Wednesday, June 12, 2019

FRENCH #WINE(OPHILES) AND CHEESE


The poetic thing about time is that it is an endless story that continues to be written. The poetic thing about human evolution is that it is but an endless chapter in that story. Food, water, and war are inherent to the story of human evolution. While war through the ages has greatly influenced water and changed regional foods throughout the world, the industrial revolution and resulting modernisation are recent events. Before then, food was a perishable commodity eaten locally, not transported thousands of miles. The people of then were, by necessity, proponents of "what grows together, goes together". The original locavores!

This is best exemplified by the French who absolutely love to classify and bracket everything including their honey, chickens, onions, walnuts, wine, cheese, and more, to emphasize the importance of the sense of place, or terroir. They believe that the best representation of a certain food or drink comes from it's place of origin. Having grown up with very seasonal and very local Indian ingredients I'm inclined to agree with that concept. Historically in wine-making areas including France, wine was the preferred beverage because it was cleaner than water and a low ABV inconsequential quaff. None of this well extracted 13-14+% fancy stuff of now. And each region - in our case French - had its own wine and food, because people used ingredients that were available where they lived. With time, water became cleaner and potable, grape growing and vinification evolved, and so did people's tastes. By the time the French obsession love for classification came about, the low ABV wines of history were long gone and regional wine trends were well established. Many foods including cheese, though, continued to be made the old-fashioned way and so, for example, since receiving AOC status, Mont d'Or or Comté aren't so unless made in Franche-Comté from the milk of Montbéliarde cows and packaged according to tradition. And really, there's no argument that Harbison from New Jersey, USA is simply not Mont d'Or no matter what anyone says. And "Chablis" from CA and Chablis from Chablis... we won't even go there!

This month the French Winophiles are focusing on French wine and cheese. The easiest - or perhaps most nuanced - pairing, and around our house cheese trays are their own food group. Martin of Enofylz Wine Blog has hosted this one, and I'd recommend you don't miss it! 

CH. LABÉGORCE ZÉDÉ, MARGAUX, 2007

2007 was one of the last vintages of this label which ceased to exist in 2009 when it was rolled into the Labégorce estate. In 2019 it definitely needed a good 1+ hours of decanting, but after that the beautiful deep-ruby-with-hints-of-garnet wine had aromas of dried roses,  licorice, plum, tobacco, dried mint, cigar, medicinal notes, and a decidedly savoury/meaty finish. Medium bodied overall, with balanced tannins and a medium finish. Most definitely a wine for food! Overall this wine was a delight, and we're glad we've got one bottle left.

13.5% abv, SRP $26-$30.

THE FOOD: We paired the wine with a cheese tray with an assortment of French cheeses (+ a few bits and bobs of other EU cheeses) and meats, plus the usual garnishes. A versatile and successful pairing in all ways and we especially loved the savouriness of the meat with the meaty-barnyard notes of the wine!

Like turmeric which only exists in two forms: dried and fresh, cheese exists in one form: coagulated milk from an animal. But unlike turmeric which does not pair well with wine, cheese and wine uplift each other and in fact, seem to be made for each other. So enjoy!

See what sage insights my fellow #winophiles are sharing about French wine and cheese:


Tuesday, May 21, 2019

AUDE: ALIVE IN MORE WAYS THAN WINE


This month in May the #winophiles focussed on Languedoc-Roussillon in southern France, hosted by LM Archer. A lucky few of us received samples from Gérard Bertrand, who makes biodynamic wines at his Demeter certified winery in the Aude department of Occitanie in Languedoc-Roussillon.

The present-day region of Aude has done a lot: been inhabited since 1,500,000 BC, site of Europe's oldest human skull, lived through the usual European tumult of the Greeks, Romans, even Arabs for a while, but also benefitted from the "civilisation" part of each of these groups who brought viticulture, agriculture, cuisine, art, architecture, and cultural diversity.

The Greeks planted the first vines in Aude in the 1st century, but the industry really only caught on in the early 19th century. Around the same time as the French architect and theorist Viollet-le-Duc (1814-1879), who was not a formally trained architect but spent more than half of his career restoring Gothic-era castles, cathedrals, and public buildings, including the Notre Dame de Paris and the city walls of Carcassonne in the Aude. He is considered one of the first theorists of current architecture and historic preservation practices, a proponent of using restoration materials that inform the function of the structure rather than simply duplicating what was there. His theories of honest structural integrity and creative interpretation over exact replication made him a controversial figure and he continues to be so, hotly debated by all of us in historic preservation and engineering. When designing replacements for the statues at the top of the Notre Dame de Paris, he precociously designed Saint Thomas to resemble himself. The statue is there for all to see!



A third of the land in Aude is now planted with grape vines, although Aude/Languedoc-Roussillon might not be the first wine region you think of in France. But vintners like Gérard Bertrand are bringing more of a sense of place to the wines there, and making creative wines "of the land" through biodynamic practices rather than recreating what was already being made there. Much like V.-l.-Duc's writings and practices that inform but aren't the same as our evolving approaches to restoration and theories of historic preservation. E.g. in the reconstruction of the Notre Dame de Paris roof that will never be rebuilt to what was there when it burnt - which was already not original - but rather it will be rebuilt to remind us of what was there while also being foremost a roof. Considering how much Aude has lived from prehistoric man to V.-l.-Duc and forward thinkers like Gérard Bertrand and his biodynamic ways in the single largest wine growing region in the world, we can agree that Aude and Languedoc-Roussillon continue to be alive in more ways than wine!

2018 GÉRARD BERTRAND "CIGALUS" BLANC

According to the GB website, "Cigalus enjoys a hot, sunny Mediterranean climate (described as “semi-arid with temperate spring variants”) ensuring early ripening of all the grape varieties. This arid climate (low rainfall) is offset by the very deep soils (sediments deposited by the Aussou, a stream at the edge of the estate) which store the winter rains for longer but which are less fertile due to the presence of a slightly chalky sandstone in the subsoil, dating back to the Campanian (secondary era, prior to the emergence of the Pyrenees). LABEL DEMETER"

WINE: The wine, a blend of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and viognier, is a beautiful pale gold colour with lightly viscous tears, aromas of ripe citrus, citrus peel, white stone fruit, toast, honey on the nose. On the palate the wine is supple and silky with an unctuous mouthfeel and notes of butter in addition to the same aromas as on the nose. See the Tech Sheet for the winery's biodynamic approach to this wine, and other information.

PAIRING: We paired the wine with acciughe al verde, or anchovies in green sauce. The salty anchovies and the herbal sauce are a match made in heaven for a wine like the Cigalus Blanc. The acidity of the wine walks with the brininess of the anchovies and the oak aging helps tone down each bite while the citrus enhances the light fruity olive oil and the salty fish. Fun Fact: This classic Piemontese snack is a hark back to the days when salt was smuggled through France and Italy in creative ways including by hiding in layers of anchovies under the pretext of preserving them. The heavily salted anchovies that we desalinate before using today, were a way to smuggle salt in to Italy where it was in demand amongst the rich. Salt was the truffle of the 18th/19th century! 

We also had a delightful tuna ceviche which went splendidly with the wine. The occasional heat of the green chiles de arbol in the ceviche was a nice surprise soothed by bits of avocado. Fun FactChiles de arbol are commonly used dried in Mexican cookery but in regional Indian cuisine they are used in all their green splendor in all manner of ways including just biting into them with a meal. It's hard to believe that chiles came to India relatively recently, through the Portuguese via Spain via Mexico where they are native. Potatoes and tomatoes are equally foreign ingredients that are now well integrated into all types of Indian cuisine.

Check out the other #winophiles thoughts on Languedoc-Roussillon wines!

Friday, May 10, 2019

LIVING OFF THE LAND: KING ESTATE PINOT NOIR + MUSHROOM PÂTÉ


This month (May) the Wine Pairing Weekend group is focusing on biodynamic wines from Oregon, and more specifically, from the Willamette Valley, OR. OR has the most number of certified biodynamic wineries in the US: a hefty 30%+!

So chances of finding a biodynamic wine from there are large. Or not, depending on how closely you look. Demeter, the largest certifying organization for biodynamic products, maintains a list on their website here. But if you're expecting a comprehensive list of wineries sorted by country, region, etc. prepare to be disappointed. You can certainly take the long-hand approach and narrow it down by crop, etc. but it's as I said, long-hand. So I took the other approach: went to the store, picked up bottles, looked up the wineries to see if they're biodynamic, narrowed down options, picked one because that's all I had time for to taste, pair, and write about hours before leaving town!

Demeter was established in Europe in 1932, and Demeter USA in 1985. According to their website, "Demeter USA is the only certifier for Biodynamic farms and products in America. While all of the organic requirements for certification under the National Organic Program are required for Biodynamic certification, the Demeter standard is much more extensive, with stricter requirements around imported fertility, greater emphasis on on-farm solutions for disease, pest, and weed control, and in depth specifications around water conservation and biodiversity." It is really the only biodynamic certification I have ever heard of in the US, probably also because Demeter own the Biodynamic trademark.

I chose a 2016 King Estate Pinot Noir because of the region, the winery, the grape (they are the self-proclaimed Kings of Pinot), the size, and the fact that before they were Biodynamic, they were Organic. No cutting corners here! At 1,033 acres, King Estate is the largest Demeter-certified biodynamic winery in the US. But they make sublime wines, even the ones that are not Pinot Noir.

THE WINE: Short story because no time to decant and see how it develops!

A gorgeous deep ruby with a pretty pink rim, notes of ripe red fruit - strawberries, raspberries, red currants, cherries - plus sweet vanilla, black tea and a faint hint of wet forest leaves on the nose and palate. The acid and tannins work in unison on the palate with just enough of both to keep you coming back for a sip. The finish is medium+ but really you're not waiting too long between sips with this wine anyway!

Overall this wine is an utter delight, especially at 13.5% abv and $26.

THE FOOD: We paired the wine with one of my favourite Pinot pairings: pâté. But I wanted a vegetarian mushroom pâté and our local Whole Foods - my go-to spot for all kinds of pâtés - was out of their mushroom version. Since it was a last minute decision to participate this month, I was at a construction site the whole day, and had to battle traffic both ways, I was really looking for a quick pairing with no cooking. But no mushroom pâté to be bought and I wasn't in the mood for meat so I had to make it myself. It was actually not that hard or time consuming and except the mushrooms I had everything in the pantry already so I ultimately ran out of excuses for me and just made it. I also added to the mix a truffle Gouda and a Talleggio. We loved all of it with the wine!

The Wine Pairing Weekend group has a whole slew of terrific pairings to inspire us all! Check them out here:

Saturday, April 20, 2019

CHABLIS: A TALE OF TWO SOILS


If Eminem were rapping about white wine, he might have said: 

May I have your attention, please?
May I have your attention, please? 
Will the real Chablis please stand up? 

Chablis... so much to be said about it and evocative of so many personal meanings and  memories. Including perhaps utter shock at the discovery that Chablis is just... chardonnay!  A grape originally from Burgundy, France. Chances are, that if you were drinking "chablis" through the early 2000s, etc. it was literally any white wine that someone wanted to call chablis because it sounds more legitimate than calling it White Wine. It did not *have* to be Chablis from the Chablis AVA in Burgundy - you know, the real Chablis - or even chardonnay, which no one seemed to think was an important distinction. All this because after reeling in the aftermath of WWs I and II, powdery mildew and phylloxera, Chablis faded into the background for a long time. The vineyards eventually made somewhat of a successful comeback but the casual misuse of "Chablis" continued unchecked around the world. In 2006 luckily, things were cleaned up and a regulation was passed that restricted the name Chablis to wine produced in the Chablis AVA in Burgundy, France, a stone's throw from the charming village of Chablis, and where chardonnay is the only grape used to make Chablis. That's the Chablis we're exploring with The French #winophiles this month (April).

Source: National Academies of Sciences, 
Engineering, Medicine
Now that we know, let's get into it... a nerdy topic very dear to me: masonry, stone, and all things related. Such as geology, which really is just a time-lapse of the life-cycle of stone. It tells the story of how each type of stone, soil, mass of mineral dust was born, how it lived, and how it has continued to shape-shift its way through millions of years. It tells the story of the carbon cycle. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

TERROIR
Terrior - climate and soil - informs the flavour of all edible things including coffee, cacao, and wine. Non-aromatic grapes like chardonnay which aren't loaded with beautiful fruit and floral notes especially rely on terroir and vinification for the final outcome, i.e. what you smell and taste in the wine. Chardonnay is native to Burgundy and, dare I say, the best expression of the grape comes from wine made there. Especially in Chablis, a northerly cold region of Burgundy where the ancient seabed has formed two distinct sedimentary soil types: Kimmeridgian (clay + limestone) and Portlandian (weathered limestone). Both named after stages of the Jurassic epoch and both formed from heated and compressed remnants of ancient molluscs and shellfish. 

Portlandian, Kimmeridgian, Portland stone, Portland cement, limestone, ancient Roman tabby concrete - all same but different, all requiring thermal decomposition of molluscs. Created by heating (burning) shellfish shells, mixing with  more shells, sand, and water, poured into moulds if you're making something like a wall, or left free-form in nature. A basin of limestone marl starts near the Isle of Portland, Dorset in England (where Portland stone originates and where Portland cement was invented), and runs all the way down through Champagne, the Loire Valley, and Burgundy.

Tabby Walls at Ft. Livingston, LA (Source: P. Vora, personal collection)
(Fun Fact: to see Portland stone, visit the UN headquarters in NYC or Buckingham Palace, London. To see dramatic shell-studded tabby walls, see the photo to the left or snag a visit to Ft. Livingston, Grand Terre Island, LA - I worked on that partially submerged structure after the BP oil spill in 2010 and it remains my most challenging and fascinating project.)

Grapevines love limestone soil - it offers an abundant source of plant-accessible calcium carbonate, greater nutrient uptake by the vines, excellent water retention and drainage capacity, so less irrigation and less chance of water-logged soils. All factors which work in favour of chardonnay, a grape with early bud break that thrives in a cool climate. But despite the apparent similarities between Portlandian and Kimmeridgian, both soils have a remarkably different effect on the grapes.

THE WINES
I decided to compare the effect of the two soils by tasting a Petit Chablis (Portlandian) and a 1er Cru Chablis (Kimmeridgian). Paired both with oysters on the half-shell and a spiced ginger-infused mignonette. I also paired the 1er Cru with a classic Bengali (east Indian) dish of red snapper in a mustard sauce, shorshe maach.


 

2016 DOMAINE L. CHATELAIN PETIT CHABLIS: A simple wine with a medium finish, citrus on the nose and palate, delicious minerality. Crisp, refreshing, and easy to drink. Excellent with fresh, briny local oysters from up the coast. 13.5% ABV, $22

2017 DOMAINE L. CHATELAIN 1ER CRU CHABLIS: A bright citrus and lemon curd base with white flower, green apple, and pear overlays followed by a flinty finish and a soft mouthfeel to balance the acidity. This was an excellent pairing with both, the oysters and the mustard fish. 13.5% ABV, $35

If you need more inspiration to try a Chablis, see what the other French #winophiles are saying about their Chablis adventures:

  • Cam at Culinary Cam Brings Us “Cracked Crab, Cheesy Ravioli, and Chablis”
  • Robin at Crushed Grape Chronicles writes about “Mont de Milieu Premier Cru Chablis from Simonnet-Febvre and Pochouse”
  • Gwendolyn at Wine Predator Shares “Chablis is … Chardonnay? Comparing 2 from France, 1 from SoCal Paired with Seafood Lasagna”
  • Liz at What’s in That Bottle Shares Chablis: the Secret Chardonnay
  • Deanna at Asian Test Kitchen Writes about “Top Chablis Pairings with Japanese Food”
  • Jennifer at Beyond the Cork Screw Has “French Companions: Chablis and Fromage Pavé”
  • Payal at Keep the Peas writes about “Chablis: A Tale of Two Soils”
  • Jane at Always Ravenous has “Pairing Chablis with Marinated Shrimp Salad”
  • Jeff at Food Wine Click! shares “All the Best Food Pairings with Clos Beru Chablis”
  • Jill at L’Occasion writes about “Metal Giants: Windfarms and the Chablis Landscape”
  • Susannah at Avvinare writes “Celebrating France with Chablis and Toasting Notre Dame”
  • David at Cooking Chat writes about “Sipping Chablis with Easter Dinner or Your Next Seafood Meal”
  • Pinny at Chinese Food & Wine Pairings writes about “A Delicate Pair: Jean Claude Courtault Chablis and Sichuan Peppercorn-Cured Salmon”
  • Nicole at Somm’s Table writes about Domaine Savary Chablis Vieilles Vignes with Scallops and Brussels Sprouts Two Ways”
  • Kat at Bacchus Travel & Tours shares “The Delicate Face of Chardonnay: Chablis”
  • Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm Brings Us “Chardonnay? White Burgundy? Chablis!”

Friday, November 16, 2018

CRÉMANT D'ALSACE: MORE THAN JUST A SPARKLING WINE!

In November, the French #Winophiles reviewed festive holiday-worthy crémants from various wine regions of France. Crémant is the official term for a sparkling wine made anywhere outside Champagne, even if it's made in the Champagne method or, methode champenoise. We received samples of 3 different Crémant d'Alsace AOP wines thanks to Teuwen Communications (http://teuwen.com/), and we've reviewed two of the bottles here. Like in Champagne, the sparkling wines of Alsace are made using white and red grapes, and can be white or rosé in colour. The grapes used for Crémants d'Alsace - in various combinations or as a single varietal - are riesling, pinot blanc, pinot gris, pinot noir, chardonnay, auxerrois blanc.

In the festive spirit, we decided to do more than just sip the wines as apéritifs or with a meal: Crémant d'Alsace cocktails! Many of the classic Champagne cocktails work brilliantly with Crémant d'Alsace - both Alsace and Champagne are far north, have the same bottle shape, and are comparable in many ways despite the soils being rather different. E.g. Champagne does not have the volcanic soil that parts of Alsace do. Nevertheless, cocktails it was!

LUCIEN ALBRECHT CRÉMANT D'ALSACE BRUT NV, SRP $21.99

The history of Maison Lucien Albrecht dates to the 15th century in southern Alsace. From then to now, they have gained a reputation as one of the premier wine makers in Alsace. Although in 2012 they joined the Wolfberger family, they continue to uphold the discerning Albrecht approach to winemaking. The Brut has fine persistent bubbles, a beautiful straw colour, and a nose full of floral aromas. Juicy acidity on the palate with toast and white flowers, a balanced wine with a medium finish. We enjoyed the delicious Lucien Albrecht blanc de blancs in two different ways: a classic elderflower cocktail and a blood orange cocktail. 

Both cocktails were excellent with the crisp fresh crémant, and the rosemary sprig added just enough resinous woodsy flavour to complement the floral notes in the wine. A combo we'd gladly do again! The cocktails come together quite quickly, making them ideal for a party of two or twenty alike! We also had a salmon, corn, and orzo pasta with a lemony dill vinaigrette - superb with the wine! Overall the Lucien Albrecht crémant is a versatile wine - equally at home with food, on it's own, or mixed into a cocktail.

GUSTAVE LORENTZ CRÉMANT D'ALSACE BRUT NV, SRP $24.99

Domaine Gustave Lorentz was established in 1836 and remains a family owned winery that has consistently upheld their vision and quality. It is also one of the most widely distributed Alsace brands, sold in 57 countries! 

The Brut is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir. A lovely straw colour leads to small and persistent bubbles, a nose of autumn fruit like pears, and of course, the yeasty aroma of brioche. The same notes show on the palate, along with a lively minerality and smooth mouthfeel.

We made two different cocktails with this one as well: one with a bit of raw sugar and Grand Marnier, which only enhanced the other white fruit on the palate. Topped slowly with the crémant so as not to stir it up too much. A most refreshing cocktail! The other with a hint of raw sugar soaked in cognac and lemon juice then topped with the crémant.


Also see what exciting things the other Winophiles did with their crémant samples:

Liz Barrett from What’s In That Bottle is writing “Affordalicious Alsace: Best Bubbles for the Buck”

Jill Barth from L’Occasion will show us “A Festival of French Crémant”

Robin Renken from Crushed Grape Chronicles will publish “A Sparkling Rosé by any other name…just might be a Crémant”

Camilla Mann will talk about a tasting pairing, Lingcod, Legumes, and Domaine Mittnacht Frères Crémant d’Alsace on her blog Culinary Adventures with Cam.

Susannah Gold from avivinare.com will share her post “French Cremant – Perfect Sparklers for the Holiday Season” Susannah is also on Twitter @vignetocomm and Insta: @vignetocomms)

Martin Redmond will be “Elevating Weeknight Fare with Cremant d’Alsace” at the Enofylz Wine Blog

Nicole Ruiz Hudson’s post on SommsTable.com will be “Crémants for Going Out and Staying In”

Wendy Klik of A Day in the Life on the Farm is writing “Rustic Elegance; Fall Vegetable Soup paired with Cremant” which sounds perfect for Thanksgiving!

Jane Niemeyer will teach us “How to Pair Crémant d’Alsace and Food” at alwaysravenous.com

Payal Vora’s post at Keep the Peas will be called “Crémant d’Alsace: More Than Just A Sparkling Wine”

Lauren Walsh from The Swirling Dervish will “Add a Little Sparkle to Your Holiday with Crémant d’Alsace”.

Jeff Burrows will be pairing “Elegant Crémant de Bourgogne Served with Lobster Two Ways” at foodwineclick.com

Gwendolyn Alley from winepredator.com is going to be looking at Crémants from a variety of regions in her post this weekend.

David Crowley from cookingchatfood.com will be discussing the “Best Food Pairings for Crémant d’Alsace”

Rupal Shankar the Syrah Queen will be giving us “Five Reasons to Drink Crémant d’Alsace this Holiday Season”

Neil will be joining us from Eat, Live, Travel, Write with a post entitled “Champagne taste but not a Champagne budget? An exploration of France’s Crémant wines”

Thursday, October 18, 2018

GOUGÈRES: CHEESE PUFFS

Gougères are light and delicious cheese puffs made with pâte à choux, the same pastry dough that's used for profiteroles, eclairs, etc. It's a quick and fairly easy dough to make, somewhat fool-proof since it relies on aerating rather than a rising agent like baking powder or yeast.

Typically, gougères are made with Comté or Gruyère cheese, but really any cheese that melts will be fine if you don't specifically want the flavours of Comté or Gruyère cheese. This time, since I was pairing them with a slew of southern Rhône wines, I used a mix of Comté and Füürtüfel - a terrific spicy Swiss cheese.










GOUGÈRES: CHEESE PUFFS
makes: ~20 medium gougères

- Equipment: hand mixer with two beaters
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 large eggs
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1-1/2 cups grated Comté, Gruyère or other Swiss cheese
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
Optional: Fleur de sel to sprinkle on top before baking
  1. Bring the milk, butter and salt (and cayenne, if using) to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from the heat, add the flour all at once, and mix vigorously with a wooden spatula until the mixture forms a ball, taking care to scrape up all the flour/dough from the base and sides of the pan. Return the pan to medium-low heat and cook for about 1 minute to dry the mixture a bit. Stir to make sure the dough doesn't stick to the pan. Remove from the heat and let cool for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the eggs and use the hand mixer to mix thoroughly and aerate for 4-5 minutes. Let the choux pastry dough cool for 7-10 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400 °F/200 °C. Line 1 large or 2 medium baking trays with parchment paper.
  4. Add the grated cheese to the dough and stir just enough to incorporate. Use 2 spoons - 1 to scoop the gougère dough and 1 to help drop it on to the baking sheet - to place the dough on the baking tray, spaced ~2 inches apart. Sprinkle a few grains of the coarse salt, if using, on each gougère.
  5. Bake for about 30 minutes, until browned. Do *not* open the oven while the gougéres are baking or they might: not puff up, deflate after cooling, remain dense!
  6. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Serve lukewarm or at room temperature with wine - including champagne - or any other beverage.

LIRAC AOC: HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT!



This month the French #winophiles explored Southern Rhône wines including some from Lirac AOC. A few of us, including I, received a generous four bottles of Lirac AOC wine from Teuwen Communications (http://teuwen.com/). Read to know more about the red Lirac wines I received!

Although the 1700-acred Lirac AOC in the Gard department of the Rhône Valley is literally across the street river from the very well-known Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it is most certainly not as well known as it should be. With a history of viticulture and winemaking dating to pre-Roman times, ongoing excellent wine making by a small group of small domains making large wines, a Mediterranean climate, a location more protected from the harsh Mistral winds than the Northern Rhône, and a slew of grape-friendly soils like galéts rouléts, limestone, sand, and red clay in various combinations, Lirac is poised to produce world-renowned excellent wines. Wines that should be as famous - if not more - as Ch.-du-Pape to the east. Instead, Lirac is full of "boutique" wineries that are family-owned and operated for generations, and many that are formally committed to Sustainable Farming practices.

Before Lirac was designated as a separate AOC in 1947, it was part of the Côtes du Rhône AOC, a designation that has existed since the mid-1700s, and at a time when Lirac was far more important a wine producing region than Ch.-du-Pape. Lirac AOC is spread over four communes, with  red, white, and rosé wines being produced. The wines here are similar to the Côtes du Rhône-Villages and Ch.-du-Pape wines. The main red grapes are grenache, syrah, mourvèdre, cinsault, red picpoul and clairette, and a few other varietals that complement the main three - GSM - grapes.

https://domainedarbousset.com/
A note on galéts rouléts: these rounded pebbles (called as such when they are within a specific size range, somewhere between boulders and various grades of sand) - are common in areas where rivers or oceans previously extended to present-day inland. The pebbles are formed by erosion from the force of the water, and are various types of rocks depending on the local geology: basaltic in Walla Walla, WA river channels, granitic in some parts of the Languedoc, and quartzite in Lirac and the rest of Southern Rhone. The pebbles, no matter what stone they are, are inert and offer no effect on the minerality or flavour of wine. But the fact that the pebbles retain heat from the daytime hours and keep the bases of the vines warm at night makes a difference to the ripening of the grapes and ultimately, the wine. They are a distinct part of climat.

The Lirac AOC wines and pairings we had...

FOOD
  1. Cheese and charcuterie plate, garnishes
  2. Icelandic lamb crusted with rosemary, lavender, thyme, savoury, marjoram, sage; Puy lentils
  3. Duck salmis (a very old-fashioned but outstanding way to cook duck), pommes fondantes, sautéed mushrooms, croutons
  4. Herb sausages, Puy lentils, pommes fondantes
  5. Duck rillettes, roasted grapes, fig jam, and gougères (with Comté and Füürtüfel cheeses)

2014 CH. DE MONTFAUCON "BARON LOUIS" LIRAC ROUGE, $24
http://www.chateaumontfaucon.com/en/index.html

Domain: From the famous Chateau de Montfaucon, as much a historic site with les ruines as a winery, with a long legacy dating to the 12th century and prehistoric times even before that! Owned and operated by Rodolphe de Pins, a UC Davis (CA) grad.


Grapes: 50% grenache, 15% syrah, 15% cinsault, 10% each mourvèdre and carignan. Destemmed and co-fermented for 7 days, then two weeks extended skin maceration. Aging: 70% of the blend aged in oak barrels, + 8 months bottle aging before release. 

Soil: sandy loam, limestone


Colour: Deep ruby, almost opaque


Nose: Berries, earth

Taste: Fresh berries, bramble, turned earth, hint of peppery spice. Silky tannins, medium+ acidity, lush, balanced with a long finish.

Pairing: 1: cheese and charcuterie plate. Absolutely perfect!


2015 DOMAINE D'ARBOUSSET LIRAC ROUGE, $15
https://domainedarbousset.com/

Domain: Gérald Lafont of Domaine D'Arbousset consults for 40 different wineries but Lirac is his passion. He farms sustainably on a 6.1 acre plot in Saint-Laurent-des-Arbres that he inherited from his father, and on another plot in the Claretière plateau in Lirac.


Grapes: 70% grenache, 10% each syrah, mourvèdre, cinsault, destemmed and fermented in concrete vats using indigenous yeasts. Aging: 70% in concrete, 30% in demi-muids, 18 months. 

Soil: galéts rouléts, sand, clay, limestone


Colour: Deep ruby, almost opaque


Nose: Berries, licorice, some earth

Taste: Raisins, red berries, pepper. Silky tannins, lush, balanced with a long finish. Very elegant wine.

Pairing: We had this with 2, 3, 5. This was one of our favourite wines of the four!


2015 DOMAINE MABY "BEL CANTO" LIRAC ROUGE, $20

Domain: The Maby family were originally shoemakers who, like the rest of the village, grew some grapes and made wine to sell locally. Now they have grown substantially in production and area, but are still very much a family-owned winery formally committed to Sustainable Farming practices.


Grapes: 100% grenache, whole cluster fermentation in 600 litre oak barrels (demi-muids) for 15 months


Soil: galéts rouléts, sand

Colour: Rich garnet, medium opacity


Nose: Red berries, peppery, floral, some earth

Taste: Cooked red berries, cherries, dried flowers, licorice. A lush wine with a peppery finish, medium-plus acidity, b
alanced tannins, and a medium-long finish. Delicious on its own or with food, even better after decanting for ~15 minutes.

Pairing: We had this with 2 and 3. While both pairings were delicious, the lamb was the star of the food pairings!


2013 DOMAINE DU CASTEL OUALOU CUVÉE FÛT DE CHÊNE ROUGE, $20

Domain: Terra Vitis certified family-owned and operated domain, since 1961.


Grapes: 
40% grenache, 50% syrah, 10% mourvèdre. Destemmed, foulage (grapes stomped with feet), fermented in steel tanks, and aged in concrete vats buried 17 ft. underground for 4 months then 225 litre oak barrels for 18 months.

Soil: clay, sand

Colour: Deep red, some purple, medium opacity


Nose: Red berries, vanilla, woody

Taste: Wood, pine needles, cocoa, peppery spice at the end. Medium acidity, balanced tannins, medium finish. A savoury and unique wine!


Pairing: 2, 3, 4. All delicious!


See the other rave reviews of  Southern Rhône wines from the rest of the #winophiles...