Wednesday, September 30, 2009

2002 Bacalhôa J.P. Private Selection Palmela D.O.C Portugal

Bacalhôa J.P. Private Selection Palmela D.O.C Portugal

Bacalhôa Wines of Portugal, founded in 1922, initially held the name João Pires & Filhos, which explains why different wines produced by Bacalhôa bear the initial "J.P.". The company has come a long way in becoming one of the leading wine producers in Portugal. More over, J.P. has become a benchmark for most wine retailer's Portugal selection.

In the beginning the company started with the vinification of grapes from the Palmela Region. Palmela is a Portuguese wine region centered around the town of Palmela, bordering the Setúbal Peninsula region (east of the town of Lisbon and west of the wine region of Alentejo).

The Palmela region used to be under the "Indicação de Proveniencia Regulamentada" (IPR) classification, but due to its efforts to improve quality, recently received the status of "Denominação de Origem Controlada" (DOC). It first gained attention for its off dry white wines made from Muscat grapes but has recently turned its attention to producing dry red and white table wines.

Palmela constitutes a sunny district of low hills and sandy soils near the Sado River. It is affected by a warm, maritime-influenced climate due to the proximity of the Atlantic ocean and experience minimal rain during the growing season which is ideal for the vines. Its sandy soils' vineyards are planted primarily to Periquita and produce mostly soft, agreeable, early maturing wines.

During the seventies, Bacalhôa Wines of Portugal invested heavily in viticulture and advanced winemaking techniques, thus becoming a model company for the production of high quality Portuguese wines.

In 1998, Comendador Berardo became a major shareholder and continued to uphold the company’s mission of excellence. New vineyards were planted, investments were made to update the wineries, new estates were acquired, and the company became a partnership with Lafitte Rothschild.

Reference should also be made to the wineries located in three wine regions: in Peninsula de Setúbal (Azeitão); in Óbidos (Loridos); in Alentejo (Arraiolos).

Of significant note – and as part of the company’s rich historical heritage spanning eight decades – are the Renaissance palace of Quinta da Bacalhoa, which now belongs to the company, the mansion and estate in Loridos, and an outstanding collection of antique Portuguese tiles as well as an oriental garden.

The Enotourism project “Wine, Art and Passion” is in place at the three wineries. Visitors are invited for a tour from Vine to Wine, enjoying the combination of tradition and innovative advanced techniques of wine making with art exhibitions: painting, tile collections, sculpture and millenary olives trees from the dam at Alqueva.

With a production capacity of 12 million litres, an ageing potential of 6000 barrels, and some 500 hectares of vineyards, Bacalhôa Wines of Portugal continues in its drive to lead the industry in the cultivation and creation of new wines, whilst offering its consumers unique and innovative products of consistent and superior quality.

2002 Bacalhôa J.P. Private Selection Palmela D.O.C Portugal

Suggested retail price $10-$13
Imported / Distributed by Admiral Wine Merchants

The robe is quite dark and intense. The nose is rich, earthy with aromas of black berry, lavender-like floral touches and hints of spice. The palate is quite round and balanced, yet earthy and a touch rustic but in a good way, with ripe dark berry, earth, mineral, and here again the spicy and floral notes. Overall, this 100% Perequita red wine is quite enjoyable and easy going, with good acidity to balance it and keep it fresh, and enough integrated tannins to maintain the structure. The earthy, mineral notes bring interesting features and add character. Lovely.


LeDom du Vin

Info partly taken from the importer website at

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

NV Harlin Père et Fils Champagne Brut Tradition France

The last bottle of my wedding's Champagne

This year, last August, my wife and I celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary (2004). Nothing fancy or too extravagant with no wood either (tradition says that the 5th wedding anniversary gift should be made of wood), none of that... just simple, nice and sparkling.

That night, we opened two bottles of Champagne: NV Marc Hebrart Brut Rosé that my wife and I discovered recently, 4 or 5 bottles ago, and really enjoyed then and every drop since, every time we have an occasion or an excuse to celebrate; and the 2nd one was a bottle of NV Harlin Père et Fils Brut Tradition white that we discovered and drank for our wedding celebration in France (2005), at the "Citadelle de Blaye" (worth visiting once, if you pass by), about 50 kilometers north of Bordeaux next to the Côtes de Bourg where I grow up (my turf baby!).

Franck, one of my oldest friend, (not by the age but by the number of years we know each other), suggested me to buy this small producer RM (Récoltant Manipulant) Champagne named Harlin Père et Fils for my wedding. He discovered this easy going yet refined and balanced bubbly a few months before (may be a year or more), and was using it from time to time for friends and family dinner and parties, and also used it for his wedding.

If you are married, you surely already know about wedding budget.... so, you will then understand that I was looking for something more than decent for a relatively inexpensive price.

My friend was right and I thank him again for the tips, Harlin Père et Fils ended up to be a great choice that pleased all of our guests from the aperitif to the wedding cake and continue to flow even more until about 6 am in the glass and on the clothes of the last remaining partygoers (including my wife and I of course), and even the next few days for lunch and dinner with the family. Moreover, it didn't cost us much, you can actually buy it in France for a very reasonable price ranging between 11 and 15 Euros, which was a good excuse for us to order much more than we needed, thus putting an even bigger smile on the face of our guests when we gave them each 1 or 2 bottles to take home at the end of the night (around 6 am the next day, which is morning...).

Therefore, in memory of our wedding in New York (New York friends and American family), 5 years ago, and our 2nd wedding (religious this time with the French family) in France, 4 years ago, we opened this last bottle of Harlin Père et Fils, our wedding Champagne bringing back some good memories and started to talk about the past, keeping a careful and affectionate eye on our little son, the invaluable fruit of our union.

Despite these personal sentimental reasons, Harlin Pére et Fils is a Champagne house which produces excellent value bubbly Cuvées. Keep an eye on it for your next occasions, although I do not think that this Champagne House is distributed in the US market. We were able to drink this Champagne here in New York because we brought back 3 or 4 bottles from France after our wedding, and this one was the latest bottle of our wedding's Champagne.

NV Harlin Père et Fils Champagne Brut Tradition France

Located in Port-à-Binson (Mareuil le Port), a little village in the Valley de la Marne (west of Épernay and south of Châtillon-sur-Marne), Harlin Père et Fils is a family run estate of approximately 8,5-9 hectares of mainly Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and some Chardonnay vines. From contradictory source, it seems that the estate was founded in 1884 but only created under the name of Harlin in the beginning of the 1900s. One thing is sure, it was slowly expanded in the 1960s to ridge its actual size and was completely renovated in 2006. Dominique Harlin is now in charge of the estate and continues to maintain the family winemaking tradition, value and style.

Domaine Harlin Père et Fils produces at least 3 Cuvées that I know of:
  • Harlin Père et Fils Brut Cuvée Tradition made with 10% white grapes (Chardonnay) and 90% red grapes (roughly 20% Pinot Noir and 70% Pinot Meunier). Nice fruit, rich and round yet supple and fresh palate with an inviting finish.
  • Harlin Père et Fils Brut Cuvée Grand Cru made with at least 60% Pinot Noir, is richer, more opulent, with a longer finish. Definitely a food friendly Champagne.
  • Harlin Père et Fils Brut Cuvée "Gouttes d'Or" is a harmonious, structured and refined Champagne mixing half white and half red grapes with at least 40% of Pinot noir.

NV Harlin Père et Fils Brut Cuvée Tradition made with 10% white grapes (Chardonnay) and 90% red grapes (roughly 20% Pinot Noir and 70% Pinot Meunier) was a blend of the 2004 and the 2003 cuvée de Reserve vintages (see my previous post on Champagne and Sparkling for more info about vintage blend). The robe is clean, clear pale yellow with golden reflects and gentle, fine bubbles. The nose is rich yet fresh with yellow and white fruit aromas mixed with hints of light toasted yeastiness. Interesting red and yellow fruit notes, like light raspberry and peach-apple, constitute the flavors of this rich and round yet supple and fresh palate with a good amount of integrated acidity leading the fruit toward the friendly and inviting finish. Great as an aperitif, for a toast and even with shellfish and poultry "amuse-bouches".


LeDom du Vin

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

My favorite under $12 reds of the moment

My favorite under $12 reds of the moment

Although, as a Wine Buyer, I always need to keep an extremely open mind and a consistent yet very eclectic palate toward the wines that I try, taste and more especially buy (ranging from the driest, acidic or tannic, most esoteric to the fuller, often way too ripe - for my taste - and alcoholic style of wine), I recognize that, like anybody else, I also have my favorite wines that correspond a bit more to my true palate and that I rather drink at home. In most cases, I like to be surprised, intrigued, pleased and even fascinated by the wines that I will buy and put on the shelves, and I like my customers to experience the same thing when they will try it.

You see, I love my job (not everybody can say that... isn't it?), and what makes it even more interesting and kept me going to work in the wine-business as a Wine Buyer - Sommelier and Wine Director for the last 18 years, is the fact that I have to understand, comprehend, learn about, dissect and analyze each wine that I taste everyday, not only to keep my palate sharp, trained and skilled, but also to be able to always provide, everyday, the best, most interesting and most eclectic choice of wines from all around the world to my customers.

And that's what I try do everyday at the store: please and satisfy the interest and the curiosity of my customers by sharing my knowledge with them, offering great service by trying to understand their palate, what they would like to drink and more especially respect their budget, but also trigger their interest by always trying to recommend them different wines from various countries to extend their experience.

There is nothing worst than to go shopping in a wine store where the staff has no knowledge, no passion and no conviction, and thus where the wines are boring and have the same type of taste profile due to a narrow minded wine buyer behind the wine selection on the shelves.

What I love the most and what usually pleases most of my customers, is that I usually do a good job in general by recommending the most appropriate wines (despite a few exceptions from time to time, nobody's perfect...), but my forté is the wines under $20 and more especially the wines under $15. As I always say: "I'm the King of under $15", and that for 2 reasons, first because I rather (and it is much more fun) sell 12 different bottles at $10 than 1 bottle at $120, and second, because (like most of my customers) these under $15 wines are the ones that I drink at home with friends and family, thus that I know the best and that I can more easily recommend with even more conviction and excitement.

The next 4 wines are part of these little gems that I had a lot of pleasure to suggest lately to my customers. I hope that if you'll try them and you'll agree with my choices. These are some of my favorites of the moment.

Enjoy them young, as an aperitif with hors d'oeuvres, but also with more sophisticated Fall-Winter dinner stews like: "Ragoût" (any stew), "Daube" (usually prepared with beef braised in red wine vegetables, garlic and herbes de Provence), a "Blanquette de Veau" (prepared with veal in a white sauce, but also be made with Lamb, Chicken or Rabbit) or even with a "gibier" (Game).


2008 Henry Fessy "Château des Reyssiers" Regnié Crus de Beaujolais Burgundy France
Suggested retail price $10-$13
Imported by Louis Latour / Distributed by Mr. Touton Selections

Domaine of Henry Fessy produces wines for generations in the village of Saint-Jean-d'Ardières, located in the southern part of the Beaujolais region, east of Brouilly and west of Belleville (south of Macon and north of Lyon).

The ancestors of Serge and Henry Fessy, the Pellissier family, began to buy, grow and sell wines in 1888. Then, they bought a wine estate in the heart of Beaujolais ("Le Paradis") in Brouilly. After the first World War, Henry Fessy, the son in law of Jean Pellissier, became the successor and started to run the estate which now bears his name. It was a very distinguished man that inspired respect. He created the co-operative cellar of Bel-Air in 1928, and remained its President for more than 40 years.

In 1947, his son Georges took over the family estate and continued with dedication the work of his father helped by the rest of the family. Nowadays, the Domaine is run by Henry (named after is grand-father) and Serge Fessy, his little brother, who carefully take care of the 11 hectares of vines planted mainly in Brouilly and Beaujolais AOC, but also carefully select the grapes and wines that they will vinify, age, bottle and sell under their Négociant label. They also take care of the wines of different growers.

Today, including the resulting wines from their vines and the wines that they bought and vinified, they produce more than 2 millions bottles from a state of the art cellar facility which allow them to proudly insure the quality and the consistency of their wines. They are probably the only Négociant company in Beaujolais which completely vinify their own wines.

Domaine Henri Fessy produces quite a few wines from all the appellations of Beaujolais, the 2 generic and the 10 Crus: Beaujolais, Beaujolais Villages, Brouilly, Cote de Brouilly, Régnié, Morgon, Chiroubles, Juliénas, Chenas, Fleurie, St. Amour and Moulin à Vent.

gnié was the most recently recognized cru of Beaujolais in 1988. Despite its resemblance with its nearby siblings Brouilly and Morgon, Régnié possesses it sown typicality which defines its personality.

2008 Henry Fessy "Château des Reyssiers" Regnié is a charming, easy going, light Gamay wine. The robe is light, bright ruby red. Developed aromas of red berries, like red currant and raspberry, with subtle floral perfume constitute the nose. In the palate, the attack is quite juicy and fruity, expanding nicely in a structured, elegant and supple mid-palate. The acidity carries the red fruit flavors with focus toward the lingering, fresh and dry finish. Quite well rounded without excessive tannins, this wine is well made, simple yet refined and charming, somewhat feminine and refreshing with a twist of earthiness. Enjoy it warm temperature with white meat and poultry, or even slightly chilled with fish or cheese.


Info taken partly from the winery website at:

LeDom du Vin


2006 Cantele Salice Salentino Riserva Apulia Southeastern Italy
Suggested retail price $9-$11
Imported / Distributed by Vias Imports in NYC

2006 Cantele Salice Salentino Riserva is roughly a blend of 80% Negroamaro and 20% Malvasia Nera, from vineyards located next the village of Guagnano. After de-stemming, crushing, maceration of 6-7 days and fermentation, this Riserva wine aged in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks for 3 years with selected lots being transferred to French and American "barriques" (barrels) where they matured for at least six months to add more dimension and structure, before bottling.

The robe is quite intense, dark ruby red. The expressive nose exposes earthy aromas of ripe red fruits, spices and cigar box, woody notes. In the mouth, it is fruity, dry and earthy, quite full yet balanced by the tannins and great acidity to keep it fresh, almost crisp, with ripe red and dark fruit and hints of spices. Smooth and rounded in the finish, with gentle vanilla oaky notes, it is pretty easy going and perfect for simple dish and picnic, yet it structure and texture can definitely complement heavier and earthier "wintery" dishes, like roasted or braised beef or lamb. Perfectly fine with pasta and meat sauce. Ideal with medium to hard cheese.


Also read my previous post on the 2004 vintage at and you will find even more info on the winery website at and on the distributor website at

LeDom du Vin


2007 Domaine de Fenouillet Côtes du Ventoux Rhône Valley France
Suggested retail price $10-$13
Imported / Distributed by MadRose / Rosenthal in NYC

The Domaine de Fenouillet is situated in the village of Beaumes de Venise at the foot of the "Dentelles de Montmirail", the heart of the finest vineyard sites in the southern Côtes du Rhône. The Domaine has been in the hands of the Soard Family for many generations, until 1989 the grapes were harvested and immediately sold to the growers' cooperative. Vincent and Patrick Soard took over direction of the domaine in 1989 and, at that point, began to vinify their harvest and bottle the wines now made at the estate.

The Domaine: There are 16 hectares planted to grapes: 5.3 hectares devoted to Muscat to make the fabled Muscat de Beaumes de Venise; 7.7 hectares planted in the appellation of Cotes du Rhone Villages "Beaumes de Venise"; and 3 hectares within the Cotes du Ventoux appellation. Average production levels are 34 hectoliters per hectare yielding approximately 5,000 cases of wine per year.

The vineyards for the Beaumes de Venise Rouge are situated at an altitude of 350 meters and rest in soil composed of clay and chalk. The grape combination for the principal reds is: 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% old vines Mourvedre and 10% Cinsault.

Vinification: The entire harvest is done manually. The Muscat for the Muscat de Beaumes de Venise is picked at optimum levels of maturity to achieve maximum sugar concentration. Several passes through the vineyards and a severe selection of the individual clusters is done prior to fermentation. Crushing is done with a modern pneumatic press to extract the finest juice which is then fermented under temperature-controlled conditions for about 15 days. The fermentation is then stopped to leave the wine with residual natural sugar. The Muscat de Beaumes de Venise is normally bottled in the spring of the year following harvest. For the Beaumes de Venise Rouge and the Cotes du Ventoux, the varietals are harvested and vinified separately and then blended to create the final cuvees. The Cotes du Ventoux is vinified with the objective of making a fresh, fruity wine for current consumption. The Beaumes de Venise Rouge, with its component of old vines and concentration of Grenache, is solidly built, deeply colored and quite age worthy. There is an extended cuvaison to achieve maximum extract; the wines are aged in both "cuve" and barrel; and the bottling is done normally after two years of aging without being filtered. Beginning in 1995, the Soards have bottled a special cuvee of Beaumes de Venise Rouge known as "Cuvee Yvon Soard", in honor of their father. This extremely limited production wine is exclusively from old vines and provides an additional level of complexity and intensity.

2007 Domaine de Fenouillet Côtes du Ventoux Rhône Valley is a lovely, dry, bistro-ish red from the south of the Rhône Valley. Made of approximately 75% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 5% Carignan, the robe offers a medium to dark color in the glass, with good intensity. Soft, ripe red and dark berry aromas intermingled with earth, mineral and wild bush scent. The palate is softly textured, dry yet ample with generous dark, ripe fruit due to the Grenache and earthy notes. The finish also is earthy with some, fairly integrated yet a touch dry, tannins. Overall, here again, a well made wine with interesting features, good acidity and fruit, in a very versatile way. Appealing and bistro-ish, a quaffer for everyday, easy drinking with a bite of something, like: charcuterie, cold cut, cheese, grilled meat, chicken, etc...


Info mostly taken from the Importer / Distributor website at

LeDom du Vin


2008 Château de Massiac Cuvée "Sentinelle de Massiac" (2nd wine) Minervois Languedoc France
Suggested retail price $9-$12
Imported / Distributed by Madrose / Rosenthal

France and Bernard Boudouresques own the Château de Massiac, located in Azille, a small village in the heart of the Minervois appellation south of one of the best Minervois' vineyards "La Liviniere"(also an appellation on its own since 1999), on the road between Carcassonne and Narbonne (Aude, western Languedoc, France).

Sentinelle, being the second wine of Château Massiac, is a blend of younger vines 50% Syrah and 50% Carignan, compared to the first wine which is normally older vines 75% Syrah and 25% Carignan, planted on rocky clay-limestone soils.

Here again a very bistro-ish wine, well balanced and easy going little red wine, with a soft, versatile and food friendly profile (everything that I love and that I'm looking for when I buy and drink a wine, somewhat my specialty... finding these little everyday gems: great wines at very affordable prices! I definitely love my job).

In the glass, it is dark in color and quite intense. The nose is clean, fresh yet ripe and gentle with dark fruit and blackcurrant aromas. The palate is very friendly, supple with nice ripe dark berry flavors mixed with earth and garrigues notes. Tannins are present yet integrated and the earthy finish is quite inviting. A really enjoyable sipper red for a very decent price, to appreciate all day long with cold cut, charcuterie, steak frites and other bistro food and easy going red meat dishes. Love it.


I couldn't find much info about the winery and the importer Madrose/Rosenthal doesn't have any info on their website. However, here is their contact info: Massiac, Chateau de Massiac (alo under Domaine de Massiac) 11700 Azille - Tel: (I like the wine so much, I will surely give them a phone call soon to ask for more info, may be I will write a post about it).

LeDom du Vin

Friday, September 25, 2009

2007 Olivares Altos de la Hoya Jumilla Spain

Olivares Altos de la Hoya Jumilla Spain

After joining the E.U. in 1986, the Spaniards started to rebuilt their country with a bit of help from the European Union. In the 90's, they revamped their own image and experienced a serious increase in both tourism and real estate markets. The first decades of the 21st century (which isn't even finished yet) saw the implosion and explosion of the Spanish's culture, food and wine. As of 2009, Spanish wines remain in the top tier of the most selling wines in the US market.

As Spain's winemaking revolution flourished, one of the emerging hot spots was Jumilla. Jumilla is a small appellation located central-eastern Spain near Yecla and roughly 60-70 kilometers west of Alicante. Jumilla was one of the few places in Europe spared during the Phylloxera epidemic of the late 1800's. Virtually everywhere on the continent, vineyards were devastated and, to this day, can only be planted on grafted hybrid-American rootstock (more resistant to the Phylloxera insects). For Jumilla, the key to its vineyards' survival was their sandy soil - which is anathema to the Phylloxera insect. And as a consequence, today Jumilla not only has some of the oldest vines in Spain, but certainly the largest number of ungrafted vines.

Most of the region is planted to Mourvèdre, locally know as Monastrell. Jumilla's summers boast hot days and cool nights, resulting in fantastically ripe grapes with good acidity. Bodegas Olivares's vineyards are in the northernmost zone of La Hoya de Santa Ana. This is the coolest subzone of Jumilla, with sandy, lime-rich soils that produce intensely aromatic wines.

2007 Olivares Altos de La Hoya Monastrell Jumilla Spain
Suggested retail price $9-$11
Imported / Distributed by Polaner in NYC

The robe is quite dark, medium intensity, ruby hue. The nose is earthy, dry and a touch floral with dark berry aromas. The attack and mid-palate are quite juicy mixing ripe red and dark berries with earth, spice and almost garrigue-like flavors. The finish is dry, earthy and slightly spicy with dry tannins. Overall, this wine is a good quaffer, bistro-isch juice in a bottle. It definitely needs a bit of food, like tapas, "hors d'oeuvres" or "charcuterie". Pleasant, simple and a bit rustic yet easy going. The tannins can use a bit of time but food will help mask them and round up the finish.


LeDom du Vin

Info mainly taken from the distrbutor website at

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

2007 Domaine de Pallus "Les Pensées de Pallus" Chinon Loire Valley France

Domaine de Pallus Chinon Loire Valley France

Before the age of 30, Bertrand Sourdais had already made an impressive name for himself at Spain’s Dominio de Atauta (Ribera del Duero). Bertrand had plenty to do when he joined Miguel Sanchez, the owner of Atauta, during the summer of 1999. His primary challenge was to rehabilitate the neglected vineyards—a project that continues today. He also helped design a gravity-fed winery and a program of biodynamic viticulture, allowing no chemicals or fertilizers to be used at Atauta. The rest is history and the resulting wines were immediately well acclaimed and received quite a few accolades from professionals and the press on both sides of the Atlantic ocean.

In the process of revealing a new Terroir from Atauta’s ancient, ungrafted vines of about 100 years old in average, Bertrand learned many invaluable lessons. The most important of these was the need to think critically about every single step in the viticulture and winery work. This process at Atauta also got Bertrand to start questioning the existing orthodoxies in his native Chinon.

By 2003, Bertrand returned to France, more precisely in Cravant-les-Côteaux, a small village east of Chinon, and take up the challenge of vinifying his beloved Cabernet Franc in the family estate. His father’s property, Domaine de Pallus, is located in the heart of the appellation and is blessed with some of Chinon’s choicest vineyards. With vines averaging over 35 years old, Pallus held all the potential Bertrand could hope for. Beginning with the 2003 harvest, Bertrand has begun his quest to find the ultimate limit for Pallus. He also progressively switched most of the Domaine to Biodynamic culture.

From the start, he has worked in the vineyards to create harmony and balance. As at Atauta, he is working tirelessly to find the potential of each vine. And while biodynamic methods are an important tool for many Loire Valley growers, they are merely a starting point for Bertrand to set his vineyards on the right path. Of course, he has completely rethought the winemaking process. He is employing an extended maceration—up to an astonishing thirty days—to capture the "true" personality of Chinon. Elévage is similarly long and gentle—primarily in second passage barrels from Haut Brion.

"Les Pensées de Pallus" is Bertrand’s top cuvée. While making less expensive wines for the French market, he selects his oldest and best vines to produce "Les Pensées de Pallus" for the French but more especially the export market.

2007 Domaine de Pallus "Les Pensées de Pallus" Chinon Loire Valley France
Suggested retail price $19-$22
Imported / Distributed by Polaner in NYC

This Terroir oriented, unfiltered and unfined Chinon has a light, bright, ruby red color of medium intensity. The nose is clean, earthy with fresh raspberry and other red berry aromas and reveals classic Cabernet Franc tones with floral hints. The palate is quite juicy, elegant and, here again, reveals very bright, fresh red berries, complemented by peppery and slight tobacco leaf touches intermingled with slight, very integrated oaky notes. Overall lovely, balanced and juicy with a long earthy and lingering finish. Quite young and age worthy, the tannins will definitely bring structure to the fruit within the next few years to come and the acidity should this wine in line. Lovely.

Not as opulent as other Chinon reds that I've tasted lately but overall and in my opinion, a very well made, earthy Cabernet Franc wine to enjoy this Fall with a stew or a traditional Loire country dish like: "Filet de Sandre poêlé aux échalottes servi avec une sauce au vin de Chinon" (- Loire Zander with shallots and Chinon Wine sauce - go to the following website about French cooking: , to find more info about this recipe and many more mouthwatering dishes to discover and prepare at home).


LeDom du Vin,

Info partly taken from the distributor website at and from the importer website at

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

2008 Quinta do Feital Auratus Alvarinho Trajadura Vinho Regional Minho Portugal

2008 Quinta do Feital Auratus Alvarinho-Trajadura
Vinho Regional Minho Portugal

You've probably tried many Albariño from the "Rias Baixas" and other regions of the north western part of Spain, in Galicia. But did you ever try an Alvarinho from the Vinho Verde region in the "Vinho Regional Minho" appellation, Portugal? Probably not, so here is one that you should try: 2008 Quinta do Feital "Auratus" Alvarinho-Trajadura.

But before I describe the wine, here is a little explanation about the appellation and the region: Vinho Verde is a Portuguese white wine (but also a region of the same name) produces in the Minho region, located in the far north-western part of Portugal, along the Minho river which is the natural boundary between Spain and Portugal.

Vinho Verde is located on the south bank of the Minho river, in Portugal, opposite to the "Rias Baixas" appellation in Spain. The name literally means "Green Wine", referring to its youthful freshness rather than its color, altough certain wines may have green-isch reflects.

Vinho Verde wines are light and fresh, and are intended to be drunk within a year or two after bottling, the fresher the better (like Txakoli wines in the Basque country). Although, they do not quite qualify as semi-sparkling wines, they do have a definite pétillance or slight pearling on the tongue. Very fresh and summery, due its natural acidity, Vinho Verde is usually dry yet fruity (and I do not mean sweet for the 1,000th times) with floral and mineral aromas, more or less distinct and concentrated depending on the blend, the different grape varieties that constitute the blend and of course the syle of the winemaker.

Although, it is more common in the US market to find white Vinho Verde, the region and the diverse appellations and sub-appellations also produce some Rosé(s) and some red(s). A few examples of the Rosé are quite popular in New York, like Casal Garcia Rosé; the red are less known and not always available in the US market due to barely existent demand.

Vinho Verde white wines are pale yellow lemon colored, around 9 to 11% alcohol, and are made from local grape varieties: Loureiro, Arinto, Trajadura, Avesso and Azal.

Vinho Alvarinho
is made from Alvarinho grapes, from the small designated sub-region of Monção. It has usually more alcohol (11.5 to 14%) with riper fruit and aromas.

The reds are fairly intense and tannic with good acidity, and are mostly made from Vinhão, Borraçal and Amaral grapes. The rosés are very fresh and fruity, and usually made from Espadeiro and Padeiro grapes.

2008 Quinta do Feital Auratus Alvarinho-Trajadura Vinho Regional Minho Portugal
Suggested retail price $14-$17
imported / Distributed by Polaner in NYC

The fruit comes from a newly purchased estate in Seixas planted with old vines Trajadura and young vines Alvarinho. Trajudura is a relatively obscure white grape used, in this case, to add body to the wine. The Portuguese "Vinho Regional Minho" appellation is the equivalent of a French regional "Vins de Pays".

The 2008 vintage was quite difficult with ripening problems due to rainy climatic conditions and definitely not as harmonious and expressive as the 2007 vintage. Therefore, the winemaker has to leave the grape macerate for a longer period in order to increase the skin contact to extract a maximum of flavor and structure. Fortunately, the old vines of Trajadura really add texture to this Alvarinho in 2008. Moreover, the estate only farms organically and only used wild, indigenous yeast, which usually add an extra dimension, more character and layers of complexity.

So despite a difficult vintage, the 2008 Quinta do Feital Auratus Alvarinho-Trajadura Vinho Regional Minho is quite crisp with a clean, focus palate and beautiful aromatics! It has a pale yellow, gold-like color, with golden reflects. The nose is clean, fresh, inviting, mineral and attractive with aromas of white peach, white flowers, citrus peel and more mineral. The palate is quite rich, expanding, viscus, yet fresh with vivid, needed acidity and beautiful balance. The fruit flavors are bright and racy yet ripe and generous, well rounded with excellent texture and length. Although I loved the 2007 vintage, I personally found the 2008 to be really good too and very consistent. Versatile, dry, fresh and easy drinking, yet with a bit more fruit, substance and depth than you regular Vinho Verde, you should compare this wine with some of the best Albariño from Spain rather than comparing it with its inexpensive Vinho Verde sibling. Fish and shellfish will nicely complement this wine, and Vice Versa.


LeDom du Vin,

Info partly taken from the importer / distributor website at:

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

2008 Statti Gaglioppo Rosso IGT Calabria Italy

2008 Statti Gaglioppo Rosso IGT Lamezia Terme Calabria Italy
Suggested retail price $14-$17
Imported / Distributed by VIAS Imports in NYC

Calabria, in antiquity known as Bruttium, is a region in southern Italy, south of Naples, located at the "toe" of the Italian peninsula.

Gaglioppo is a red wine grape that is grown primarily in Calabria, the south-western region of Italy. The grape is of Greek origins and is thought to have been introduced to southern Italy around the same time as the Aglianico grape. Performing well in the dry, aride and drought conditions, the grape usually produces full-bodied wines, high in alcohol and tannins and usually quite age worthy, a decantation will soften the wine. It is sometimes blended with up to 10% white wine to bring more acidity and freshness.

Made from Gaglioppo grapes planted on medium-textured, stony soils with warm, mild, well-ventilated Mediterranean climate, this Gaglioppo rosso is one of the Statti company’s trump cards. The Statti team is working assiduously but without any undue hurry on its studies of this ancient variety, which is symbolic of the Greek origins of viticulture in Italy: they prefer to take one step at a time, so as to be able to give the best possible interpretation of the discoveries that research reveals, vintage after vintage. This is a wine for drinking whilst still very young and fruity; it can also be enjoyed with fish.

2008 Statti Gaglioppo Rosso has a very light to medium, bright ruby color, Pinot Noir-Lagrein-isch in color, with a pink hue. Quite expressive, the nose is earthy and dry, yet fresh and fragrant with ripe dark cherry aromas mixed with smoke, mineral, touch floral (some violet), spices and pepper touches. The attack is lovely and juicy with bright red cherry and high acidity, touch of smoke, spice and pepper. The mid-palate is quite dry and light to medium intensity, and expands nicely with juicy red wild berries fruit. The finish is definitely dry, slightly rustic and esoteric, with present tannins yet enjoyable overall. Here again, not necessarily your everyday wine, but in the same time interesting and intriguing, with a certain finesse and subtitle layers. Definitely need food to complement some of the angularities yet the juicy fruit will balance most of them, and despite its light and lean color, a true adventurous connoisseur (like me) will surely enjoy and appreciate this light to medium bodied great red concentrated with flavors. I love it. Pair it with flavorful, spicy or peppery food.


LeDom du Vin!

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

2001 CVNE Viña Real Reseva Rioja Spain

2001 CVNE Viña Real Reseva Rioja Spain

C.V.N.E (Compaña Vinicola del Norte de España) aslo known as "Cune" is producing many wines from diverse locations and Bodegas.

Created in 1879, CUNE is the original Bodegas. It used to be a cooperative handling the grapes of many growers in the cellars located in "Barrio de la Estación de Haro", in the village of Haro (Rioja Alta). CVNE is now divided in three Bodegas making many diverse wines.

Bodegas CUNE produces the following labels: Cune, Monopole, Imperial, Corona and Real de Asúa.

Bodegas Contino (one of my favorite Bodegas in Rioja), considered and vinified like a 1st growth from a single plot vineyards surrounding the beautiful estate (read my previous post on Contino), produces: Contino, Viña del Olivo and Graciano.

In 1920 the first Viña Real wines were launched. These wines were produced from grapes grown around Elciego, in the heart of the RiojaAlavesaprovince. These vineyards, to this day are still controlled by ViñaReal and continue to border the ‘Camino Real’ or ‘Royal Drive’; hence the origin of the ViñaReal name. The ViñaReal wines are modern in structure, balance and elegance, with a potential for very long aging in bottle, this last being the main characteristic of the Rioja Alavesa province.

Viña Real, which was completely and beautifully refurbished recently, is a bodegas located on Cerro de la Meso hill, not so far from Contino (Rioja Alavesa). If you've ever been to Château Lafite Rothschild in Pauillac (Bordeaux, France), you will realize that the brand new cellar of Viña Real has been conceived with the same kind of architecture, its grandiose! Vina Real produces great wines, more classic and traditional in a way than Imperial (more Bordeaux style) and Contino (more opulent, riper and oakier yet refined). The usuals: bianco, crianza, reserva, gran reserva and their grand cuvée: Pagos de Vina real.

For more info about the winery and its wines go to their website at:

2001 CVNE Viña Real Reseva Rioja Spain
Suggested retail price $28-$31
Imported / Distributed by Lauber thru Southern Wine & Spirits in NYC (and Monarchia-Matt for certain wines)

This wine was elaborated with hand harvested grapes coming from vineyards surrounding the winery, in Rioja Alavesa. After the cold pre-fermentation maceration, the fermentation alcoholic happened in temperature controlled stainless still tanks to maintain the true varietal character of the different grapes. Part of the malolactic fermentation occurred in barrel. Viña Real Reserva 2001 was aged for 22 months in 50% French and 50% American oak barrels, period during which the wine acquired all its structure, finesse and character. At the end of the aging period, after a light filtration with egg whites, the wine is bottled and stored for 2 more years in bottle before release.

A blend of 90% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha and 5% Graciano & Mazuelo, from the excellent and definitely age worthy 2001 vintage, the Viña Real Reserva is a fantastic wine. In the glass, it exposes an attractive ruby red color, medium to good intensity, with light touches of brown on the rime. Clean, quite intense and expressive on the nose, with ripe red cherry, autumn fruits, spices and elegant toasty oak. The palate is the real delight, rich and generous yet balanced and juicy, velvety, with lifting acidity and integrated tannins. The toasted, vanilla oak notes complement beautifully the red cherry and raspberry fruit characteristic of the Tempranillo grape, producing a fine, rich, complex palate with a lingering finish. The wine is really well balanced and attractive now, yet it still has good potential to improve even further more. Have it with grilled Chuletas de Cordero (lamb chops).


LeDom du Vin

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My favorite Rioja producers

My favorite Rioja Producers

People who knows me will tell you that I'm a big fan of Spain and its wines, Txakoli and Galicia whites but also Bierzo, Ribera del Duero, Priorat, Toro, Cigales, Ribeira, Taragona, Monsant, Jumilla, Navarra, La Mancha, Penedes, Xeres, etc....and more especially Rioja.

I visited Spain many times over the last 12 years and enjoyed it a bit more every time I was there. The climate is warm and pleasant; people are still friendly and less pretentious and presumptuous than in other European countries; food is quite good (not at the level of the best of France or Italy, but definitely not far, especially in the Basque and the Catalan region) and the wines are great, full and generous yet balanced and in most cases age worthy with earthy tannins.

In Spain, the landscapes is a bit like being in Disney world: the roads are usually brand new and very well maintained, almost futuristic (compared to New Jersey or even New York), yet if you look around certain regions seem to have remain in distant time, between the 12th and 16th century, almost like a decor, it is beautiful. Those of you who have been traveling in Rioja surely understand what I'm trying to describe. The town of Haro or even more specifically San Vicente de la Sonsierra, La Guardia and ElCiego are jewels from the past, worth to visit.

Some people may complain about the oak and the ripeness being too much (or too American palate oriented) in some classic Spanish regions like Ribera del Duero and Rioja, and I will agree for most of the wines imported toward the US, but if go there you will be surprise by the amount of wineries that continue to produce classic, traditional wines. Moreover, and not to forget, the woody notes mixed with red cherry fruits and earthy notes have always been a part of the tradtional nose and taste of Rioja (and Ribera del Duero) wines (there is nothing new about that, but it is true that some wineries are using to much new oak which can really impart the taste and quality of the fruit).

However, here are a few Rioja wineries (amongst my favorites and in my opinion) that will probably always remain classic and traditional in their own district (due to different convictions, ideals, styles, characters, locations, vinification, winemaking and ageing techniques and conditions):

Either located in Rioja Alavesa, Alta or Baja, you will also be surprise to realize how quite a few wineries in Spain's major regions including Rioja have evolved and already taken 2 or 3 steps ahead compared to other European countries by producing more polished wines and by being better adapted to newer generations and newer market, by creating multiple wines at different prices and level of quality to satisfy different purposes and palates (and all these within the same winery most of the time), ranging from the most classical and traditional (for the purist like me) to the riper and woodier style (for the "Parkerised" palates and fuller wines amateurs). Here are a few examples (here again amongst my favorites):

And complementing the previous list, here are a few more wineries that have also evolved and also created different brands, wines and labels, but also use more new oak and usually present a riper style compared to the more classic. Some have been called the promise and spirits of the "New Spain", being from a newer, younger generations somewhat more inclined to open their minds, ears and eyes toward the rest of the world and the newer market, than their predecessors (family or not), or simply because they decided to completely revamp their style compared to what they used to do before.

I could write plenty more (you know me) about each of these great wineries which represent (IMO) some of best that Rioja has to offer, but once again it will be too long (and I rather write a post for each of these wineries) so I just invite you to click on the above winery names to go directly to their respective websites. I'm sure that I forgot to mention many other wineries that should have been part of these lists, but I only mentioned the ones that really pleased me the most by the quality of their wines and their consistency amongst all the Rioja's wines that I've tasted over the past 17 years.

For more info and a complete list of most Rioja's wineries per town, go to:


LeDom du Vin

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Château Musar Cuvée Rouge Ghazir Lebanon Beqaa Valley wines

Buying Château Musar: a wine store experience

Habitually, when you enter a wine store, your thoughts (usually) get blurry... and faced with so much choice on the shelves, you begin to wonder around and think about what you are going to buy... it is usually in this moment that, suddenly, a wine consultant or a person from the staff wakes you up from your semi-lethargy and asks you if you need some help to find something or if you need a suggestion or recommendation... (I know, this kind of situation never really happened to you at your local store... and you still wonder where can you find such a store where customer service is taken so pleasantly and seriously)....

After a few seconds of deliberation with yourself and once you've said "no" to the wine consultant (...confident that anyway you know your stuff, and that obviously it is not you first time in the store, so you know your way around and you also know exactly what you are looking for...), it is with a bewildered look on your face that you begin browsing the shelves, barely able to recognize what you bought the last time you were there....

Thus, questions pop up in your mind about what should you choose to somewhat make the appropriate choice and if possible not make a mistake. With Fall coming back and Winter soon to arrive, generally, most people start to drink slightly fuller rosé and white wines but also richer yet still balanced and juicy, but more structured and opulent red wines.

Therefore, you are now faced with the choices of:
  • accepting the previously refused offer from the wine consultant and ask for his (or her) opinion and advice,
  • or feeling adventurous and sure that in any case, even if you don't know yet the wine that you're going to buy, it will be the best choice that you could have made yourself anyway, and you prefer to choose it yourself.
After a few minutes, you finally give up and realize that a bit of help will surely confirm your choice (or not at all in most cases) and put an end to your vain research. In fact the situation is more difficult than usual because you are looking for something richer, slightly heavier than what you normally drink since your guests like richer, more opulent wines than you do and, of course, you want to please them. And as it usually often happens in this kind of circumstance, the wine consultant suggests you a wine that you've never tried and have never even heard of before.

(I like that, as a wine buyer and a wine consultant, it is exciting and it keeps me sharp and constantly aware of the different wines that I have on the shelves, even if know them all sometimes it happened that I forgot about some of them for a short period of time, but customers always put me quickly back on track by testing my knowledge of each bottle everyday).

This situation seems familiar, well for me, it is the story of my nearly everyday life at the store. And the last time that I was confronted to this kind of situation was a few days ago.

A customer was looking for a rich, concentrated wine. At first, I wasn't necessarily inspired due to the fact that usually I like to recommend and drink less opulent, fresher wines, therefore big wines are not necessarily my "forte" .... (especially big Zin from California and overripe Shiraz from Australia.... even if as a wine buyer, I need to be and remain eclectic and open minded to any wine from the driest, most tannic and acidic to the jammier, riper, more alcoholic wines, I like my wines a bit more balanced, fresh, with attractive harmony, integrated tannins and lingering finish) .... but after asking the usual questions that every wine consultant should ask to every customer in a wine and spirits store:
  • What do you drink or which type of wine do you normally drink?
  • Do you usually like your wine drier or fruitier?
  • Would you rather go old world or new world?
  • Do you have any preference regarding the country or the region of origin?
  • How much would you like to spend? etc...
...multiple choice gathered in my head at once and I decided to be adventurous and advised my customer on an old favorite of mine: Château Musar, a rich, opaque yet balanced wine from Lebanon, and in my opinion, very close to what she was describing. When she realized that this wine is produced in Lebanon, she told me that she never try any wine from this country and will be happy to give it a try. She came back the next day to let me know that it was a great wine after decanting and that her guests really enjoyed it.

What a great job! It is not always that easy or simple, but overall, as I say: I don't sell wines, I sell happiness, culture, conversation and a good excuse to gather with friends or/and family around a good bottle and some food for a lay back time. In most cases, a well and honestly suggested bottle of wine is always a positive experience.

Château Musar Cuvée Rouge Ghazir Lebanon Beqaa Valley wines

I first heard about Château Musar about 12 years ago, when I was working in London as a young Sommelier in a Private Club called "Monte's" (a club for the rich and famous, on Sloane Street, including a fancy cocktail bar at the 2nd floor, a sophisticated restaurant serving dishes designed and concocted by Alain Ducasse at the first floor, a cozy cigar lounge t street level and a discreet discotheque in the basement).

At the time, in 1997, Monte's had (in my opinion) one of the best wine list in town; offering great wines from the greatest regions of France, Italy, Spain and Germany, also a few great examples of Australian, New Zealand and South African wines, but also some Lebanese wines including Château Musar.

Let's get acquainted a bit more with Lebanon before talking about the wine:

Lebanon (or Liban in French) officially the Republic of Lebanon (or République Libanaise in French), is a country in Western Asia, on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It is pretty much surrounded by Syria from the north to the south east, and bordered by Israel to the south. The western part is a long shore line facing the Mediterranean sea. Lebanon's location has dictated and shaped its rich and unique cultural identity of religious and ethnic diversity.

Lebanon was the historic home of the Phoenicians, a maritime culture that flourished for nearly 2,500 years (3000–539 BC). Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the six provinces (including Beirut) forming present-day Lebanon were mandated to France, which explains why most Lebanese speaks French and are somewhat so influenced by the French culture. Lebanon established a unique political system in 1942, known as "confessionalism", a community-based, power-sharing mechanism. It was created when the ruling French mandatory powers expanded the borders of the former autonomous Ottoman Mount Lebanon district that was mostly populated by Maronite Catholics and Druze. The country gained independence in 1943, and French troops withdrew in 1946. Since then, Political power is concentrated in the office of the President, Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament, each representing one of Lebanon's three largest religious communities (Maronite Christians, Sunni and Shi'a Muslims).

Geographically, most of Lebanon is covered by hills and mountains, except for the narrow coastline and the Beqaa Valley (also known as Bekaa valley), which plays an integral role in Lebanon's agriculture, including wine. Lebanon has a moderate Mediterranean climate. In coastal areas, winters are generally cool and rainy whilst summers are hot and humid. In more elevated areas, temperatures usually drop below freezing during the winter with frequent, sometimes heavy snow; summers are warm and dry. Lebanon encompasses great beaches and ski resorts, which are about 1.5 to 2 hours (maximum) driving from each others, meaning that you could be trekking the mountains in the morning and laying down on your towel in the afternoon or enjoying a glass of wine in the many wineries of the Beqaa valley (Bekaa valley).

6,000 years ago, the Phoenicians were already acquainted with viticulture and wine making. In fact, Lebanon encompasses some of the oldest wine production sites of in the world. In the ancient times, the Phoenicians living on the coastal strip were instrumental in spreading wine and viticulture throughout the diverse countries and regions surrounding the Mediterranean sea. They traded their wines throughout the Mediterranean and planted most of the first vines in southern Europe.

Although, if a long time ago (in Lebanon), most wineries and wines were produced slightly closer to the coastal strip (and some in the Beqaa valley), nowadays all the major wineries have their vineyards in the southern Beqaa Valley, which constitutes the eastern province bordering Syria. Beqaa is a fertile valley which was also known and used for agriculture and viticulture by the Romans after the fall of the Phoenicians. Influenced by the Mediterranean climate, Beqaa is Lebanon's major source of agriculture and represent the most important farming region. The south of the valley has an average of more rainfall than the north but has roughly the same amount of sunlight, thus ideal conditions to grow vines. Also mainly due to the French who experienced and somewhat perfected Lebanese winemaking, most wineries were influenced by the winemaking techniques and grape varieties from Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley.

Lebanon also produces some arak. For the uninitiated, Arack is Lebanon's national beverage. It is traditionally produced from distilled grape must and aged for 5 to 10 years before being redistilled in the presence of anis seeds. Finally, the Arack is matured for 12 to 24 months in terracotta amphoras (usually made of red clay), the same style of drink that served Romans during antiquity from the same shaped jar.

Here is a little list of the most well known wineries:

  • Château Ksara, surely the biggest, with 70% of all the country's production.
  • Next biggest is Château Kefraya, whose former winemaker, Yves Morard, has now set up Cave Kouroum nearby.
  • Château Musar is perhaps the best known in the Western world. Musar achieved international recognition at the Bristol Wine Fair of 1979 and for a long time was the only Lebanese wine widely available in the United Kingdom. Their second wine, 'Hochar', is made in a lighter style for earlier drinking. Chateau Musar is known for transporting the grapes across the Front line during the civil war.
  • Run by Ramzi and Sami Ghosn, Massaya is the new kid on the block that has come from nowhere to become one of the most fashionable wines in France.
Although, I like some of the other estate's wines, Château Musar has always been my favorite of all the Lebanese wines that I've been tasting over the last 17 years as a winebuyer, may be for sentimental reasons due to the fact that it was the first time that I discovered and tasted a Lebanese wine during my apprentice years in London in 1997 (lot of good memories are coming back to mind talking about it...).

FYI (in short, you know me): Established in 1930 by Gaston Hochar in an old 17th century castle, Château Musar is a family-owned winery producing wines by blending Bekaa Valley grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, Grenache, Obaideh, and Merwah. It was created in the cellars of an old "Mzar" castle in Ghazir, a village overlooking the Mediterranean sea, located roughly 30-40 kms north of Beirut on the coast. It is currently run by his two son Serge and Ronald. Serge, the eldest, studied oenology at the university of Bordeaux and has been the winemaker of Chateau Musar since 1959, successfully delivering nearly every vintage despite Lebanon's wartime difficulties. Ronald, the youngest, took over the finance and marketing department in 1962. And the rest is history.

Château Musar produces great reds and whites: Château Musar, the one and only (red, white and rosé); Hochar Père et Fils (red, white and rosé); Musar Cuvée (red, white and rosé); and Rubis (only in red). The blend in all of these wines depends on the quality of the vintages but also the quality of the grapes and the desired style of the final products depending on the two previous factors.

For more information about this fabulous winery, go to the estate's website: or the importer website: or even the numerous other website and blogs.

Over the last 12 years, I remember tasting quite few vintages of Château Musar, but the most memorable so far were the 1991 (which was my first vintage of Château Musar tasted in 1997, that I already described on a previous post on the Cuvée Rouge 2004), but also the 2001, 2004 and 2007 vintages.

2001 Château Musar was great yet full of sediments and esoteric, earthy notes on the nose and in the palate, but overall it was really pleasing, juicy and open up quite nicely with a little decantation (also needed because of the sediments).

2004 Château Musar Cuvée Rouge was really a revelation and the turn of new era (in my opinion) for the quality of the wine. The 2004 was really polished and extremely integrated. The fruit was generous but not overripe or overdone, with "garrigues" like aromas and flavors with hints of spice.

2007 Château Musar Cuvée Rouge Lebanon
Suggested retail price $13-$16
Distributed / Imported by Broadbent Selections in NYC

The Musar Cuvée is the second wine of Château Musar. It adapts perfectly to the Mediterranean cuisine. The wine comes from the same blending as the Château, with a higher percentage of cinsault, and without aging in oak vats. It is suitable for drinking after a year.

2007 Château Musar Cuvée Rouge exposes a dark, intense, opaque, dark cherry color. On the nose, dark cherry and dark berries aromas intermingled with earthy and slightly smoky, spicy notes with "garrigues"-like touches. One can smell the aromatic scorched earth with the spices and the aromas of the local dirt mixed with dark fruit. The palate is dark and dry with rich, opulent, young, dark fruit flavors and slightly "farouche" tannins due to its youth. Yet, it seems fairly well rounded, generous and the spiciness in the finish brings even more character to this very enjoyable middle-eastern red wine. May be not your everyday wine, yet definitely a wine to try, enjoy and discover, preferably with a substantial peace of red meat on the grill. Its richness implying a more wintery taste profile, wait until November or December and the cooler temperatures to really appreciate it even more. A decantation is needed. It may also nicely complement beef stew and spicy middle-eastern food.


LeDom du Vin

Info partly taken from Château Musar website, Broadbent Selections website, Wikipedia website and a few more here and there.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Marc Hébrart Brut Rosé 1er Cru Champagne Vallée de la Marne France

Before writing about Marc Hébrart, I like to talk again about Champagne:


Champagne is a small sparkling wine region located approximately 140-150 kilometers east of Paris, predominantly surrounding the town of Reims, the Champagne capital, and expanding partly east toward the town of Chateau Thierry and partly south toward the town of Ay and Epernay, the little village Vertus and further south to the town of Troyes.

Champagne is roughly divided in 5 main regions (see my previous post on "Champagne and other sparkling wines" for more info), including the 3 main ones located in the Marne district:
  • Montagne de Reims roughly forming a "U" shape toward the south around the town of Reims where some of the best Pinot Noir vineyards can be found.
  • Vallée de la Marne extending from east to west and following the Marne River between the town of Epernay and the western part of Chateau Thierry, where some of the best Pinot Meunier vineyards are planted.
  • Côte des Blancs starting from Epernay and going down south toward Vertus, home of the best Chardonnay grapes.

Champagne is a sparkling wine produced by inducing, after the 1st fermentation alcoholic, a second fermentation in the bottle by an addition of yeast and sugar, creating some carbon dioxide which can't escape from the bottle, thus creating carbonation: bubbles.

In a few steps, here is the explanation of the various phases of the "Méthode Champenoise" (also known as Méthode Traditionnelle"):

  • Pressing (a.k.a. Pressurage): right after harvest the 3 Champagne's grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) are gently pressed. Depending on the Champagne house, the pressing of the grapes can be different, but on average 4000kg of grapes will result in about 2550L use to produce quality Champagne (2050L of Cuvée - tête de Cuvée and Cuvée de Reserve - and 500 of Taille) the remaining liters left over from the pressing will be use for distillation and production of Marc de Champagne. Roughly, it takes about 1.2 kg of grapes to produce a 750cl bottle of Champagne.
  • Alcoholic fermentation: the fist steps in the production of Champagne are very similar (or should I say identical) to white wine. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier's grapes are gently pressed then fermented, usually separately, but sometime together, depending on the producer's style, need or intuition depending on the vintage. Like for white wine, the conversion of natural sugar (contained in the grapes) into alcohol usually occurs because of natural (and sometime added) yeasts, the grape juice turns then into still white wine. The malolactic fermentation is not always used and especially not if the natural acidity of the grape juice is low. Before assembling the wines, the wines are usually "refrigerated", technically the temperature is lowered is the stainless steel tanks, to provoke the "Acid Tartaric Precipitation", and this way avoiding the formation of tartaric crystals in the bottle when put in the fridge just before consumption.
  • Assembling the wines: as you may already know, most Champagnes (except the "Millésimé" better known as "vintage") are Non-Vintage (NV) and mostly "Brut" (dry), for the simple and understanding reason that they are made from wines of different vintages. For those of you who do not understand what I'm trying to say, let me explain: in order to respect the consistency, taste, balance, characteristic and style of their Champagnes (NV), vintage after vintage, and more especially year after year, the different Houses of Champagne have their own blend made with, predominantly, the gape juice of the latest harvest completed after ageing and disgorgement, with a touch of the "Cuvée de Réserve" or "Reserve" during the Dosage phase, usually a wine from the recent past years.
  • More over, the blend between Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier may vary in quantity depending of the vintage and the desired style (Rosé, Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs, etc...) but also in quality depending on the provenance of the grapes, especially for the Houses of Champagne that traditionally continue to buy their grapes with the local growers located either in the Grand Cru vineyards (usually the best, selling their grapes from a higher price and considered 100%) or the 1er Cru vineyards (although, considered 99%, supposedly lower in quality with less expensive price for the kilo of grape, yet still excellent). Which explains why a bottle of Krug or Salon or Gosset or Bollinger or Billecart Salmon or Ayala or , in the case of this post, Marc Hebrart "Brut Non Vintage" taste pretty much the same year after year.
  • In Champagne, being a Champagne maker and expert blender, like Richard Geoffroy at Dom Perignon, is not an easy task and requires refined blending skills and an accurate, very consistent palate, because, for the reasons cited above, different wines from different grapes and different areas and Terroirs are blended together to obtain a consistent Champagne that need to have the same taste, style, quality and characteristics year after year (that is also the best way for the Champagne Houses to keep their identity, their reputation and more importantly their consumers: because, even if sometime, consumers may try different Champagnes, other than the one that they like to drink the most, for different reasons, at some point, they will always come back to the one that correspond the most to their style, their envy and more especially their palate).
  • Bottling and secondary fermentation (also called "Tirage" phase): usually happening in January, after the first alcoholic fermentation and the assembling, the desired assembled (or blended) wines are bottled with an addition of yeasts and sugar (also known as "Liqueur de Tirage"), slowly starting a second alcoholic fermentation in the bottle and creating some carbon dioxide which can't escape and dissolves in the bottle, thus creating carbonation: bubbles (also known as "Prise de Mousse"). The fermenting wine must remain by Champagne's law a minimum of 1,5 year in the bottle before disgorgement. Some Champagne House, depending on the desired style and taste, left the obtained Champagne for longer on its lees and yeast residues which confer roundness, viscosity and somewhat richness to the final product. The Champagne bottles slowly fermenting are closed (or sealed) with a beer-like metal capsule and a plastic "Bidule" (small plastic recipient placed against the capsule inside the neck of the bottle) to collect the lees and yeast residues and to facilitate the disgorgement.
  • Maturation: Champagne are usually stored on wood standing "Palette" or rotating palette located in the multiple corridors carved in Champagne's famous chalky soils, creating kilometers of labyrinth and cavities where the Champagne can mature and age in perfect conditions. Traditionally, the bottles are stored horizontally to start with, on standing palettes made of wood, then they are manually, consistently, carefully and gently rotated a few times a day by skilled "rotaters" (skilled bottle rotating people, usually the cellar master and his assistant) and in the mean time gently and gradually inclined to gather the yeasts and lees residues toward the neck of the bottle.
  • By the end of the maturation process, after a minimum of 1,5 year for non vintage and 3 years for "Millésimé", the bottles are usually up-side-down and the residues form a layer of about less than 1 inch against the capsule (in the "Bidule"). Technology has evolved and production, cost and demand eventually triggered the birth and the need for "rotating palettes", machines which rotate the bottles instead of men, often used for faster results in generic champagnes from big brands and other quantity Champagne Houses and lower quality sparkling wines production. Although, the difference in quality hasn't really been proven, the nostalgic and more traditional way of storing the bottles on wooden palettes in the dark, moist chalk cellars for 2-3 years remains the method of choice in most classic Champagne houses.
  • Disgorgement (or Dégorgement): Once the bottles have mature to ideal time (depending on the Champagne house between 1,5 to 3 years and more) and are also inclined enough to have all the lees and yeast residues in the neck of the bottle, against the capsule, the Cellar master can proceed to the Disgorgement (or Dégorgement). Before 1816, Champagnes were made following the original method, also called Méthode Ancestrale (which by the way still exist and still in use for certain style of sparkling drinks in certain countries), and were cloudy because disgorgement, a method invented by Madame Clicquot, didn't exist.
  • The old method of disgorgement (also called "Dégorgement à la volée") consisted for the cellar master and champagne maker to quickly yet carefully and skillfully manually open, with a special tool, every single bottle (one after another) and thus evacuate (with the pressure contained in the bottle) the unwanted lees and yeasts residues accumulated in the neck of the bottles. Although very efficient, this method was somewhat imprecise due to the amount of Champagne lost and the additional "Liqueur de Dosage" varied from bottle to bottle, allowing a certain inconsistency yet nothing really major, but at that time some bottle may surely have been better than other (or at least tasted slightly different).
  • The new method, brought by researches, experiences and new technology, is roughly the same and consists to plunge the neck of the bottles in a liquid (called Brine) that will freeze the lees and yeasts residues. The formed plug of ice containing the lees and yeasts residues is then removed, also by pressure, without losing much Champagne (at least, less than the previous method). Once opened after disgorgement, the bottles need to be immediately closed after the addition of the "Liqueur d'expedition" during the Dosage phase.
  • Dosage: immediately after disgorgement, in order to refill the bottles and especially close the bottles to avoid oxidation, keep consistency and quality, and determine (or obtain) the desired style, a "Liqueur d'Expedition" (a blend of sugar and vine) is added, also because all the residual sugars have been consumed during both fermentations and the Champagne taste will not be as pleasant without this addition of sugar. The amount of "Liqueur d'Expedition" varies depending on the final, desired style and taste and will determine the "Dosage" of the final produce: e.i. a Champagne "Brut" will contain less sugar than a "Demi-sec" or "Extra-Dry" (yes, I know it is confusing, but it is how the British defined it at first and it stayed with tradition, "Extra-Dry" should be dryer but for Champagne it is the opposite, it is sweeter...go figure).
  • Corked: right after the Dosage phase (addition of the "Liqueur d'Expedition"), the bottle are securely corked with a "Muselet" (or cage) to avoid accidents. The quality of the cork is essential to maintain the quality of the Champagne. The final products will then rest for a certain period of time (depending on the Champagne House) before release.
For more info about RM, NM, etc...and the other different types of Champagne houses, read my previous post on Champagne and other sparklings.

FYI: By the way, the Champagne cork, the form of the Champagne bottles and the chalky naturally temperature controlled underground cellars were also developed around Dom Perignon's time, during the 17th and 18th century when the monk of the Champagne area discovered (or re-discovered depending on the source) roughly everything at the same time and were forced to find a solution: basically, during the second fermentation not appropriate and not well attached corks were flying all over and bottles were exploding due to the pressure but also due to external temperature too, eventually after multiple attempts and experimentation, the right bottle shape and the right cork were found and used. The natural and constant cool temperature of the human carved chalky cave underground constituted the perfect maturing place for Champagne and sparkling wines in general (but still wines too, take for example the cellars of Saint-Emilion). As a matter of fact, like in Bordeaux, most Champagne houses were built with rectangular sculpted chalky stones carved out directly from these caves.

Moreover, the traditional Champagne method, also called "Méthode Champenoise", is known since the 17th century. Although he didn't really discover it but yet was a quality pioneer in sparkling wine who developed it and somewhat perfected it, this method was attributed to "Dom Perignon" a Benedictine monk from the "Abbaye de Hautvillers" (north of Epernay). In fact the British were the first to study, understand and appreciate the desirable and attractive trait of Champagne and its bubbles.

Champagne is produced exclusively within the Champagne region of France, from which it takes its name. And because of now established international treaty, national law and quality-control/consumer protection related to local Champagne regulations, the name of "Champagne" can only be used for the wines produced in the Champagne appellation. In Europe, this principle is enshrined in the European Union by Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status. Other countries, such as the United States, have recognized the exclusive nature of this name, yet maintain a legal structure that allows longtime domestic producers of sparkling wine to continue to use the name in certain circumstances. But otherwise, it is forbidden to call a sparkling wine produced else where than Champagne to be called "Champagne". In France, sparkling from other regions may be referred as "Mousseux" or "Crémant" or "Pétillant" (depending on the method). Other sparkling wines from other countries may mention on the label "Méthode Traditionnelle", or Traditional Method, or if the method is different, one may read "Méthode Charmat" (Charmat process or method), "Méthode Ancestrale" (ancestral method), "Spumante", "Frizzante", or even "Sekt".

In fact, it is still possible to find, in the US market, wines bearing the names of famous Appellations because during the early 1930's, most of the French wine regions' names were not well protected. Names like "Chablis" and "Burgundy" from California, for example, have absolutely nothing to do with the original names or appellations. Despite the fact of bringing more regulations about what it is possible to do or not to do for producers and growers within the limits of an appellation, the INAO ("Institut National des Appellations d'Origine") and the AOC ("Appellation d'Origine Controlée") were created in 1935 to defend and protect the name of the different Appellations and their wines against fraud and counterfeit, and especially to limit the used of them.

Champagne is a festive, bubbly, fresh and delicate drink suitable for any occasion and celebration: birthdays, weddings, communions, births, new contracts, new jobs, leaving a job or a place, complementing a brunch, a lunch or a dinner, etc... Champagne is a great treat, versatile and airy, it will surely sparkle your mind and your mood.

However, after this long article about Champagne, let's get back to our Champagne of the day:

Marc Hébrart Vallée de la Marne Champagne France

Marc Hébrart is a fairly new, exciting producer from the Vallée de la Marne, producing really enjoyable Champagnes from about 12.5 hectares of vineyards planted on chalky, limestone soils with mostly 75% of Pinot Noir in the great 1er Cru vineyards of the villages of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Avenay-Val-d’Or and Bisseuil, complemented by 25% of Chardonnay from the Grand Crus Chouilly and Oiry in the Côte des Blancs. Marc Hébrart winery is located in the underrated village of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, a 99% villages considered 1er Cru and home of another one of my Champagne Rosé: Billecart-Salmon.

Jean-Paul Hébrart, the current owner and winemaker, somewhat inherited of the property from his parents, Marc Hébrart and his wife, who started making Champagne in 1963. Due to the high price of the land in Champagne, they slowly and gradually bought and planted more vineyards. In 1983, their son, Jean-Paul started is own little production. In 1997, to keep and secure the lands within the family, Jean-Paul and his parents created a company (E.A.R.L Champagne Hébrart) by merging the two enterprises together, subsequently Jean-Paul became the director of this little family run company. Marc Hébrart Champagne is a Récoltant-Manipulant (RM), meaning that the Champagne house owns its own vineyards and produces Champagnes only with their own grapes and do not buy any grapes from other growers.

Jean-Paul Hébrart is somewhat a purist and a traditionalist, who prefers applying natural methods in the cellar but also to the soils and vineyards rather than using unnatural products like pesticides, herbicides, etc.. Hand selected and harvested grapes, Bucher pressing, fermentation in "petite cuvée", malolactic and hand remuage. Hébrart represents a departure from the other producers in this portfolio, for Jean-Paul’s wines marry the top Pinot Noir sites of the Vallée de la Marne with Grand Cru Chardonnay sites in the Côte des Blancs. From Skurnik point of view, Hébrart is more similar to the philosophy of Gimonnet than to that of Larmandier-Bernier, for the connoisseurs who also know these two producers. Hébrart’s wines are buoyant and lithe with deft integrations of minerality and juicy fruit, with excellent balance, acidity and length.

NV Marc Hebrart Brut Rosé 1er Cru Champagne Vallée de la Marne France
Suggested retail price $41-$45
Imported / Distributed by Michael Skurnik wines

Disgorged in December 2007; it was made with wines from the excellent 2005 vintage, completed with the still Mareuil red (10%) coming from 2004 vintage. The base is half-half Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and all the Chardonnay come from Grand Cru vineyards. 2005 is one loveable vintage, offering both-solid-and-ethereal wines, with great clinging fruit and a silvery aurora of chalk that almost sizzles on the brilliant finish.

Over the last 2-3 years, I tasted Marc Hébrart Rosé in many occasions and it rapidly became one of the favorite "Champagne Rosé" of my wife and I, with Billecart-Salmon Rosé and Laurent-Perrier Rosé. The last time was for the 3rd birthday of my son last week-end, and once again, it was a wonderful experience.

NV Marc Hebrart Brut Rosé 1er Cru Champagne has a light, pale salmon, pink color with captivating reflects and is already pleasing to observe in the glass. The nose is fresh, clean, delicate, mineral, floral and inviting. The palate is quite impressive, somewhat light, delicate and almost fragile in the attack yet expanding nicely in the middle palate with light raspberry and vivid red berry flavors complemented by rose petal, floral notes and lifted by a great, racy acidity. The lingering finish is quite dry with dry red cherry and raspberry notes. Overall, it is a well crafted, very feminine Champagne with a complex and seductive yet friendly and approachable attitude. I loved it everytime I tasted it, and this last time was no exception. Highly recommended for the lighter, less rich and yeasty, yet sophisticated and balanced Champagne's lovers.


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