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France

Comparing Sherry and Champagne

Just prior to the opening of Sherryfest West, Martine’s Wines and Valkyrie Selections hosted a Sherry and Champagne event at The Battery in San Francisco. The event included several flights of grower champagnes, followed by flights of grower sherry, all accompanied by a panel of experts.

The panel included Baron Ziegler of Valkyrie Selections, and Gregory Castells of Martine’s Wines to introduce champagne, and Lorenzo Garcia-Iglesias of Bodegas Tradicion, and Jan Pettersen of Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla to discuss sherry. Peter Liem opened the event with a discussion of the ways in which champagne and sherry unwittingly resemble each other.

The Houses Poured

The wine flights included Champagne Gonet-Médeville, Champagne Larmandier-Bernier, Champagne Saint-Chamant, then Fernando de Castilla, and Bodegas Tradición.

Champagne Gonet-Medeville offers a focus on refined freshness, rather than opulence. The wines carry delicacy, purity, and beautiful subtlety throughout.

Champagne Larmandier-Bernier gives a center line of salinity and freshness through a body of texture and fruit presence. The wines are all made with only native yeast ferment, a condition quite unusual in Champagne, and sparkling wine more generally. With the exception of their rosé, their wines are all 100% Chardonnay. The house is also one of the biggest proponents of bio-dynamic farming in the region, a recommendation that proves challenging as Champagne suffers high mildew pressure. Biodynamic farming, then, requires far more hands on viticulture in the region.

Saint-Chamant Champagne delivers a wine of opulence, with incredible complexity, while at the same time maintaining freshness. The wines open with age offering an easy balance of opulence and mineral freshness. Current release vintages from the last decade are still quite young and would do well with time in the bottle before opening.

Fernando de Castilla could be considered a boutique bodegas, or grower sherry house. It developed through a focus on only the highest quality sherry, wines made for the best of the local market. More recently Fernando de Castilla has begun to export these unique styles of sherry outside the Spanish market. As an example, Fernando de Castilla offers one of the only remaining examples of Antique Fino, a wine made through the older approach to sherry rarely possible today. To read more on the heritage of Antique Fino: http://www.crushwineco.com/crush-library/fernando-de-castilla-antique-fino/

Bodegas Tradición, another boutique level bodegas, seeks to create the finest quality sherry by avoiding or reducing filtering, and additives, and hand selecting the best lots for bottling. The result are wonderfully pure expressions of the wine. They also succeed in delivering beautiful older examples at small production levels.

The Discussion

The coupling of champagne and sherry appears at first an unusual choice. The two wines are thought of rather separately with bubbles from the cool Northern reaches of France seeming unlike fortified wine from the warmer areas of Spain. As Liem explored, however, in terms of methodology and production there are actually numerous insightful comparisons to be made between the two wines.

Following are thoughts from Peter Liem, during his introduction to the event.

Peter Liem introducing Sherry + ChampagnePeter Liem (right) discussing the commonalities between Sherry and Champagne
Sherryfest West, San Francisco, June 2014

“Champagne and sherry are two wines very dear to me for personal, and professional reasons. On the face of it, sherry and champagne look like disparate things.

“Champagne is the epitome of cool climate, from Northern France, delicate, and low in alcohol. Sherry is fortified to be above 15% in alcohol, from one of the Southern most growing regions in Europe, and is low in acidity.

“There is a spiritual element common between the two, as well as commonality in the production processes. Both are very much about where each is made. They come from calcareous soils. We often say “calcium” for short.

“In Champagne, we have chalk. The rock, you can break it off. It is very old from the Cretaceous period. In Sherry, we have albariza. It is a younger soil, around 35-million years old, and is much more crumbly in structure than chalk. It is more akin to sand, than the rock found in Champagne.

“In Champagne, you find actual physical rocks. In albariza, when dry, which is 5 months of the year, the soil can be compact, dry, and very hard. When it rains, it turns to mud. Albariza is like a light, calcareous sand.

“The affect of both soils is to create a distinctive minerality in both of these wines. When we think about the minerality of these wines it becomes interesting to compare them. When we compare them, we can compare their processes.

“In the past we would say both come from rather neutral grapes. No one would say that anymore. Producers as recently as 10-years ago, champagne producers would say they were looking for neutral base wines because the character of champagne comes from aging.

“In general, the base wines of sherry and champagne are not wines we want to drink. Both of these wines rely heavily on yeast. In champagne, the secondary ferment, and lees aging contribute greatly to the wines’ character. In fino and manzanilla, the layer of flor affects wine in important ways. Both are aged for a long time.

“For champagne, 10-years is nothing for aging. Many of the best need 15 years to show their best. Sherry is very long lived. It undergoes very long aging processes.

“In terms of perception, there is also a lot in common. Both wines are largely misunderstood. Many people don’t even think of sherry as wine. People often think of champagne as apertif only. In actuality, sherry is a very complex wine. It is also the most food friendly wine on the planet, bar none. In terms of perception, there is a lot of work for us to do.

“Both wines are a product of blending. In some cases, these wines are the result of extremely vast blends. Non-vintage champagnes can be comprised of hundreds of base wines. A sherry solera can be 200-years old and encompass, for all intensive purposes, hundreds of base wines.

“Finally, both champagne and sherry have been sold, or marketed as brands. In both, the brand of sherry, or the brand of champagne is the defining element for the beverage. Sherry bodegas are known for giving a consistent product. A champagne house develops their blend early in the process, and is often known for it.”

***

For more from Peter Liem on Champagne, check out his site: http://www.champagneguide.net/

For more from Peter Liem on Sherry, check out his site, also carrying his book on Sherry, co-authored with Jesús Barquín: http://www.sherryguide.net/

Peter Liem discusses his work on ChampagneGuide.net in an I’ll Drink to That podcast with Levi Dalton, episode 11: https://soundcloud.com/leviopenswine/peterliem

and his book, Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla, written with Jesús Barquín in I’ll Drink to That podcast episode 38: https://soundcloud.com/leviopenswine/peterliembook

***

Thank you to Noah Dorrance.

Thank you to Baron Ziegler, and Gregory Castells, Lorenzo Garcia-Iglesias, Jan Pettersen, and Peter Liem.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

1

Salon Champagne: A 6 Vintage Vertical

Pebble Beach Food & Wine culminated in a panel of 9 wines from Salon and Delamotte moderated by Antonio Galloni, and featuring Didier Depond, president of the sister houses. The wines poured from Delamotte blanc de blancs included the non-vintage, 2004, and 1970 out of magnum; from Salon the 2002, 1999 from magnum, 1997, 1995 from magnum, 1988, and 1983 from magnum. To comment on the wines the panel also included Rajat Parr, Shane Bjornholm, and Emily Wines.

Salon Champagne, A Verticalclick on image to enlarge

The Value of Salon and Delamotte

Salon Champagne has long held a special fascination for me. I admire the innovation of Eugène Aimé Salon that originates with his idea to create the world’s first chardonnay-only champagne, age it minimum 10 years, and create it only in the very best vintages. The first Salon vintage began in 1905. Since, only 45 vintages total have been made — 37 of those in the 1900s. A Salon has not been made since 2008 as the vintages since have not stood up to the quality demands held by the house.

Though blanc de blancs appears as a common option in sparkling wine now, champagne’s tradition and history rests more deeply in blending grapes. Salon was the first to imagine chardonnay on its own could offer enough sophistication for the best champagne. Incredibly, Salon champagne utilizes not only chardonnay-only, but also only 100% Grand Cru fruit from a single village within Cote de Blanc, the heart of quality for chardonnay grapes within Champagne. In aging the wine a minimum of 10 years, the silky texture and flavor development of chardonnay deepens. By creating the wine only in steel tank (no barrel usage), the focus remains on purity and freshness.

Delamotte stands as a true sister house, rather than simply a second label, to Salon. Four cuvées are made by Delamotte in order to keep the focus on quality — blanc de blanc non-vintage, blanc de blancs vintage (only in good years), brut non-vintage, and a rosé. Delamotte originates as one of the oldest champagne houses, created in 1760 utilizing only 100% Grand Cru fruit from the Cote de Blanc.

The wines are utterly beautiful. Younger vintages, such as those into the 1990s right now, carry wire-y tension focusing almost entirely on juicy citrus components with light earthy notes. As the vintages age, the flavors deepen bringing the earth elements slightly more to the fore, alongside refreshing saline or olive notes and chamomile tea or bergamot. Throughout, the wines carry a seductive silkey texture and utterly long, mouth watering finish.

The Salon and Delamotte vertical tasting included some of the most special wines I’ve been lucky enough to taste. We were also the first people outside Salon to taste the newly released 2002 vintage. Depond clarified that in the Salon cellars only twenty-three magnums of the 1983 vintage remain. Two of those were opened for our PBFW tasting. Antonio Galloni is widely known as one of the world’s leading wine experts. He described the 1983 from magnum as “one of the most extraordinary wines I have ever tasted.”

Notes from Didier Depond

It was an honor to meet Didier Depond, and taste through the Delamotte and Salon vertical led by his knowledge of the wines.

Rather than interpret his comments, following are quotations from Depond through the tasting.

“The size of bubbles is the elegance of the wine.”

“To make Salon, we want a perfect balance between sugar and acidity. The most important factor is the acidity and pH in the wine.”

“It may be very difficult for you to understand. It is very pleasant right now to drink this wine but tasting vin clair is very difficult for us, even painful.” Vin clair is the still base wine that will then go through a secondary fermentation to become sparkling. The acid levels of vin clair are very high and can literally hurt the mouth as a result. “We have to imagine the wine in 15 to 20 years. It is very difficult to imagine. We keep this wine [Salon] a minimum of 10, 11, 12 years in cellar.”

“We use only steel tank. I don’t like barrel for champagne. It is my opinion. I share my opinion with myself. Champagne is about the freshness, the pleasure, the happiness. I love the cleanness, and the freshness of the wine. For me, it is the definition of the wine.”

“It is easy to drink a magnum. It is the best size for me. It is better if you drink it as two [people], rather than only one.” (laughing)

“Salon is a unique situation. It is a mono-cru. We are chardonnay, and chardonnay from only one vintage, and only one village.”

“It is a very open discussion on disgorgement. For myself, sometimes I open a bottle with a very open disgorgement, and it is very beautiful, a 30-year disgorgement, and no oxidation. Sometimes, I am disappointed, yes? But, the wine is alive. [Explaining] Sometimes, I am disappointed with myself, to see this morning, I am older. But I am rarely disappointed with Salon.”

“All dosage for Salon is at the limit of a brut wine [next to brut nature–that is, very low sugar but still present]. Dosage is very important. Sugar is a preservative. It helps the wine age. If you want to do low dosage, you have to pick your grapes a little later to balance the sugars. It is very easy to make good champagne. If you make a good dosage, you make good champagne.”

“Dosage is like a beautiful woman with just a touch of makeup.”

“Today I know exactly how many bottles we have in our cellar [at Salon] for the next 20 years.”

***

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Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

 

0

Drinking Gewurztraminer with Matzo Ball Soup

Gewurztraminer Characteristicsclick on image to enlarge

This week I couldn’t kick the Matzo Ball Soup craving so Jr and I spent an afternoon making it from scratch. By grating fresh ginger into the Matzo Balls, and using a touch of parsley on top of the chicken broth, the soup worked beautifully with Gewurztraminer.

Gewurztraminer produces naturally pungent, easily recognizable aromatics. The grape naturally generates higher sugar levels, leading to a predominance of off dry-to-sweet styles of the grape, or higher alcohol level dry wines. Acid levels also quickly drop in the variety. As a result, Gewurztraminers readily have a fuller mouthfeel, and oily or slippery texture. All combined, cooler climates do better for the fruit. With lower temperatures, a grape that can tend towards blouse-y flavors and feel maintains greater structural focus, and can more easily hold the juiciness to balance its fuller palate.

Following are notes from six dry examples — two each from Alsace, Alto Adige, and California.

* Elena Walch 2013 Gewurztraminer, Alto Adige, 14.5%
Alto Adige in Northern Italy stands as both the origin, and one of the most celebrated regions for quality Gewurztraminer. Elena Walch offers a beautiful dry Gewurztraminer that lifts from the glass with nicely focused fresh rose aromatics then moves over the palate with ultra juicy crisp length. White nectarine, orange blossom, and light chamomile keep the palate nicely focused, crisp, and well integrated with a slippery mouthfeel. This was my favorite wine of the tasting. I kept returning to it through dinner, and after.

Elena Walch 2012 Kastelaz Vineyard Designate Gewurztraminer, Alto Adige, 14.5%
On a steep hillside above the village from which Gewurztraminer gets its name, Tramin in Alto Adige, Elena Walch grows the fruit for her single vineyard designate wine. Kastelaz. The site has produced quality fruit for generations. The Kastelaz brings a lighter, rounder focus to the aromatics and palate, carrying white peach, honeysuckle, pear blossom, and chamomile tea alongside light spice elements. Aged on its lees, the Kastelaz gives a creamy, nicely balanced palate. Though this wine offers slightly more residual sugar, it carries nice juiciness, and natural acid levels that bring it in as a dry wine.

Hugel 2011 Gewurztraminer, Alsace, 14.15%
Alsace proves another of the more celebrated regions for quality Gewurztraminer, with the area regarding it as a signature grape. For Hugel, it is a flagship variety. This dry Gewurztraminer carries cooked pear and lifting almond leaf aromatics rolling into a perfumed white stone and orchard fruit palate accented by chamomile tea. There is nice focus here, pleasing texture, and a long finish.

Domaines Schlumberger 2008 “Les Princes Abbés” Gewurztraminer, Alsace, 13.35
Meant to celebrate the long history of the region, Domaines Schlumberger‘s “Les Princes Abbés” portfolio uses portions of Grand Cru fruit from classic varieties. The aromatics keep a focus on freshness and delicate precision carrying crisp red apple, anjou pear and birch bark from nose to mouth. With just a kiss of sweetness, the juiciness of Les Princes Abbés keeps the wine fresh on the palate.

* Thomas Fogarty Vineyards 2012 Gewurztraminer, Monterey County, 13.3%
Taking fruit from a cool, windy vineyard in Salinas Valley, Thomas Fogarty VIneyards delivers one of the nicest examples of a varietally expressive, dry style Gewurztraminer in California. Giving a touch of skin contact to broaden the palate, and develop textural complexity, the wine delivers very lightly toasted croissant with hints of orange blossom, dried rose petals, and lychee all on a crisp, juicy presentation. This wine brings nice freshness, focus, and length.

Gundlach Bundschu 2012 Estate Gewurztraminer, Sonoma County, 14.5%
Showing off the exuberant side of Gewurztraminer, Gundlach Bundschu‘s 2012 highlights the pungent lychee and oily-slippery mouthfeel typicity of the grape. The nose carries lychee and spice greenery rolling into a flamboyant, perfumed mouth of lychee, melon rind, and lily pollen. The 2012 shows the broad character of a warmer profile typical for the variety. I have to admit the expressiveness of this style is overwhelming for me.

***

Each of these wines were provided as samples.

***

post-edit: I finished this write-up in the middle of the night after a two week run of not-quite enough sleep. My apologies for the creatively varied mis-spellings of Gewurztraminer in the original posting.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

 

10

Reflections on Beauty and Strangeness in Wine

“Strangeness is a necessary ingredient in beauty.” -Charles Baudelaire

Last night in the midst of a Paris Popup dinner at Penrose in Oakland I unexpectedly found my nose in a glass of Domaine Raveneau 2001 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre Chablis. The profundity of the experience proved quite simple. In the grapefruit, forest musk of the glass I smelled only joy.

A particular explanation of philosophy remarks that the philosopher’s work is to notice the strangeness of the ordinary. Such a view forms a sort of paradox. That is, the ordinary is in its nature strange, in other words, not really ordinary at all.

In what are known as the Kallias Letters, German poet-historian-philosopher Friedrich Schiller gives an account of beauty. “A form is beautiful, one might say, if it demands no explanation, or if it explains itself without a concept.” Within Schiller’s idea of the beautiful is the point that it transcends us — what is truly beautiful is not a matter of our own personal preferences (our preferences are fickle), but instead a characteristic of the beautiful thing itself. In saying that the beautiful needs no explanation, Schiller is pointing out that what is beautiful is simply complete — it needs no supplement. It is beautiful. A kind of straightforward aesthetic truth.

Schiller’s account of the beautiful seems to present an example of the very thing it works to define. It too needs no further explanation. That is, for any of us that have encountered moments of beauty in wine, his definition of beauty feels right. In the nose of Raveneau, there was nothing to say. I could try to describe aromas for the wine but the truer point was that the wine smelled of joy. It had no other explanation.

It must be said too, that for those of us that haven’t witnessed a moment like this of the beautiful (whether through wine or anywhere else), there is nothing to understand in Schiller’s point either. He can give no explanation because there isn’t one. You’ve either seen beauty, and so recognize the simplicity of it, or you haven’t.

Schiller’s account of beauty forms a sort of paradox as well. In his account, he shows that beauty is not a matter of personal preference. There is nothing fickle about the beautiful. Our tastes may change, but a beautiful form is in itself a beautiful form. Our recognition of it (or not) does not impact the truth of the object. Yet, there is a kind of problem.

The idea of beauty is an aesthetic one. Aesthetics is, by definition, a study of the principles behind beauty, but it is also a study of our sensory experiences, or that which we can witness about the world. The point is that, something like Raveneau may be beautiful in itself, but it can only be recognized or exist as beautiful because as humans we have the capacity to witness it. This point is tricky, and almost circular, so let me restate it.

Because beauty is an aesthetic concept, it is necessarily subjective — we are the sensual creatures that seek it — and yet, the beautiful thing exists in and of itself as beautiful, whether we recognize its beauty or not. We are the creatures that generate the very concept (beauty) that we then find in the world regardless of us.

It is here, then, that we discover the gift and strangeness of encountering beauty. We are struck dumb by the beautiful. In encountering beauty, we in a sense escape ourselves. Yet, we are always implicated in its form. Precisely because beauty is an aesthetic notion, it links necessarily to our senses. The experience of sensing something beyond ourselves at the same time gives us strength — we have the capacity to access, witness, and experience something beyond our own limits. Here, the intertwined nature of beauty — that it transcends us and yet we are implicated in it — reveals part of its power. The thing that transcends us roots us more fully in ourselves, precisely by its pulling us beyond ourselves, another paradox. In doing so, beauty reveals to us how much more is possible. It becomes a kind of motivation for us to be more than we thought we were.

Beauty reminds us how much more is the world than any of our self-involved analysis of it, and also of our ability to live more fully in it. In his book, The Aesthetic Education of Man, Schiller goes on to develop an account in which he treats the beautiful as an example for improving ourselves as people. There he tells us that we can strive to achieve in ourselves a sense of the completeness we witness through the beautiful. That is, when we are good there is no explanation, we simply are good. Yet, for us as humans, such goodness feels more tenuous than those moments with the beautiful, precisely because goodness for us must be an ongoing process. We must always strive for such balance without an ability to permanently arrive at it. In its parallel to goodness, beauty becomes a motivator to find comfort in our own uncertainty.

In smelling my Raveneau last night, I had no words and only smiling. The wine changed remarkably over the course of the evening, yet always carried that initial experience of my being struck. In as much as I gave myself to the wine, there was little I could say about it. To write any sense of typical wine description, I would have had to take a stance of analysis that necessarily would remove me from the very thing I sought to describe. As a result, what I find to say is this. (It is both utterly inadequate, and in itself complete. Forgive me. I can only hope the people for whom it’s meant will recognize the statement for its intended truth.)

Last night I drank Raveneau. All I can say emphatically is, Thank you.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

0

Drinking Bubbles from Limoux

An under-celebrated while reliable source of value sparkling wine rests in the Southern France region of Limoux. In the foothills of Languedoc’s Pyrénées, near the historic city of Carcassonne, stands the original Abbey of Dom Perignon, the legendary cultivator of the wine that would later come to be known as Champagne.

As the story goes, the Dom practiced his methods first in Limoux, before carrying them North to Champagne to popularize the drink there. In its elevation, Limoux offers the vibrant acidity needed to give focus and length in the Méthode Traditionelle. One of the pleasures of Limoux rests in its common use of grapes such as Chenin Blanc, and Mauzac alongside the more familiar Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Chenin Blanc gives an earthy-herbal-floral depth and richness with mineral length to its sparkling wines, while Mauzac brings a unique pert-apple with cut grass character.

Crémant de Limoux AOC

Sparkling wine from Limoux shows as two distinctive styles, Crémant de Limoux, and Blanquette de Limoux. Crémant de Limoux celebrates Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc primarily, with no more than 90% together forming the wine. The final portion brings in Pinot Noir and/or Mauzac.

Crémant de Limoux offers a great source for bubbles at a screaming value. With the long standing history of the region it’s easy to find bubbles well below $20 that are also a pleasure to drink.

Domaine Collin

Domain Collinclick on comic to enlarge

Domaine Collin produces two Brut Crémant de Limoux sparkling wines — a Chardonnay, Chenin, and Pinot white blend, as well as a rosé of the same grapes. Both wines offer nicely subtle complexity with depth. The white came in as my favorite of the Limoux wines presented here. It’s a wine for people that want palate tension placed alongside richness, juicy mineral length coupled with depth of flavor. At $13 it’s a screaming deal. The rosé is a beautifully made balance that’s a touch softer, and more approachable than the white with its cherry elements dancing through the citrus and floral notes.

Gérard Bertrand

Gerard Bertrand 2011click on image to enlarge

Gérard Bertrand offers a crisply focused, clean, and elegant Chardonnay, Chenin, Mauzac 2011 white blend coming in around $16. It’s a nice balance of dried flower-herbal notes coupled with delicate fruit creams, biscuit accents, and a long mineral finish. There is a nice balance of complexity to value here.

Blanquette de Limoux

Limoux holds the primary source of Mauzac in the world. The grape is required at minimum 90% of the Blanquette de Limoux — a Méthode Ancestrale style sparkling wine. However, in recent years Mauzac plantings have been replaced by Chardonnay, leading to a decline in the unusual variety.

Blanquette de Limoux is one of the gifts of the region. Though Méthode Ancestrale originates as the first approach to champagne method sparkling wine, it is uncommon today. The style offers a creamy palate with low alcohol as wine is generally not fermented entirely dry. Since the style originates with the monks of Limoux, it has been treated to its own controlled appellation with Mauzac determined as the dominate grape. 10% of the wine may be blended to Chardonnay and/or Chenin Blanc.

Cote Mas

Cote Masclick on image to enlarge

Cote Mas offers great value in their brut Crémant de Limoux, both coming in between $13 and 16, depending on the retailer. The white blend brings all four grapes together for a clean, meyer lemon cream-on-a-biscuit nose followed through to dried jasmine, hints of kumquat, white grapefruit pith, and orange blossom on the pert, juicy palate. Chardonnay, Chenin, and Pinot Noir blend into the pert, refreshing rosé giving floral citrus alongside cherry blossom to round the juicy palate.

Cote Mas also offers their Blanquette de Limoux celebrating their love for Mauzac through a 100% rendition of the wine. The jasmine and mandarin aromatics roll into a giving creaminess on the palate spun through with ginger flower. With its ultra low alcohol, and touch of sweetness this is a wine to enjoy slowly through the evening. At $13, the Méthode Ancestrale makes this a special, ultra-affordable wine.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

0

The cooler waters of the R-months in North America mean prime time for eating oysters. As some of you know I did a post over at Serious Eats on drinks to pair with oysters. I also promised to take a look here at one way we get that shellfish. Here’s a look at a tidal-influence inspired oyster farm from the Languedoc. It was a ton of fun. I love being on boats as I grew up on the water, and am generally fascinated to know how almost anything works. I really enjoyed getting to learn through the stages from alien-like oyster reproduction to growth, to monster size gonna-getcha growth.

***

Visiting Tarbourich, an Etang de Thau Oyster Farm

the Etang de Thau oyster farms

looking into the Etang de Thau oyster farms

In the Etang de Thau, an oyster rich pond where the Languedoc meets the Mediterranean, the Tarbourich family farms what are considered to be some of the highest quality oysters in Europe.

Driving out to see the oyster farm

driving into the oyster beds of Tarbouriech-this is one of my favorite photos that I’ve ever taken from a trip. Such a nice group of people too.

Thanks to the organizing efforts of Domaine Paul Mas, a few of us were able to take a tour of Tarbouriech in September. The family facility utilizes their own patented system that mimics tidal influences, which facilitates both growth and quality of the shellfish. With older (though still used) systems, on the other hand, oysters simply remain in the water continuously.

Entering Tarbouriech

entering Tarbouriech

The Tarbouriech facility includes a casual dining space offering oysters fresh from the water, and wines to accompany. Tours of the farm itself can be arranged.

Driving towards the farm on the boat

driving to the farm on the boat

The Tarbouriech family hosted our small group, bringing us out to the farm itself by boat to explain how their tidal system works.

The new oysters

New oysters are bred at an oyster nursery, then purchased by oyster farms around the world to be grown into edible size.

Stage 1 of the oyster bed

Young oysters small size demand them to be grown in sets within a series of hanging baskets initially. In the Tarbouriech system, the baskets move in and out of the water at changing intervals to imitate the impact of tidal movements on the shellfish. Oysters within the water develop their shell, while the shellfish out of the water develop their meat. As the animals tumble in the water their shells round and deepen.

Stage 2 of the oyster bed

Once the oysters are large enough, they are glued to ropes that then move up and down through the water in similar fashion as the baskets. This allows them greater space for growth, and more direct contact with the water.

our host

Romain Tarbouriech guided our tour, as the third generation, along with his sister, of the Tarbouriech family oyster business.

Stage 3 of the oyster bed

When the oysters have grown large enough on the rope in the second stage, they are gathered and affixed instead to a net that allows more room for the oysters to grow for the third stage. Mature oysters are gathered from this third stage for eating.

Huitre Seven

The Tarbouriech family is known too for their older, larger sized oysters, like their Huitre Seven, an oyster grown over seven years and featured in restaurants most especially in Paris. (Looking at the thing was intimidating–it was as big as my hand and several inches thick. We didn’t get to see inside to the meat of one, but I admit, I scare.)

Eating oysters

After touring the farm on the water, we were able to come back to shore to enjoy oysters on the beach with a bright Vermentino made by Domaine Paul Mas that matched the freshness of the food. The Etang de Thau also sits beside the famous Picpoul de Pinet region, a wine full of pert acidity that pairs beautifully with oysters, and that I like to drink on occasion for its aggressive (at its best nervy) zing.

Oysters on the Etang de Thau

The oysters were beautiful. Being on the water is my favorite thing. Eating beside it as lovely.

***
If you want to read more about possible oyster pairings, check out a previous post that links to a write-up I did on Serious Eats, as well as posts on pairings by both a cocktail-tender, and a beer lover: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2013/11/11/oysters-slurp-zing-omnomnom-wine-and-beer-pairings-over-at-serious-eats/

Thank you to Michelle McCue, and Anne Alderete.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

2

Talking with Jean-Claude Mas

Earlier this week I was able to have a Skype interview with winemaker Jean-Claude Mas to check-in on how harvest turned out this year in the Languedoc. We met earlier this Fall at his home in the Languedoc, where I was able to taste through the large collection of wines Mas makes through multiple labels organized under Domaines Paul Mas.

Today, Mas heads his family’s multi-generational winery, Domaines Paul Mas, named for his father, and led by Jean-Claude since 2000. Under Jean-Claude’s leadership the vineyard holdings have expanded to include sites within each of what Mas describes as the seven distinctive terroirs of the Languedoc–each demanding distinct vine, rootstock, and maintenance techniques.

Terroirs of the Languedoc

Soil map of a portion of the Languedoc

soil map of a small portion of the Languedoc

As Mas describes, distinctive terroirs within the Languedoc can be identified through the unique combination of the following factors: altitude, proximity to the sea, the major characteristics of the soil, the wind influence, and access to water.

Depending on the region of the Languedoc, the area expresses a massive range of soil types including heavy clay, heavy limestone, schist, a predominance of pebbles, alluvial sand, and granite. The province also experiences significant wind influence (considered the windiest region of France) blowing both from the mountains, and the Mediterranean. Elevations change significantly approaching the mountains to the West or North offering hillside planting, and flatten as one approaches the Sea.

One of Mas’s primary goals in identifying quality vineyard sites is to locate land that can sustain dry farming. As such, natural availability of water (or not) also stands as a primary influence for his assessment of unique terroir.

One of the gifts of the Languedoc, as Mas describes it, is the huge range of growing conditions all within one province. “We do not have any less restriction than places like Bordeaux or Burgundy” when it comes to growing and wine rules from the AOP and IGP, he explains. “But we have access to incredible terroir, so anything you want to do can be done if you pay attention.” You look for the site with the right combination of factors in which to plant what you’re hoping to grow.

Jean-Claude Mas

Jean-Claude Mas, during our visit in the Languedoc, September 2013

Mas is a fascinating, sometimes intimidating figure. His own work ethic is so clear, and efficiently executed his presence triggers (in me, at least) a desire to work and perform at a higher level. In stepping into the lead position with Domaines Paul Mas, Jean-Claude has expanded the family’s project multi-fold, turning it from a primarily vineyard focused business to a vineyard and winery project with other aspects such as a new restaurant as well. He has also greatly expanded the vineyard holdings. The resulting volume that the company now produces is unusual for a family owned business in France.

I tell Mas I am impressed by how much he is able to manage and accomplish but also with how readily he can recall details of each of their vineyard sites. Domaines Paul Mas owns now 440 hectares of vineyard land, and works with 1120 contracted hectares, meaning they harvested 1560 hectares during the 2013 vintage. He’s developed a strong team, but stays connected to the goings-on throughout the company, and especially the vineyards.

It turns out, for Mas, his ability to manage such a wealth of information arises both from his own familiarity with the plants and climate of the area — he grew up working in vineyards with his father, feeling an affinity for the local flora — and his intensive internal organizational and problem solving abilities. The two together mean he tracks and utilizes information in his own head efficiently.

So how did harvest 2013 go in the Languedoc?

Harvest 2013 and Sustainable Viticulture

Jean-Claude Mas

There were several incidents of heavy rain in vintage 2013. As Mas reports, in three months there were three incidents of rain lasting two days each, including just before harvest. Some wine producers panicked, as a result, fearing the potential mildew that easily comes with rain. Mas and his other winemakers discussed the best approach to the vines when these rains were on their way, and agreed it was better to wait till grapes were fully ready, rather than rush to pick in advance. Those vineyards that were well maintained, and that were picked with proper hang time (rather than out of fear of the rains) gave “very good to exceptional fruit.”

In the last year, Domaines Paul Mas purchased a new-to-them 100 ha property, which means they increased their overall yield significantly. At the same time, the average yield for 2013 was down 5%, in Mas’s case largely thanks to management choices to focus on quality and ripeness.

Mas reports that in the end the rains were positive. His healthiest vineyards showed little or no mildew impact. The rains also had a positive affect in many cases as they slowed the maturation process increasing hang time to give a clearer balance to the resulting fruit.

Mas has been increasing the proportion of fully organic farming through his vineyards. Each of his sites focus on sustainable practices (he also intentionally leaves large parcels of land untended for a decade to reinvigorate) with an aim towards becoming fully organic. He reported that his already fully organic vineyards actually did the best at naturally resisting mildew production.

For Mas, organic farming arises out of his commitment to quality and the good life. “We can survive without wine, but wine makes your life better. How we farm affects nature, affects the environment around us. As long as the vine is well balanced in its environment, it is healthier and more resistant to disease.” The healthier the vine, the more we can have good wine.

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Thank you to Jean-Claude Mas.

Thank you to Julie Billod, Anne Alderete, and Michelle McCue.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

2

Celebrating #GrenacheDay

Friday, September 20 marks International Grenache Day for 2013. Last year, to celebrate I focused specifically on wines from the California Central Coast and Sonoma. This year, I decided to keep it simple and taste through examples from California more broadly focusing in more on Grenache Blanc, with just one Grenache Gris, and one Grenache Noir. Following are notes from tasting.

TASTING GRENACHE BLANC

Grenache Blancclick on image to enlarge

Acquiesce 2012 Grenache Blanc, Mokelumne Hills, 13.5%

Made from young vines, the Acquiesce Grenache Blanc is worth watching. In its second vintage, the wine is already showing interest with still young fruit. The 2012 offers a crisp body flavored by light stone fruit and crisp Asian pear alongside light grapefruit accents and touches of star fruit moving into a long white floral finish.

Bokisch Vineyards 2012 Garnacha Blanca, Vista Luna Vineyard, 13.5%

Blended with just a touch of Albarino, the Bokisch Garnacha Blanca gives the rocky tension the Vista Luna Vineyard reliably generates. Aged on its lees, the wine brings together a light creaminess with tons of juicy character moving into a long finish. Flavors of clementine, hints of wax, with refreshing dill accents move into a long mineral finish. This wine is all about value.

Cochon 2011 Grenache Blanc, Clements Hills, 13.8%

A nicely textural plushness with good acidity carries the subtle, clean flavors of the Cochon Grenache Blanc. The wine offers anise, with powdered lily, and fresh greenery through a long, lifting finish. The Grenache Blanc core is paired here with 5% Marsanne, and 5% Roussanne, keeping the focus on floral notes rather than fruit. I enjoy the clean flavor presentation, the focus on subtlety, and the textural interest.

Two Shepherds 2012 Grenache Blanc, Saarloos Vineyard, Santa Ynez, 13.4%

The Two Shepherds 2012 Grenache Blanc nose opens with light almond paste, quince and touches of citrus, that continue through the palate into a long juicy finish. As it warms, the wine shifts into riper pear and almond, bringing richer, still juicy flavors. With a creamy mouthfeel on a still taut mineral-zing line, the 2012 carries more fruit expression than its more austere, mineral focus 2011 counterpart, an appropriate indication of vintage expression.

TASTING GRENACHE GRIS

[Please pretend there is a brilliant illustration of Grenache Gris Varietal Characteristics here as I did not have time to design one though I love it so.]

click on imaginary image to enlarge

Idlewild 2012 Grenache Gris, Gibson Ranch, 12.6%

A beautiful light rosé, the Idlewild Grenache Gris offers fresh floral aromatics with touches of jalapeno and light beeswax accents. Through the palate the character deepens into herbal, light campari-like hints, with brushes of apricot and blood orange. There is a nice textural interest here as well. This would also be a lovely, refreshing Thanksgiving wine.

TASTING GRENACHE NOIR

Grenache Noirclick on image to enlarge

Skinner 2010 Grenache, El Dorado, 14.8%

Giving a well-integrated presentation of red fruit, red flower and dark spice with touches of lavender, the Skinner Grenache shows a concentrated core rolling through with juicy length over smooth tannin into a medium-long finish. The bottle first opens with lightly reductive notes that just want a little time to roll into the wine’s lovely fruit expression.

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Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

 

1

Looking for Colors of the Languedoc

Herault, Languedoc

a soil map of the Herault region of Languedoc, each color represents a different soil type–it’s intensely varied. this map represents only one small Department of the Languedoc, Herault, less than 6000 sq kilometers/2300 sq miles. The Languedoc as a whole remains so varied and reaches more than 42,000 sq kilometers/16,400 sq miles. Imagine.

Today after more study of the soils of the Languedoc, and touring some of the vineyards of Herault, near the town of Montagnac, we drove North into the limestone buttresses of the Midi-Pyrenees to taste Roquefort cheese — only the one area can produce AOC certified Roquefort, and so only 7 businesses in the world make AOC Roquefort — and visit the World’s Tallest Bridge, the Millau Viaduct. We then returned south for tasting Olive Oil, and to meet with Jean Claude Mas, a vigneron that’s slowly changing old bulk wine viticulture into better quality viticulture by focusing on organic farming and encouraging the life of the soil. Tomorrow we fly from Montpellier. I’ll be sorry to leave the Languedoc. It’s a place I’d like to spend more time. So much to share — how Roquefort is made, how oysters are farmed, what makes this region special, where to visit on tour, interviews with vigneron. When I get back to the states I have some follow up interviews with winemakers and importers, and am tasting more wines from the region. Write ups to come.

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With minimal time off tour this week I’m posting only as I’m able and briefly. See you more next week!

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

 

2

Visiting an Oyster Farm on the Etang de Thau

On the Etang de Thau

our group on a flat skiff driving out on the Etang (pond) de Thau, Mediterranean

Today we visited the Domaine Paul Mas Estate, tasted through multiple wine labels, and ate at the Domaine’s Cote Mas Restaurant. After, we visited the historic center of Pezenas, a town I’d like to return to and just stay in for a week to walk the cobbled streets, wander into the museums and galleries, shop the local artisan craftsmen (master woodworkers, master iron workers, master book binders – it’s pretty incredible. The town supports the development of rare, and antique skills such as these.), and move slowly. In the evening, we visited by boat an oyster farm on the Etang de Thau (an inlet off the Mediterranean) before then eating some of the oysters. A lovely, even if exhausting tour of the Languedoc offerings. Beautiful!

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With minimal time off tour this week I’m posting only as I’m able and briefly. See you more next week!

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com