Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Blind Tasting of Bordeaux Right Bank wines

Before the holidays, our wine tasting group gathered for a blind tasting of Bordeaux wines from the Right Bank.

The Right Bank is a large wine region that lies on the right side of the Dordogne river while facing the river downstream. It is made of 10 different appellations, including the prestigious appellations of Pomerol and Saint-Émilion. On the other hand, what we call the Left Bank is the region located on the left side of the Garonne river, north of Bordeaux. The Left Bank includes the Médoc and Graves districts.

The two banks differ mainly in soil composition. On the Left Bank, the soil is mostly gravels and wines are often dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon. On the Right Bank, the soil is made of clay, limestone and sand. Therefore, it is more suited to Merlot and to a lesser extent Cabernet Franc. Wines from the Right Bank tend to be fruit-forward with soft tannins and are more approachable than Left Bank wines when young.

Bordeaux Wine Region

We tasted six wines from the appellations of Saint-Emilion, Lalande de Pomerol, Fronsac, and Côtes de Castillon. Four of them were from the warm 2005 vintage. The others were from 2004 and 2006. Overall, we found the wines tasty and food friendly although still young.

The wines we tasted:

• 2006 Château La Chenade: this is a small property in the Lalande de Pomerol appellation, north of Pomerol. The wine is produced by Denis Durantou of renowned Château L'Eglise Clinet in Pomerol. The blend is Merlot 80%, Cabernet Franc 15%, Cabernet Sauvignon 5%. Our notes: subtle mineral nose with caramel notes, tight mid-palate, some acidity, earthy finish. Finished in fourth position.

• 2004 Château La Vieille Cure: from the Fronsac appellation, west of Pomerol. Americans Colin Ferenbach and Peter Sachs bought the property in 1986, bringing a fresh investment of funds to lower the yields, select better fruit at harvest time, and buy new oak barrels, and winemaking equipment. The château has 20 hectares planted predominantly with Merlot (75%), the remaining being Cabernet Franc (22%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (3%). Our notes: dark color, discreet earthy nose, wood and acidity on the palate, slightly unbalanced, not as good as the others with food. Finished last.

• 2005 Château de la Dauphine: from the Fronsac appellation, Château de la Dauphine has 37 producing hectares planted with 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. The average age for the vines is 33 years old. The wine is aged in oak barrels (of which 1/3 are new) for 12 months. The last few years have seen significant investment both in the building itself and the vinification areas. Our notes: dark color, attractive spicy berry nose, full-bodied, mint and vanilla on the finish. Finished in second position.

• 2005 Château Rocher Bellevue Figeac: a Grand Cru in the Saint Emilion appellation. The wine is a blend is 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc. it is aged 15-18 months in oak barrels, 40% of which are new. Our notes: peppery, smoky nose, full-bodied on the palate, a bit tannic but well rounded, long finish. Finished first, the wine was the clear winner of the tasting.

• 2005 Château Joanin-Bécot: from the Côtes de Castillon appellation, east of Saint Emilion and south of Fronsac. It is owned by the Bécot family of Château Beau-Séjour Bécot in Saint Emilion. The wine is a blend of 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc, aged in oak barrels 70% new. Our notes: forward nose with dairy and mineral aromas, young and tannic on the palate. Finished in third position.

• 2005 Clos Kalinda Saint Émilion: this is the first Bordeaux wine under the Kalinda label from K&L Wine Merchants. It is produced by Château Sansonnet in Saint Emilion. The property's second wine (in France, Lasalle) was used as a base for the wine with also some Sansonnet in the blend. Our notes: subtle vanilla nose with sweet fruit aromas, good mid-palate, shorter finish, good with food. Finished in fifth position.

Previous blind wine tastings:
•  Blind Tasting of Syrah
•  Blind Tasting of Cabernet Blends from Washington State
•  Blind Tasting of Pinot Noir from Los Carneros and Anderson Valley

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Two Sauternes for my husband's Foie Gras

Every year, my husband likes to make a Foie Gras for our December 31st dinner and it's interesting to notice that as years went by, his recipe has evolved to the bare minimum. There is no Armagnac marinade and water bath anymore: first, the foie is deveined, seasoned with salt and pepper, wrapped tightly with plastic wrap with the ends tied like a sausage, poached 5 minutes in boiling water, and refrigerated for at least a couple of days. He serves the foie gras at room temperature on toasted bread, lightly sprinkled with coarse sea salt.

The poached foie gras tightly wrapped with plastic wrap

Slicing the foie gras

To accompany the foie gras, our friend Christophe and I had brought two different bottles of Sauternes that we enthusiastically compared side by side.

Christophe's was the 2005 Château Doisy-Védrines from an estate vineyard dominated by the Sémillon grape (approximately 85% Sémillon, the rest planted with Sauvignon Blanc). Like in the other Sauternes Châteaux, the harvest is labor-intensive, picking the fruit in several waves called tries to select the berries most affected by the Botrytis fungus. The wine is aged for eighteen months in oak barrels, 70% of which being new. The 2005 vintage was excellent in Sauternes with lots of heat and sunshine to ripen the grapes and foggy nights and mornings to promote the development of botrytis.

The wine had a bright color with rich aromas of dried apricot and pineapple. The palate had a lighter body with a lively acidity and a smooth and elegant finish.

Mine was the 2001 Château Clos Haut-Peyraguey, an estate with 17 hectares under vine planted with Sémillon (90%) and Sauvignon Blanc (10%). The terroir is excellent for the appellation, characterized by north-east facing slopes and gravely and sandy soils on a clayey subsoil. The harvest is done manually in 4-7 successive tries to hand-pick the best botrytis-infected grapes. The 2001 vintage was highly rated in Sauternes, thanks to exceptional weather conditions and a speedy spread of botrytis on grapes that had the time to fully ripen.

The wine was opulent, with apricots, acacia flower, and honey aromas. On the palate, it was thicker and sweeter with a lingering finish of caramelized fruits.

So which one was the best with the foie gras: the livelier 2005 Doisy-Védrines or the more opulent 2001 Clos Haut-Peyraguey? I am sorry, I couldn't decide, they were both so good!

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Friday, January 08, 2010

An apple tart competition and a fizzy Moscato

Our friend Christophe loves to make apple tarts. That's one of his specialties and he is pretty good at it. He makes a quick sweet pastry crust, arranges apple slices on top of it and bakes the tart until the apples are soft. That's a quick and easy recipe and we all love his tarts but our friend Jiyon thought that we should also try her own more elaborated recipe as well.

Christophe's tart

Her point was that the dough had to be made with very cold butter and iced water and it was important to use a pastry blender to cut the butter into the flour in order to avoid warming up the butter. When done, the dough had to be refrigerated for several hours before baking. And then, when the tart is cooked, she likes to brush the top of the tart with a glaze made of apricot preserve and Calvados.

Jiyon's tart

There were unanimous cheers for Jiyon's tart and everybody voraciously ate her/his slice. I thought the crust had a cookie-like crunchiness and was very tasty. I also liked the glaze on the apples but I found the Fuji variety that was used for both tart, too firm and not tart enough for my taste. For our next apple tart competition, I think we should use Granny Smith or even Golden Delicious.

Because it was New Year's eve, we drank a Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Rosé, a terrific dry Champagne Rosé with a delicate rose petal color and a lot of finesse, although the Champagne was much too dry to accompany the apple tart.

I think the Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d'Asti that Kobrand Corporation had sent me before the holidays would have worked better with the dessert. Unfortunately, we had tasted the wine earlier in the evening and there was none left.

Made from the aromatic Muscat grape, Moscato d'Asti is a sweet, semi-sparkling wine with low alcohol content. Nivole, which means clouds in the local dialect, is produced by Azienda Vitivinicola Michele Chiarlo, a prominent producer in Piedmont. The fruit is sourced from a single south-southwest facing, steep hillside vineyard. Fermentation occurs using natural yeast and is stopped when the wine has reached an alcohol level of 5.5% using a sterile filtration to remove any remaining live yeasts. Then the addition of unfermented must adjusts the residual sugar level to 11%.

The wine had a pale yellow color and a fragrant nose of exotic fruits. The palate was light and fresh, slightly fizzy, with a definitive sweetness, leaving an aftertaste of honey and apricot. But the uncomplex sweet style of the wine didn't convince everybody: my husband thought it tasted like sparkling apple juice. Maybe he should have tried it with the apple tart.

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