings

1. Domaine Barville CNDP 2009                                      1. Famille Perrin Vacqueyras 2015
2. Famille Perrin Vacqueyras 2015                                   2. Domaine Barville CNDP 2009
3. Chateau de Saint Cosme Gigondas 2015                    3. Chateau Pesquie Terrasses Ventoux 2015
4. Chateau Pesquie Terrasses Ventoux 2015                   4. Chateau de Saint Cosme Gigondas 2015

We may not return to the Southern Rhone anytime soon, but our fond memories of the region and our love for their wines will stay with us forever. And we can always buy more Rhone wines anytime we like!

So what's next for the Wine Concubine? It's time to start my major tasting project of the year; I'll be conducting a "Cremant Tour de France" over the next few months, ending in Colmar, France with Cremant d'Alsace! Stay tuned, up first is Cremant de Bourgogne!


Friday, April 27, 2018

The Expressions of Pinot Noir Through the Okanagan Wine Region

When I started my wine education journey, I was in love with Pinot Noir. Almost every wine I purchased was Pinot Noir. But as I began to learn about Burgundian wine, I realized that I couldn't afford most everything outside of AOC Bourgogne. I became frustrated and abandoned my love for Pinot Noir. In fact, I was so frustrated that I almost wrote a blog post about why Burgundy turned me off of Pinot altogether!

Some of the people I discuss wine with on Twitter (aka my "Tweeps") have been drinking a lot of Pinot Noir lately, much of it from New World regions like New Zealand and California. Their tasting notes inspired me to revisit more affordable Pinots, and where better for me to start than my personal favourite, the Okanagan region of Canada!

There are 7 sub-regions within the Okanagan Valley: Osoyoos, The Golden Mile Bench, Oliver, Okanagan Falls, The Naramata Bench, Peachland/Summerland, and Kelowna/Lake Country. Each sub-region reflects different nuances with respect to climate and terroir; therefore, the flavour profiles of Pinots from each sub-regions will likely express themselves differently. I set out to discover how each Pinot Noir expresses itself within most of these sub-regions. 

Located close to one of the only desert micro-climates in Canada, I was intrigued to see how the "diva grape" would fare in a terroir consisting of deep, sandy soils fed by glacial meltwater deposits. I was pleasantly surprised! Approachable yet complex and elegant in style, Burrowing Owl's 2015 Pinot Noir opens with notes of wild strawberry, dusted with hints of fresh herbs and baking spice. A silky smooth body leads into a bright cranberry finish. The wine was an amazing pairing with mushroom and garlic burgers with caramelized onions and wilted spinach!

Tasting notes contributed by Julian Park,
"This medium-bodied Pinot is as smooth as velvet. The estate Pinot Noir features delicate hints of ripe cherries and raspberries, vanilla bean, and the minerality distinctive to the high-altitude Okanagan Falls vineyard. Finished in Tuscan concrete tanks creating a textured savoury mouthfeel. My favourite pairing is with BBQ salmon. 13.5% alcohol."

3. Naramata Bench - Bench 1775 Pinot Noir 2014

A soil composition of lime-rich silt and cooling lake breezes on the Naramata Bench create an ideal climate and terroir for early ripening red grapes like Pinot Noir. Bench 1775 uses this to their advantage by crafting a refreshing and juicy Pinot, abundant with red fruit flavours and silky, fine-grained tannins. A small amount of Syrah (6.4%) adds in a spicy element, which you'll find from mid-palate through the lively finish. I enjoyed this Pinot on it's own, and plan to enjoy it again and again in the future!

4. Kelowna - Sperling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2015

Tasting notes contributed by Julian Park, 

"Alcohol 12.5%, pH: 3.68, TA: 5.3g/L. Hand harvested in October from Dijon clones 114, 777, and 828; sorted and co-fermented in small lots. After a gentle pressing, the wine was aged in large format barrels. This is a bold Pinot Noir, the result of the hot 2015 East Kelowna summer. Aromas of violets and jammy plum and flavours of ripe raspberries and spicy black cherries. The texture is silky." 

5. Lake Country - Ex Nihilo Pinot Noir 2016

The soil in the Ex Nihilo vineyards contain limestone with some shale, ideal for the growth of Pinot Noir grapes. Ex Nihilo's 2016 PN offering boasts complex aromas of red fruit, forest floor, and a hint of asparagus. These flavours continue into the palate, along with silky smooth tannins and refreshing acidity with a hint of zip. This acidity stays bright through the fresh raspberry finish. This wine is extremely food friendly and would be an excellent pairing with tapenade-stuffed pork tenderloin, among other earthy style dishes. I sampled this beauty at the winery last August. Click here to learn more about Ex Nihilo Vineyards, winemaker Jay Paulson, and their wine portfolio.

It was very interesting to discover that each sub-region shows a slightly different flavour profile on their Pinot Noirs, but the structural consistency and quality remains very high throughout the Okanagan wine region. Price points range between $30 and $40 CDN, but worth the slight splurge!
It's nice to know that I can still taste some excellent Pinot Noirs close to home with some great QPR.

So what's next for the Wine Concubine? I tasted a wide variety of red wines from the Southern Rhone throughout the past month when my dad came to visit. I'll be sharing our notes, and revealing our surprise favourite of the tasting. Stay tuned!