Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Jasnières at a one-star restaurant in Blois

When we left the Dordogne, we stopped over in Blois where we ate at a small and charming Michelin one-star restaurant called Au Rendez-Vous des Pêcheurs. The restaurant occupies an old grocery in a 16th-century house not very far from the chateau, and specializes in seafood and regional cuisine with local products from the Loire Valley.

We drank a delicious 2006 Jasnières Les Vignes de L'Ange Vin Le Charme du Loir, a wine from Jasnières, a small appellation located on clay/limestone hillsides thick with flint stones along the Loir River (a tributary of the Loire River). The area is the most northerly wine-growing region of the Loire Valley and is therefore distinctly colder. The wines are all dry white wines produced from Chenin Blanc grapes.

Les Vignes de L'Ange Vin was founded by Jean-Pierre Robinot, who used to run a wine bistro in Paris called L'Ange Vin for nearly 15 years. L'Ange Vin means angel wine but it is also a play on words with Angevin, a term that applies to the residents of the Anjou region and its capital Angers. Jean-Pierre Robinot is an ambitious winemaker that practices natural farming and winemaking. The white wines (70% of the production) are pressed very slowly and raised on the lees in oak barrels for at least 12 months. Minimal sulfur is added.

The wine had a light yellow color and a nose of citrus and white flowers. On the palate, it had a bright acidity, lots of minerality and a touch of honey. The wine was more crisp than a Vouvray or a Savenières but had plenty of character that highlighted well the flavors of the food.

Carrot Mousse and Mushroom Flan

Crayfish Stuffed Zucchini Flower

Bass topped with Sweetbreads

Strawberry Soup

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Monday, August 01, 2011

Domaine de L'Ancienne Cure in Bergerac

Earlier this month, I was in the Dordogne for our biennial family reunion. This region, located in southwest France and east of Bordeaux, is I think, one of the best spots in France for a family vacation. There are hundreds of prehistoric caves, more than 1500 castles and plenty of medieval villages to explore. The region is also famous for its local specialities including foie gras, duck confit, duck magret, and truffles. And of course, there is wine.

The Bergerac wine region lies along the Dordogne river and is the biggest appellation in the south west of France, producing red, dry white, and sweet white wines. The grapes growing in the region are similar to the Bordeaux varieties but the local climate is more continental and less influenced by the Atlantic ocean. Winters are mild and summers are long and can be very hot with occasional storms and showers.

Vineyards in the Bergerac Appellation

During the week that I spent in the area, I had the opportunity to visit the Domaine de L'Ancienne Cure. It is a family owned estate growing grapes in the Bergerac, Pécharmant, and Monbazillac appellations. The name of the domain refers to the old presbytery that Hélène and Gaston Roche bought in 1946 in the small village of Colombier, several kilometers from the town of Bergerac. They were mainly growers at the time, sending most of their grapes to the local cooperative. In 1984, their son Christian Roche inherited part of the family property and built its own winery to become an independent winemaker. Since 2009, the estate has been converting to organic viticulture.

Domaine de L'Ancienne Cure

At the domaine, we were warmly welcomed by a friendly and knowledgeable staff. We sat at the large farmhouse table in the middle of the tasting room and spent two hours tasting and talking about the estate production. The winery makes dry white, sweet white and red wines in three different lines: Jour de Fruit for fruit-forward, ready-to-drink wines, L'Abbaye for more concentrated, age-worthy wines, and the top of the line, L'Extase.

We tasted the following wines:

• 2009 Bergerac Sec Domaine de L'Ancienne Cure L'Abbaye: 30% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Muscadelle, 25% Sémillon, and 25% Sauvignon Gris. Sauvignon Gris is a rare grape variety on the brink of extinction that has been revived recently in Bordeaux and in the south west. Manual harvest, aged 9 months in barrel, 30% new. My notes: deep golden color, sweet floral nose. On the palate much drier than it smells, peach, tropical fruit aromas, creamy mouthfeel.

• 2008 Bergerac Sec Domaine de L'Ancienne Cure L'Extase: 45% Sauvignon blanc, 35 % Sémillon, 20 % Muscadelle. Manual harvest, 60% new oak barrels. My notes: deep golden color, intense nose, lots of freshness on the palate with additional citrus notes, great balance between acidity and richness.

The red wines

• 2008 Pécharmant Domaine de L'Ancienne Cure Collection: Pécharmant is a small appellation on the north bank of Bergerac. The name means charming hill, pech coming from the occitan word puèg which means hill and charmant meaning charming. The wine is a blend of 50% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc. Aged 18 months in new oak barrels. My notes: dark color, blackberry nose, very young, still tight and not really "made" yet (with the fruit on one side and the oak on the other side), age-worthy.

• 2005 Bergerac Domaine de L'Ancienne Cure L'Extase: 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc. Grapes are harvested very ripe on calcareous soils and with more acidity on clay soils. Aged 19 months in new oak barrels. My notes: deep color, gamey aromas, ripe blackberries, jammy, quite silky on the palate, fine tannins, good acidity, age-worthy.

The sweet Monbazillac wines

• 2009 Monbazillac Domaine de L'Ancienne Cure Jour de Fruit: the wines of Monbazillac were already well-known in France in the 14th century but were discovered by the Dutch in the 17th century during the Wars of Religion when many Protestants from the Bergerac area emigrated to Holland. Like nearby Sauternes, the wine is issued from Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle grapes harvested by hand when the grapes are affected by the noble rot or botrytis cinerea. The wine is a blend of 90% Sémillon, 10% Muscadelle. My notes: light golden color, floral nose. On the palate, light-bodied, sweet and fresh without been sirupy, nice citrus on the finish, good acidity, great with foie gras.

• 2003 Monbazillac Domaine de L'Ancienne Cure L'Extase: 90% Sémillon, 10% Muscadelle. Careful selection of the best berries, aged in new oak barrels. My notes: deep amber color, powerful nose of madarin orange. On the palate, very rich, sweet, long finish.

Showing the different amounts of botrytised fruit used in the Jour de Fruit and Extase cuvées

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