Friday, November 16, 2018


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 (, 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!


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.


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 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 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

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

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

David Crowley from 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 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.

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.


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 ( 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.
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...

  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)


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!


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!


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!


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

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...

Saturday, September 15, 2018


The title is a riff on the old nursery rhyme Round and Round the Garden which ends with "One step, two step, three step, bear!". Definitely unrelated to Cahors or any other wine, really. But it was on my mind and so here we are.

"France vs. Argentina" is what this blog post *should* be titled because that's the gist of malbec.

As usual, we can thank the Romans for planting grape vines literally everywhere in the Middle Ages including present day southwest France. Malbec, the intense grape that yields wine so opaque that it has earned the nickname of Black Wine, was prolific in the area around the river Lot, that is now Cahors. But because of shipping regulations that favoured Bordeaux wines, malbec never enjoyed the fame and glory that Bordeaux did even back then. The phylloxera blight in the late 19th century that wiped out nearly all of the Cahors malbec vines certainly did not help things.

While Cahors - and much of France - was dealing with that, malbec vines brought to Argentina in the mid-1800s, were thriving. And have continued to thrive to the extent that for wine, Argentina has become synonymous  with malbec, and French malbec isn't at the forefront of most malbec enthusiasts. But that is changing as more and more vintners are making wine in Cahors and making excellent cool climate malbec from grapes grown in limestone soil, quite different from the fruity ripe malbecs from Argentina.

It can take years to find limestone soil in Argentina, but it takes a few minutes in Cahors. Especially around the terraces above the river Lot, which have a thin gravel and topsoil layer with solid limestone underneath. This soil combined with the cooler climate of Cahors results in tannic wine with a delicious savoury streak. Wine that's distinctly different from the Argentine malbecs which are more supple, fruit-forward, and overall less nuanced than Cahors malbecs. 

This month with the French #winophiles we were tasting Cahors wines, and we had...

87% malbec, 13% merlot

Soil: limestone base, gravel topsoil, second terrace above the river Lot

Colour: Deep purple, almost opaque
Nose: Savoury, peppery, some violet, earth

Taste: Smoky, blackerries, pepper, graphite, and leather. Balanced tannins, very delicious everyday wine!

Pairing: We had this with fromage fort and figs. The fromage fort had a mix of several cheeses including blue cheese and quark. It made an excellent match for the savoury wine!

Price: $13

85% malbec, balance merlot and tannat

Soil: limestone base, gravel topsoil, second and third terraces above the river Lot

Colour: Deep purple, almost opaque
Nose: Blackberries, some violet, earth

Taste: Blackberries, pepper, and dusty tannins. Overall more fruit forward and jammy than the Lagrézette, which we preferred over this wine.

Pairing: We had this with broiled bread, fromage fort and green olive tapenade. Terrific match for this wine!

Price: $12

See what the rest of the #winophiles are saying about Cahors..

Friday, July 20, 2018


...there was rosé. The first wine of France, the original French wine, made in the classic method of the Greeks, well before extended maceration and deep red wines. 

It's quite well known that the Romans, when they arrived in the 5th century BC, planted vines in present-day Provence, in fact, the name of the place itself is one given by the Romans. But the Greeks, having established themselves around Marseille in the 7th century BC, were there before, and they planted vines and brought wine making to the region, making wine their way, really the only way of the time, which was not too different from current rosé wine where the juice does not see prolonged contact with skins. The method of macerating red grapes and allowing extended contact of the juice with skins, the process which gives red wine its colour, was virtually unknown, certainly not common. So all wine from red grapes was rosé wine.

Rosé prevailed even after the Romans arrived and brought deep red wine and their wine making methods with them... back then, you did not want to be seen drinking a deep red wine which was considered brutish, the drink of drunkards and ignobles. So the typical way to drink wine was to mix it with water or, drink rosé.

Therefore, not only is Provence the oldest and first wine region in France, rosé is the first French wine and the original red wine!

Image result for six colors of provence rose
Unlike other regions where rosé is an afterthought or a why-not to the main act of white or red wines, in Provence it is the main act, with red wine being somewhat in the background. And since the Center for Rosé Research (Centre de Recherche et d'Expérimentation sur le Vin Rosé; was established in Provence in 1999 - the world's only research institute dedicated to rosé wine - we can rest assured that Provencal rosé will continue to rule the roost there. They have even published the official colours of Provencal rosé, very useful for describing Provence AOP wines.

Today, nearly 90% of Provencal vines yield grapes intended for rosé. It's the traditional and preferred wine, enjoyed year-round and paired with many types of local foods... snails, rabbits, birds, lamb, fresh cheeses, herbs, fish, and more. The mouth-puckering acidity of Provencal rosés, pairs splendidly with cheeses like chèvre or Banon.

Fast forwarding from the beginning of time to the Paleolithic era (Stone Age)... Provence went through significant climatic changes in the ~3.5 million year long Paleolithic era. Two ice ages and dramatic changes in sea level, for example. At the beginning of the Paleolithic era the sea level was nearly 500 ft (~150 m) higher than now, and by the end of the Paleolithic era it had dropped to nearly 500 ft (150 m) below the present sea level!

3.5 million years of the high sea level was a long time for much of present-day Provence  to remain submerged under water, but it allowed the formation of layered sedimentary rock like limestone, sandstone, and shale (which is primarily crushed clay and quartz), that happens to be favourable for grape vines. In the forensics world we often joke that sandstone wants to be a beach. I.e. where there is sandstone, there will be sand, and vice versa. So, in Provence, there are sandstone beds and sandy soils, and vines grow in both.

Limestone layers are formed by the deposits of marine mollusc skeletons which over time get compressed into rock. Incidentally, limestone is a soft rock and since it is layered, if in building construction, if limestone blocks are not oriented with the planar surfaces horizontal, layers can cleave off over time, leaving walls with a jagged surface. But in winemaking, it's the layered character of limestone that proves to be desirable because water collects between the planes and is available to the roots of grape vines without making them water-logged. Calcareous soils are basic (high pH) and facilitate cation exchange which is critical to nutrient uptake in grape vines (hence, the addition of lime as a soil conditioner for gardens!) and helps maintain acidity in the grapes late into the growing season. This ultimately results in wines with a higher acidity (lower pH), such as the delicious Chateau de Berne wines some of us #frenchwinophiles had this month!

Shale (aka mudstone) and sandstone are about the same but shale has unbound crushed particles and sandstone is rock. They are both mainly clay, silica, and quartz, and excellent media for grapevine growing. There are also areas with schist and granite in Provence.

Some of us #frenchwinophiles received three beautiful bottles of Provence rosé for our July event on French Rosés. The wines were from the Chateau de Berne group.

Fun Fact: As evidenced in the Chateau de Berne wines we've reviewed, Provençal rosé is often sold in creatively designed bottles of varying shapes. This - somewhat of a tradition now - is a strategy dating to the 1930s when wineries started bottling their own wines and needed a unique selling proposition (USP) to stand out amongst others.

2017 Ch. de Berne Emotion (
50% grenache, 25% syrah, 25% cinsault
12.5% abv
SRP: $16 (sample)

Soil: limestone and clay soil, elevation 2,600 - 3,300 ft (800 - 1,000 m)

Colour: Light pink with gold edges, clear. Provence colour: pêche-melon.

Nose: A gorgeous, fragrant wine that we wanted to smell all day! Tart - citrus, and strawberries.

Taste: Delicious racy acidity with a long finish overall. Slight minerality with red summer berries and white flowers on the front. This is a lovely nuanced wine, would be perfect on its own too.

Pairing: We had this with classic tomato bruschetta and Délice du Poitou (Loire, France), a citrusy herbaceous two-month old goats milk cheese covered in vegetable ash. The rich velvety cheese was amazing with the acidity and aromatics of the wine.

2017 Ch. de Berne Inspiration (
70% grenache, 20% cinsault, 10% syrah 

12.5% abv
SRP: $19.99  (sample)

Soil: limestone and clay soil, elevation 2,600 - 3,300 ft (800 - 1,000 m)

Colour: Light pink with gold edges, clear. Provence colour: light pêche.

Nose: Stony, stone fruit, strawberries

Taste: Juicy with a delicious racy acidity and a creamy mouthfeel. Cherries, strawberries, and white flowers on the front, with a medium finish. This is a lovely warm weather wine, not too complex.

Pairing: We had it with watermelon in pesto, a lavender chèvre with pistachios and crostini. Uh-mazing!

45% grenache, 35% cinsault, 15% syrah, 5% rolle (vermentino)
12.5% abv
SRP: $22  (sample)

Soil: The countryside vineyard is near an oak forest not too far from St. Tropez. The vines are grown in shale - a shallow bed of soil over a sandstone slab base.

Colour: Gorgeous rose gold and pink, clear. Provence colour: pêche-melon.

Nose: Fresh and floral, with strawberry, raspberry, and a slight peppery note

Taste: Juicy, well-structured, and delicious with crisp acidity but overall a warm, rounded flavour. Tart cherries, red berries, red currants, with a welcome minerality on the front and a bit of spice on the finish. This is an elegant wine and our favourite of the three!

Pairing: We had it with anchoïade and crudités, and the salty anchovies with the peppery radishes complemented the acidity of the wine very nicely.


Join the #frenchwinophiles on Twitter on Sat, 21 July 2018, 8 -10 AM PST to talk about  French Rosés and hear everyone's thoughts on it! And you can read more from the #frenchwinophiles here:
  • Michelle from Rockin’ Red Blog will be Celebrating the Provençal Lifestyle with Three Rosés.
  • Gwendolyn from Wine Predator prepares # RoséAllDay with Grilled Cheese Gourmet for #Winophiles.
  • Nicole from Somm’s Table adds Cooking to the Wine: Ultimate Provence Urban Rosé with Herbed Sous-Vide Chicken Breasts and Roasted Eggplant Sheet Pan.
  • David from Cooking Chat says it’s Always a Good Time to Sip Provence Rosé.
  • Jill from L’Occasion explains Why Rosé Matters, According to French Culture.
  • Martin from Enofylz Wine Blog discusses The Pleasures of Provençal Rosé #Winophiles.
  • Payal from Keep the Peas will share Rosé: The Original Red Wine.
  • Julia from talks about Rosé: Not from Provence but Just as Delicious!
  • Lauren at The Swirling Dervish, we’re Celebrating Our New Home with an Old Friend: Rosé from Provence.