Wednesday, December 18, 2013

An Afternoon in France With Dion Jones-Lewin - Great Food, Wine…and a bit of Good Whisky Too

On Saturday, December 14th, we had the pleasure of hosting Dion Jones-Lewin at our store. She signed her cookbooks and handed out samples of delicious French fare as I poured some wonderful French wines and an excellent French Whisky to celebrate.

This delightful lady was born and raised in Paris and learned to cook from her Grand-mere. After her grandmother’s death, Dion found a sealed box filled with recipes and family photos, which inspired her to write her series of cookbooks, “From the Sealed Box: Simply French”. They are written to allow anyone to experience French cuisine without spending hours in the kitchen.

Dion charmed our customers, introducing them to the joys of French cooking - and sold a lot of cookbooks. This was not surprising as her books are very well written with easy to read and follow recipes…and lists of ingredients which are not impossible to find. There are four volumes in the series, with her recently released “A French Christmas” now available. You can find out more about Dion and her Cookbooks at

We poured four wines to celebrate France. They all showed well and many people enjoyed them enough to purchase the wine from a bottle or two to a case or so.

Domain du Salvard Cheverney Blanc 2012. This is a blend of 85% Sauvignon Blanc and 15% Chardonnay from estate vineyards in Cheverney, a small appellation  in the Loire Valley. It is fresh and crisp with flavors of citrus, mineral and a generous acidity that results in a mouth watering finish that is refreshing and food friendly. It is a good alternative to the more pricey Sancerre produced nearby, costing only $14.99 per bottle.

Champalou Vouvray Sec 2011.  This wine is 100% Chenin Blanc and is from an estate founded by Didier and Catherine Champalou in the early 1980’s. White acacia flowers, honey  and citrus on the nose and a complex flavor profile of citrus  fruits with a beautiful minerality  make this a wonderful food wine. Priced at 21.99.

Clos la Coutale Cahors 2011. When Malbec is mentioned, people think of Argentina although Cahors, located just south of Bordeaux, is the birthplace of this grape. It was taken to Argentina by French emigrants at the end of the nineteenth century and has become that country’s signature red varietal. This wine which is 80% Malbec and 20% Merlot is much meatier, earthier and more structured than the Argentinan style of Malbec. It has a similar fruit profile but  is less flashy and fruit driven and  is an outstanding wine. $19.99.

Chateau Aney Haut- Medoc Rouge 2010. This Bordeaux blend from the Left Bank is a great value from an area where wine prices can get astronomical. Left Bank wines are usually Cabernet Sauvignon  predominant, and this is indeed primarily Cabernet, tempered and rounded with a bit of Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. It is aged 12 months in new French oak. There is a nose of cassis, black fruits, graphite and tobacco with a wonderful fruit and earth flavor profile.  Delicious now and will only get better in the cellar for the next several years. A bargain at $32.99.

Last but not least, we poured a wonderful Whisky, Bastille. When thinking of Whisky, nobody thinks of France – at least until they try this. It is distilled from barley and wheat and is aged primarily in French Limousin oak for five to seven years. It has a floral, fruity nose with a hint of cinnamon. On the palate, it is slightly sweet and honeyed, with a bit of clove, cinnamon and nutmeg. This is a beautiful whisky that is  best enjoyed neat and is a bargain at $30.00.

Dion’s cookbooks combined with her delightful personality, great wines being poured, a few morsels demonstrating her expertise…topped off with a sip of a great whisky…make my job very easy to enjoy.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Tired of the same old varietals? Me Too!

People who know me have often asked why I can claim so many previous occupations. I tell them either that I get bored easily, or that I can’t decide what I want to do when I grow up. I guess both of these are true which has led to me to be an obstetrician/gynecologist for 20 years, own an equestrian training/breeding facility, be a bartender and kayak guide in the Caribbean, and eventually end up in the next logical thing…retail wine and wine education.

My restlessness extends to other aspects of my life, including the wines I drink. I can only drink so much Merlot and Cabernet without wanting to venture into the vast world of different grapes that become incredible wines. So let’s look at some fun wines to impress your dinner guests with. Italy, with over 1000 grapes that have been, or are being, made into wine, is a great place to start.

San Giovanni Il Groppello. Groppello is the major grape grown in the Lago Garda area between Veneto and Lombardy. When you open the squat little bottle aromas of dark cherries and spice leap from within. The wine is medium bodied and silky with moderate tannins supporting minerally dark fruit flavors. It is a delicious alternative to Pinot Noir for $22.99.

Emilio Bulfon in Friuli has dedicated his life to resurrecting obscure grapes that often were thought to be extinct. His Forgiarin is an excellent example. The wine is medium to full in body with fruity aromas with hints of underbrush. On the palate warm, smooth flavors of red fruit are supported by light supple tannins. A bit understated but plenty of flavor to enjoy and wonderful with pork or fowl. $19.99.

Castelfeder Rieder Lagrein. Lagrein is a grape native to Alto Adige, in the far north of Italy where more Germen is spoken than Italian. This wine has aromatics of black and red cherries with a hint of violets. Medium to full in body, it is intense but soft textured, chewy but not heavy. Your palate will experience earthy plums and dark cherries with a pronounced mineral edge and a wonderful savoriness. My favorite wine with beef stew. $19.99.

We could stay in Italy for the rest of this article and talk about Piculit Neri, Teroldego, or Nerello Mascalese but we should head elsewhere. Before we do, we should touch on a white wine, and Arianna Occhipinti’s SP68 would be my choice. This young rock star winemaker from Sicily is crafting wines from indigenous varietals such as Frapatto, Grillo and Nero D’Avola. But this white, made from Albanella and Zibibbo is off the charts. Bright and fresh, with bold zesty flavors of citrus, white peach, and tropical fruit with a rosemary-ginger kick at the back end. Pricey at $29.99, but fabulous!

France has its share of grapes you never heard of, too. For a great bargain in white wine, try Saint Mont “Les Bastions”. From the Basque country of Southwest France, this fresh, vibrant, delightful wine is a blend of Gros Manseng, Petit Courbu and Arrufiac. There are floral and citrus-grapefruit aromas with grapefruit and herbs on the palate. With a bracing acidity it is a great little wine on its own or with food for $10.99.

Jura is a little known region of France which is currently a darling of high end restaurants and sommeliers. Jacques Puffeney’s Arbois is a wonderful wine made from the Trousseau Noir grape. Known as the “Pope of Jura” he brings the best out of this grape. The nose is of wild berries, game, and pine. There are mineral infused flavors of red cherries and berries with grainy tannins. There is a wonderful rustic quality that makes this a unique wine. It is not cheap, at $42.99, but worth the experience.

Domain de Labarthe Gaillac is from the region of Gaillac in Sothwestern France and is a blend of Fer-Servado, Braucol and Duras. Flavors and aromas of dried herbs, red fruit, pencil lead and minerals in this earthy, rustic wine end with a spiced, tart smoky finish. Unusual and delicious at $20.99.

No discussion on unusual grape varietals would be complete without an entry from Greece. Domain Skouras makes a wonderful red from the Aghiorghitiko (honest) grape. Since the grape is so hard to pronounce it has been renamed Saint George for English speaking wine lovers.  Big lush flavors of dark fruit in this complex earthy wine make for a delightful pairing with lamb or braised meats. At $14.99 it’s a great way to forget that Greece has to claim Retsina as coming from there.

These are just a few of the unknown, unusual and wonderful varietals out there to explore. There are many more and they are worth every effort to find. Think how smart you’ll sound when you matter of factly say “Here’s a delightful little Garganega I picked up recently…”


Monday, December 2, 2013

Beaujolais – More Than A November Celebration

When the third Thursday of November rolls around every year, the light, fruity red wine known as Beaujolais Nouveau appears all over the world to celebrate the French harvest.  Meant to be drunk the first few months after its release and made from grapes that were literally hanging on the vine 8 weeks earlier, the wine has become popular largely through great marketing techniques. With aromatics of strawberry and bubble gum and flavors of strawberry, banana and pear, it is hardly a serious wine and has in fact, had a negative effect on the reputation of serious winemakers from the appellation of Beaujolais.

Beaujolais is found in the region stretching from southern Burgundy to the northern Rhone. It is considered part of Burgundy, but the terroire is closer to that of the Rhone. Beaujolais is made from the Gamay grape, an offspring of the cross between Pinot noir and an ancient varietal known as Gouais. Thin skinned like its parent, Gamay ripens a full two weeks earlier, is much easier to grow, and is much more prolific. It was once widely planted in Burgundy, but much was ripped up and replaced by the more elegant Pinot Noir and pushed southward to where it thrives today.

Beaujolais is a large region with 44,000 acres of vines spread over 96 villages. In the northern part, the soil is granite and limestone and the wines tend to be more complex and structured. In the southern part the soil is clay and sandstone and the wines are lighter and fruitier. The vast majority of Beaujolais Nouveau comes from the south. There are several levels of quality.

The lowest is the already mentioned Nouveau and fully one third of the total production of the region goes to this wine every year. The next level is simply called Beaujolais. The grapes are sourced from any of the 96 villages. The vines must not produce more than 60 hectolitres of grapes per hectare, preventing overproduction and less concentration of flavor.

Beaujolais Villages is sourced from 39 of the villages, and the yields are further restricted,  resulting in wines that are more concentrated in flavor and a little more complex and structured. These wines still should be drunk within 2 years.

Cru Beaujolais is the highest quality designation and the wines must come from 7 villages or three small areas. The restriction on yields is even stricter and this combined with the local terroire ( all these villages are in the northern region with the granite and limestone soils) results in the most complex and structured of the Beaujolais, often approaching Burgundy Pinot Noir in finesse.  None of these Cru villages are allowed to produce grapes to be used in Beaujolais Nouveau. The different villages produce wines of varying structure and complexity and this can be predicted by the north /south location of the villages.

Brouilly, Regnie and Chiroubles are the farthest south and produce the lightest wines that should be drunk within 2 years. Fleurie, St Amour and Cotes du Brouilly produce more complex wines to be drunk within 4 years. Finally, Moulin A Vent, Morgon and Julienas are the farthest north and produce the most complex and structured of all. These wines improve with age and are meant to be drunk 4 to 10 years after release.

Serious Beaujolais has aromas of spice and red cherries with flavors of red fruit and spice with a bracing acidity and a bit of earth making them great food wines. They  are especially good with Thanksgiving Turkey. They are often better slightly chilled, especially the lighter ones.

One of the very best Beaujolais is made by Dupeuble for $18.99. Louis Jadot, one of Burgundy’s great producers makes a very respectable Beaujolais villages for $13.49.  The Cru Villages are the ones that illustrate just how good these wines can be. Clos du Roilette Fleurie ($16.99) is my go to Thanksgiving wine and the Thivin Cote de Brouilly is crazy good at $28.99. The Grange Julienas Cuvee Speciale  is well named for it is truly special at $25.99 with great depth and surprising structure.

The 2013 Beaujolais is here, and if you want to celebrate the harvest and the holidays go with the Rochette Nouveau 

Villages at $9.99, although the Georges DuBoeuf with its celebratory flower label is a bargain at $6.99.

Beaujolais is more than the simple wine quaffed over the holidays at cocktail parties. It can be a serious, very good wine to be enjoyed on its own or with food and deserves the attention of every wine lover.