Monday, August 31, 2009

1997 Jean-Luc Colombo Cornas "Les Ruchets" Rhône Valley France

Fall has arrived early this year....and substantial reds come to mind.

This year, last spring, we were waiting for winter to be over. Summer only arrived by the end of June and it rained a lot with only a few nice days and mostly stormy, humid and soggy days for about 2 months. And by the 31st of August, it felt already like Fall, or as we say in French: Automne. Colder nights and crispy, refreshing mornings, complemented by a slightly chilly wind blowing already some dry, brown and yellow-beige leafs gathering on the pavement.

Although, I will have preferred a longer summer and I'm hoping that we will have a very enjoyable, sunny Indian summer, I need to admit that I like Fall. I love its changing colors and shades in the woods, forests, fields, park and countryside from green and pale yellow-crème to bright yellow and red to blond and Burgundy and Brown, and all the nuances in between.

It is now time to think less about vivid white wines (although dry whites are nice all year long, they fill nicer and fresher during spring and summer, and somewhat too cold in winter) and more about heavier rosés and richer, earthy reds.

So here is a fuller, spicier and richer red from the Rhône valley produced by Jean-Luc Colombo.

Before writing this post, I'd like to explain (again) my view about big names, labels and brands.

So, I will not necessarily write an entire post about Jean-Luc Colombo, first because he is really well-known and already quite a few people have wrote something about him and his wines, but also because I always pride myself to write about lesser known producers and small, more artisanal winemakers and unknown estates from lesser known regions.

One may think that I should also write about big names, brands and labels, but frankly, and it is the same for my buying strategy when I buy wines and spirits for the store, I try to limit them or even avoid them as much as I can. Don't get me wrong, I'm always happy to taste them, but I rather not buy and sell them in the store. Already too many stores have them on their shelves and I like to be different and offer more values from lesser known, unfamiliar names with no ratings, little press and little distribution.

Of course, some are difficult to pass by and ignore... they became the usual suspects of high-end wine and the pride of some wine stores due to small production, allocated quantity, highly expensive price, high demand, high rating, important marketing, reputation and history...and it is fine, some of them are very good to great and some have been the leading flagships of their appellation for years which make them even more attractive and more valuable for both wine buyers and consumers... but I rather detached myself from all of that, walk outside of the main path and specialize myself in lesser established producers, winemakers and estates.

However, a few days ago, my boss gave me 2 bottles of 1997 Jean-Luc Colombo Cornas "Les Ruchets" Rhône Valley France, for me to try at home. So I thought that It might be a good idea to write about it, to describe the experience of tasting what could be considered as an old wine.

1997 Jean-Luc Colombo Cornas "Les Ruchets" Rhône Valley France
Suggested retail price $65-$70
Imported / Distributed by Palm Bay in NYC

The long cork was moist and in very good condition. It the glass, the color is dense and intense yet blurry or cloudy (due to no filtration), quite opaque brown with a few sediment. Not knowing the state of the wine and due to the 1997 vintage which wasn't great in the Rhône valley (and in many other places in France in general), I decided not to decant it.

At first, the nose of this 100% Syrah Cornas "Les Ruchets" was very expressive with interesting tertiary aromas of old prune, under-bush, forest floor and balsamic with a touch of spices and hints of oak and violet. After about 5-10 minutes, the nose evolved weirdly with more accentuated mixed aromas of alcohol and old wood, a touch musty and more balsamic notes. After about 20-25 minutes, the initial weird aromas dissipated to go back to old prune, ripe dark cherry, kirsch, violet, balsamic, spices and oak notes.

In the palate, the attack is still pretty full and rich and expands quickly in the palate with super ripe dark cherry and plum flavors, with oak notes, hints of spices and bitter chocolate. Although the finish remains quite juicy and long yet a bit inharmonious, the old prune and dark cherry fruit seem too overripe and the oak is not integrated and hasn't settled yet. Also the balsamic notes and acidity and the musty notes are very present and not satisfying.

May be it is only a matter of opinion or palate, however, my overall view is that this earthy wine seems a bit old already, unbalanced and too over-rippe, like cooked or stewed. The bitter dark chocolate and woody flavors may suit the palate of certain persons. The kirsch and super ripe dark cherry, old prune profile may interest some others, but overall, even if this wine presents no real big defaults yet some angularities and signs of bad ageing, I will not have any pleasure to finish the opened bottle. The finish also presents a slight mustiness, bitterness and seems very raw (touch dirty due to no filtration).

However, the experience was interesting and intriguing and as I always say: "Every wine deserves to be tasted, even if not every wine should be drunk! And you can't say that you don't like a wine, if you didn't try it. And, moreover, you can't say that you don't like certain wines made with this grape variety or from this particular region, because you'll never know what you might discover or how a wine could surprise you, until you've tried it!" LeDom du Vin


LeDom du Vin

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Tasted on 09/01/09

I couldn't resist to open the second bottle of 1997 Jean-Luc Colombo Cornas "Les Ruchets", to see if it tasted the same or similar as the first one. In fact, I was surprised that it was slightly better and more balanced overall and seemed fresher, not as ripe and oaky in the attack and the mid-palate. Yet the slight mustiness and slightly inharmonious, earthy, almost dirty finish (due to no filtration) remained somewhat the same as in the first one. A more interesting experience, yet still not great or put together.... Tampis!

Although I usually like quite a few of the wines from Jean-Luc Colombo, tasting this 1997 Cornas Les Ruchets confirmed two things for me (and it is my opinion).

First that 1997, even if a lot wines received good to very good ratings at that time and that the vintage was considered good to very good by some influential wine critics and magazines (that I will not name, but if you read my blog often, you probably know already my point of view on certain personalities and critics of the wine world), it wasn't that much of a great vintage in the northern Rhône to begin with (lot of dry tannins not yet settled and many over ripe wines with low acidity).

And secondly that Jean-Luc Colombo has made a lot of progress for the better and slightly changed his style since then, because the last few wines that I tasted from him were pretty good, more balanced, and although younger, the oak was more settled and the acidity lifted the fruit character on a nicer, needed way. In any cases, Jean-Luc Colombo remains a producer that I like. He is a benchmark of the northern Rhône who will always make rich, structured and forward wines.

The last few wines that I tasted were La Louvée Cornas, Viognier La Violette, Les Abeilles Côtes du Rhône rouge that I bought for the store, but I will describe them in another post.


LeDom du Vin

For more info about Jean-Luc Colombo and his wines go to the importer website at

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

LeDom du Vin's view over Steven Spurrier's Judgement of Paris in 1976 and the following anniversaries...

LeDom du Vin's view over Steven Spurrier's Judgment of Paris in 1976 and the following anniversaries...

While at work, not long ago, one of my colleagues and I were talking about the "famous" or should I say "infamous", depending on which side your on, Steven Spurrier's Judgment of Paris in 1976.

The conversation arisen when we started talking about the movie "Bottle Shock", a Randall Miller feature film that dramatizes the 1976 wine tasting in Paris and appeared at the 2008 Sundance Festival. Although, I haven't seen the movie yet (which I intend to do soon), as a Wine Buyer / Sommelier (and because I worked in London for 5 years), I'm pretty familiar with the stories of this particular tasting and following anniversaries, and more especially the name of Steven Spurrier....

For those of you who do not know what I'm talking about, here is a synopsis taken from Wikipedia (not always the best reference depending on the subject, but pretty straight to the point, stating the facts and usually quite impartial, and I need to admit quite interesting and details on lot of subjects).

"The Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 or the Judgment of Paris was a wine competition organized in Paris on 24 May 1976 by Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant, in which French judges did blind tasting of top-quality Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon wines from France and from California. California wines rated best in each category, which caused surprise as France was generally regarded as being the foremost producer of the world's best wines. Spurrier sold only French wine and believed that the California wines would not win."

At that time Steven Spurrier owned a small yet quite successful wine store on the "rue Royale" called "Les Caves de La Madeleine" where he encouraged his customers to taste wine before buying them. He also was the instigator and creator of "(l')Academie du Vin", one of France first private wine school.

To keep it short and to resume the all story, he was a fairly reputed British wine connoisseur and wine merchant who wanted, surely by curiosity but also as a tool to increase his popularity and the sales in his shop, to taste the quality of the newer and up-and-coming wines from California against the already worldly established quality of the French wines and especially the reputation of the red Bordeaux and white Burgundy, thinking that California will have little to none chance to win.

Steven Spurrier's Paris 1976 tasting raised some controversy amongst winemakers, producers, estates owners, journalists, wine critics and quite a few connoisseurs on both sides of the Atlantic.

  • The French pretty much ignored the all story, didn't necessary believed in the final results and especially and surely didn't thank Mr. Spurrier for breaking the myth of the superiority of the French wines (in France, we are quite "chauvin" - stubbornly proud - about our local products).
  • While the American really appreciated the final results and the free publicity that suddenly put the wines of Napa, and California in general, on the map of the serious wine producing regions of the new world, outside of the leading wine regions of France, Italy, Spain, Germany and more generally Europe. Moreover, this wine tasting changed the world's view of California wines forever (and the price of the wines too, from nearly one day to another. Since then, due to the results obtained by the American wines at the end of this tasting, the price of the best Californian wines have been decided and attributed by the winery's owners depending on the market price of the best French wines from Bordeaux mostly for reds and Burgundy for both whites and reds).

It all started because Spurrier's "l'Academie du Vin" school was a hangout place for the English and more especially the Americans who worked in Paris and were eager to learn more about wine. More specialized in French wines, Steven was quite intrigued by some of the California Cabernets and Chardonnays his students brought by the shop and the school. Curious to see how these newcomers would fare against French wines made from the same kind of grapes, he arranged a blind wine tasting in celebration of the American Bicentennial activities in Paris. The French tasters chosen for the event had impeccable professional credentials.

The tasting consisted to taste blindly, to avoid any bias attitude toward the French wines knowing that most of the judges where French journalists and food and wine personalities. Here is the list of the judges who participated in the 1976's "Judgement de Paris":
  • Pierre Brejoux (French) of the National Institute of Appellations of Origin (INAO)
  • Claude Dubois-Millot (French) sales director of the "GaultMillau" restaurant guide
  • Michel Dovaz (French) of the "Wine Institute of France" (Paris)
  • Patricia Gallagher (American) member of "l'Academie du Vin" (Paris)
  • Odette Kahn (French) Editor of "La Revue du vin de France" (Paris)
  • Raymond Oliver (French) of "Le Grand Véfour" restaurant (Paris)
  • Steven Spurrier (British) Wine store owner and creator of "L'Academie du vin" (Paris)
  • Pierre Tari (French) owner of Château Giscours (at that time) (Margaux)
  • Christian Vanneque (French) the Sommelier of "La Tour D'Argent" restaurant (Paris)
  • Aubert de Villaine (French) co-owner-director Domaine de La Romanée Conti (Burgundy)
  • Jean-Claude Vrinat (French) owner of "Taillevent" restaurant (Paris)

And now, here is the list of the tasted wines with their respective final rank (the average rating of all the judges):

Red Bordeaux Haut-Médoc/Pessac-Leognan & American Cabernet Sauvignon

  • # 1 - 1973 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Napa Valley (not to be mistaken with Stags' leap)
  • # 2 - 1970 Château Mouton Rothschild 2nd Growth Pauillac (Mouton was only upgraded to 1st Growth in 1973)
  • # 3 - 1970 Château Montrose 2nd Growth Saint-Estèphe
  • # 4 - 1970 Château Haut-Brion 1st Growth Pessac-Leognan
  • # 5 - 1971 Ridge Vineyards "Monte Bello" California red blend
  • # 6 - 1971 Château Léoville-Las-Cases 2nd Growth Saint-Julien
  • # 7 - 1970 Heitz Wine Cellars "Martha's vineyard" Napa Valley
  • # 8 - 1972 Clos du Val Napa Valley
  • # 9 - 1971 Mayacamas Vineyards Napa Valley
  • # 10 - 1969 FreeMark Abbey Winery Napa Valley

White Burgundy & Californian Chardonnay
  • # 1 - 1973 Château Montelena Napa Valley
  • # 2 - 1973 Domaine Roulot Meursault Burgundy
  • # 3 - 1974 Chalone Vineyard California
  • # 4 - 1973 Spring Mountain Vineyards Napa Valley
  • # 5 - 1973 Joseph Drouhin Beaune "Clos des Mouches" Burgundy
  • # 6 - 1972 Freemark Abbey Winery Napa Valley
  • # 7 - 1973 Ramonet-Prudhon Batard-Montrachet Burgundy
  • # 8 - 1972 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 1er cru "Les Pucelles"
  • # 9 - 1972 Veedercrest Vineyards California
  • # 10 - 1973 David Bruce Winery California
However, these ratings slightly changed at the end of the tasting when they decided not to take in consideration and not to include the notes of Patricia Gallagher and Steven Spurrier, thus leaving only the French judges ratings.

Blind tasting was performed so that none of the judges knew the identity of what was being tasted. The judges were asked to grade each wine out of 20 points. No specific grading framework was given, leaving the judges free to grade according to their own criteria. Rankings of the wines preferred by individual judges were done based on the grades they individually attributed. An overall ranking of the wines preferred by the jury was also established in averaging the sum of each judge's individual grades (arithmetic mean).

Following this tasting, other tasting comparing Californian wines and French wines where organized (some with the same wines as in the 1976 Tasting):
  • 1978 San Francisco Wine Tasting
  • 1986 French Culinary Institute Wine Tasting
  • 1986 Wine Spectator Tasting
  • 2006 The Judgment of Paris' 30th Anniversary
All these tasting that created so much controversies and endless discussions and debates in the wine world and in the press for years. Some critics suggested that wine tastings lack scientific validity due to the subjectivity of taste in human beings. The organizer of the competition, Steven Spurrier, said, "The results of a blind tasting cannot be predicted and will not even be reproduced the next day by the same panel tasting the same wines." In one case it was reported that a "side-by-side chart of best-to-worst rankings of 18 wines by a roster of experienced tasters showed about as much consistency as a table of random numbers." Some people in the following tasting where saying the Californian wines will not age as long as the French and "vice et versa". Some people where even expecting the downfall of the Californian before the French and "vice et versa". etc.., etc...

In my opinion, these tastings were great to point out the fact that high quality wines can be found else where than in France; also great to counter the arrogance and the aristocratic attitude of the French in many ways; but it was also great to pinpoint Napa Valley and California on the map of the serious winemaking regions in the world outside of Europe. But in my real and honest opinion, I do not like these type of tastings.

Blind tastings are great when you try to define a wine not to compare a wine. Defining a wine by blind tasting makes you think and increase your censorial memory regarding the color, smell and taste of the tasted wine. It is a hard game that only few of us excel in, but if you can guess the varietal, the type, region of origin, the vintage and the winery or producer (for the best of us), then it is exciting and personally rewarding in many ways.

Blind tastings to compare wines of the same varietal coming from different regions of the world are in my opinion absurd and do not prove anything, and especially not the quality. It might delineate the differences in color, smell and taste due to the region of origin and other factors, but not the quality. More especially not which one is better than the other? Better for what and because of what? Bland tastings to compare should only be for wine of the same varietal and same region of origin or appellation, not from different country!

Now, if we really try to analyze these tasting, we will realize that they were totally unfair and surely didn't prove anything in the end due to different non-negligible factors. The quality of the tasters, their credentials and their palates have nothing to do with what I'm about to tell you about these tastings.

I will try to dissect the different factors which should have been taken in consideration and which created some much controversies and hot discussions about the subjects. May be it will help you to better understand my opinion about them.

  • How can we decide to compare Californian, and more especially Napa Valley wines with French Bordeaux and Burgundy wines when there are so different in style and character due to their respective region of origin and the different type of soils, climates, Terroirs and vinification methods that deeply and drastically influenced their respective taste?
That is in my opinion, the first question that Spurrier should have ask himself, especially as a wine connoisseur and wine retailer.

Here is my list of non-negligible factors that should have been taken into consideration, and that really somehow push me to think that these type of these "blind-tastings-to-compare-wines-from-different-part-of-the-world" are somewhat bullshit and unfair in many ways:

  • Wine is a capricious being that continue to evolve, grow and age in the bottle and that is easily influenced by its surrounding light, humidity, temperatures, vibrations, odors, etc. It is also influenced by the quality of the vintage and the winemaking processes used. It is very important before doing a blind tasting or any tastings to verify the condition of storage of the bottles and where they come from.
  • It is known that wine tasting is a subjective thing that depends on too many factors: the time of the tasting (better usually in the morning with no breakfast taken before when your taste buds are fully awake), the condition of the tasting (too much distraction, smell, noise, lack of concentration, preconceived prejudice against the varietal or the region of origin, light in the room, overall temperature inside and outside may also impart the taste of the tasted wines, if it is a sunny day, a rainy day, winter, summer, fall, spring, etc..).
  • It has also been established many times that comparative and blind tastings, when comparing wines that are not from the same varietal or the same place of origin, are often misleading because tasters will, most of the time, give higher ratings to the riper, fuller or heavier wines, which has nothing to do with their aromatics, flavors, complexity, nuances or depth.
  • More over if the wines have been placed in an order going from the lightest to the heaviest, the heaviest may also receive higher ratings (or worst if too ripe and too alcoholic); if the wines have not been placed in any order regarding their weight, a lighter wine going just after a heavier wine may also get bad ratings and Vice et Versa. Varietal, place of origin or/and appellation and overall profile or weight should also be taken into consideration to conduct a fair blind tasting.
  • Climate, Terroir, type of soil, exposure and vinification system are also very important and dramatically influence the color, smell and taste of the wine. That is why it is usually better to compare the wines from the same appellation. Comparing an orange to an orange from the same region or/and appellation is always easier, especially to define which one is richer or sweeter, etc... Comparing an Orange from Spain and an orange from Florida, will only show you their differences, one may be juicier, sweeter, richer, bigger, etc.. than the other one, but it doesn't mean that it will be better, it just mean that it will be different.
  • "Better" or "Best" is a question of personal taste that is why tasting is so subjective, because everybody has its own taste, and that goes for everything that you see, smell and eat. Whatever you want to compare in life, comparing will only show differences and nuances that will mean different things depending on the person's personal point of view.
  • About the region: Napa Valley is a gorgeous sunbathed valley where it doesn't rain much through out the year and where temperatures can reach quite high during the summer and fall months, which are essential conditions for the perfect ripeness of the grapes. Irrigation is also allowed and methods of vinification differ greatly from those in Bordeaux and Burgundy. Vineyards also benefit of great sun exposure on the hilly parts on both side of the valley.
  • About the region: Bordeaux, especially the Haut-Médoc, is extremely flat, boring, humid and quite rainy overall compared to Napa Valley. Also the wines from Bordeaux are blend and not essentially Cabernet Sauvignon like in Napa. The wines can be quite dry and hard in their youth depending on the vintage and generally not as ripe and extracted than Napa Valley wines.
  • About the region: Burgundy is also tremendously different from Napa Valley. Much hillier than the Médoc, the wines have much more mineral and are more influenced by the type of soils that differ greatly from a village to another and from vineyard to vineyard, whereas in Bordeaux, especially in the Médoc, vineyard soils are quite similar from Saint-Estèphe to Margaux or even lower in Pessac-Leognan, and because the parcels are blended together with different grape varieties, the varietals with the vinification and ageing processes have somewhat more importance than the soil types.
  • Vintage is also an important part of why these type of comparative tastings are unfair, in the Paris Tasting, not only wines were coming from three totally opposite type of regions from 2 different countries, which was already a mistake to start with, but also vintage were different. Vintage is crucial in the taste of a wine, more especially in France where appellations have more restrictions that forbid certain practices whatever happened, which is not the case in California where producers and wineries cab re-adjust their wines in difficult vintage with various methods.

However, those are only a few of the non-negligible factors and I could probably write much more about this fascinating subject (may be I'll do it in another post, this one is already long enough), but I think I make my point clear. The Paris tasting was surely an extraordinary experience and open the doors to new point of views and discussions, but I still think that, in my opinion, blind tastings to compare wines from same varietals yet from different regions of origin are unfair and do not prove anything. They will only show differences and nuances, not which one is the best or not, especially with various vintage. And yet what being "the best" really means? Nothing! Because these wines are just different from one another due to different influential factors (the most obvious are cited above).

More over, one do not drink with closed eyes under pressure of under-or-over-rating a wine; one mostly enjoy wine with food, family and friends, it is a part of the atmosphere and usually has been chosen to go with the food. The huge, over-extracted, overripe, super oaky, monster wines... are they really the ones that we drink and enjoy over the food? Not really, they are mostly bred for critics and ratings. Whether from Napa, Bordeaux, Burgundy or elsewhere, the ones that most people usually enjoy and drink are the juicy, more harmonious, vibrant, complex, earthy and nuanced wines that express themselves greatly in the glass and with the food and reflect their differences and their Terroir of origin.


LeDom du Vin

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Friday, August 14, 2009

2008 Domaine Gilles Berlioz Chignin White Savoie Wine France

2008 Domaine Gilles Berlioz Chignin Vin de Savoie (White Savoie Wine) France

Here we go, I'm back for more writing after a little break. So, following my previous post on Cellier du Palais, another producer from Savoie, here is a post on Gilles Berlioz, another one of these irreductible Savoyard producers and one of the benchmarks on the Chignin appellation.

Vin de Savoie is an Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) for wines produced in the Savoie region, which is located in the foothills of the French Alps, central eastern part of France (south of Geneva). The region is divided roughly into three distinct parts: the glacially sculpted terrain along the South shore of Lake Geneva, the hilly country near the northern end of the "Lac du Bourget", and the area bordering the "Massif des Bauges" south of Chambéry.

Savoie's wines: The produced wines are mostly white (more than 70%), made from grape varieties planted mainly on the slopes of the various surrounding Mountain chains (and partly in the valley) around the villages of Chignin, Apremont, Abymes, Jongieux, St Badolph and Cruet for the whites, made with Altesse (also known as Roussette), Jacquère, Chasselas, Chardonnay and also Roussanne for the rare Chignin-Bergeron. There are also some reds (relatively light yet fresh, earthy and aromatic) made from Mondeuse, Gamay Noir and occasionally Pinot Noir, and also some rosés made from Gamay and some sparkling wines.

Chignin: Located about 10 miles southeast of Chambéry, the little village of Chignin resides at the foot of the high limestone escarpments in the southern part of the Bauges massif, central eastern France, in the Savoie region (eastern part of the Rhône-Alpes, bordering the neighboring Switzerland and Valle d'Aosta in Italy).

Chignin (Suite): Overhanging the valley at an altitude of roughly 370 meters on the southwestern slope of the Summit of Montgelas (1300 meters above sea level), this pretty Savoyard village of Chignin can be spotted from a distance due to its 14th century tower and its 19th century chapel dedicated to Saint-Anthelme. Also, due to its location, Chignin offers a fantastic panorama of the mountains of the Chartreuse National Park, especially the "Mont Grenier", located westward on the opposite side of the valley. Moreover, directly opposite of Chignin on the other side of the valley and niched on the eastern slope foothills of the summit of the "Pas de la Fosse", you can also see the village of Apremont, one of the other Cru villages from "Vin de Savoie". "Les Abymes" is nestled in the valley, separating the Massif des Bauges to the east and the Massif de la Chartreuse to the west, between Chignin and Apremont.

FYI: The region of "Les Abymes" has been scarred in 1248 when a part of the Mont Grenier felt apart in the valley below, crushing houses and villages and burying villagers at the foot of the mountain. The mass of crumbled rocks from this event has formed a rocky chaos of multiple small rocky talus named “Abymes de Myans”, creating a ground of predilection for wine growing where the crus of Abymes and Apremont have been produced (since then) from vines planted on iron-rich soils, a positive result to this geological catastrophe.

However, let's back to the other side of the valley, a few kilometers east, in the village of Chignin, with our producer of the day: Gilles Berlioz.

Chignin's vineyards are planted on chalky scree-covered soils of the south-west facing slopes of the Montgelas Summit's foothills. Mostly protected from cold winds of the north by the background mountain and benefiting of great sun exposure and excellent drainage, Chignin's vineyards produce some of Savoie's best wines, including Savoie's pride, the rare Chignin-Bergeron: a highly perfumed and intriguing white, made exclusively with a Rhône valley's grape called Roussanne, produced in minuscule quantity, surely responsible for the fame of the region.

Gilles Berlioz: In 1990, Gilles, the son of a local agricultor, inherited of a small family vineyard of 0.8 hectare (about 2 acres).
At the time, he was working as a landscape designer in a local firm and, due to his job, was already fond of ground's geology and topography. Very well acquainted of working the soils and modeling landscapes, he gradually learned about vine-growing and winemaking and became more involved with his little plot of land. Cultivating real enthusiasm for wine, he acquired further small plots of land within Chignin and expanded his vineyards to 3.5 hectares. Shortly after, he decided to drop conventional cultivation methods in favor of 100% organic agriculture with Biodynamic touches here and there (in France we call that "Lutte Raisonnée" or sustainable culture with a twist).

By choice but also due to their fairly small size, Gilles takes care of his vineyards himself all year long. He attend them every day like a careful, attentionate and devoted father: plowing the ground, hand weeding the bad weeds, pruning, cutting, de-leafing, and treating them with plant based concoctions. Also by choice and despite his low amount of vineyards, Gilles aims for quality rather than quantity, with a production of about 30 hectoliters per hectare, which is low compared to the average 70 hectoliters per hectare of certain properties.

Remember that, not long ago (40 years at the most), wines from Chignin (like many other wines in France) were overproduced and not very interesting, or lets say, not as good, expressive and clean as they are now. They were mainly drunk in winter by the locals with stew, ragout and more especially cheese "Raclette" and meat "Fondue", and things haven't changed much since then, about 80% of most Savoie wines are still consumed locally (including a tiny amount nationally), the other 20% are exported in the major markets but they remain somewhat quite marginal.

Raclette: A winter favorites of mine, traditional Raclette is made with melted semi-firm, salted cheese made from Cow's milk. However, varieties made with white wine, pepper, herbs, or smoked cheese also exist. The raclette cheese of choice originates from the Swiss canton of Valais but it is now also produced in the Savoie and Franche-Comté region. The crisp, bright, vivid and extremely mineral whites from Savoie's high elevation vineyards have great acidity to cut through the cheese's fat and complement this friendly and family gathering dish.

Meat Fondue: Also for the same "fatty" and earthy, wintery causes, Chignin and more generally Savoie's whites (and reds too) are great with meat "Fondue(s)". Meat fondue, also known as oil fondue, consists of cooking all kinds of meats, poultry, and seafood in a pot of heated oil. Each person participating in a fondue experience, cooks his/her own piece of meat by placing a small portion or chunk at the end of a long fondue fork and placing it inside the pot of oil to cook. When the meat is cooked to ideal "cuisson" in the oil, each person can then dip each piece of cooked meat into previously prepared sauces. Meat fondue recipes can also be prepared as "broth fondue", by replacing the oil with your favorite broth: chicken, vegetable, or beef to name the most well known.

Vinification: After being carefully hand harvested, the grapes are slowly pressed (between 4 and 6 hours) and the fermentation process occurs naturally with no addition of extra added cultured yeast, sugar or acid. Gilles matures his wines for about 9 months in fiber-glass vats, and used or neutral oak barrels. Following the prescriptions of the lunar calendar, bottling takes place in the beginning of summer, then the bottles are stored to rest for one year before being sold.

Production: Gilles Berlioz crafts 4 wines in super tiny quantities: 3 whites made respectively with Jacquères, Altesse (also known as Roussette) and Roussanne (Also known locally as Bergeron) for his Chignin-Bergeron; and 1 red made with Mondeuse from vines recently planted (2008 was the first vintage).

All of Berlioz' wines have tremendous Terroir characteristics and helped to put back Chignin on the map of the serious wines from France. Moreover, his name is not Quénard, and no offense to anyone, but it is nice to see that there are other producers in Chignin than the Quénard families and relatives (FYI: Quénard in Chigin are like the Smith in New York).

To better understand about the "Quénard", see the following pictures taken from the website of Charles Neal Selections, an established and estimated importer of fine wines and spirits from lesser known French regions, based in California.

Trying to find the right Quenard in Chignin can be difficult.
"Trying to find the right Quenard in Chignin can be difficult." (courtesy of Charles Neal)

After this little parentheses, here is the description of our wine of the day:

2008 Domaine Gilles Berlioz Chignin Vin de Savoie (White Savoie Wine) France
Suggested retail price $16-$19
Imported / Distributed by Moonlight Wine co. in NYC

First, I need to say that "Gilles Berlioz Chignin" has been one of my favorite wines this summer since last June, with "Eugene Carrel Jongieux" and "Cellier du Palais Mondeuse" (and a few more).

Secondly, I feel that it is important to precise and establish the fact that although Savoyard wines are often enjoyed during winter months with Raclette and meat Fondue, I personally think that due to their high acidity and minerality, and light overall profile, they make perfect summer whites.

Made with 100% Jacquère, the 2008 Gilles Berlioz Chignin exposes a pale golden color in the glass. The nose is fresh and slightly nutty, with white flowers, white peach and fresh almond on the nose. The palate is fresh, rich and quite silky, with very good acidity and balance, gradually expanding toward a lingering finish with unripe apricot skin and almond flavors. This versatile will be great as an aperitif, perfect with Raclette and Fondue, but will also nicely complement sheep and goats cheese, as well as shell fish and river fish.

For a small production, low yield, organic white wine, held for a year after bottling to reach ideal condition before being sold and with only a few cases reaching the US market, it is definitely a great value to discover. Moreover, demand may, with time, increase the price, but for now it remains a real bargain under $20.


LeDom du Vin

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Saturday, August 8, 2009

2007 Le Cellier du Palais Mondeuse Vin de Pays d'Allobrogie Savoie France

2007 Le Cellier du Palais Mondeuse Vin de Pays d'Allobrogie Savoie France (Rene & Beatrice Bernard)

At the foot of the majestic Mount Granier, nestled in a beautiful landscape of vineyards and mountains in the Savoie region, the "Cellier du Palais" (meaning the palace's cellar) has been the property of the Bernard family since 1700.

Cellier du Palais combines traditionalism with modernism, making traditional wines, characteristic from their region of origin, with state of the art technology. The domain is run by René Bernard and his daughter Béatrice. It is situated in the southeastern part of the valley of Chambéry, the historical capital the Savoie region, in the village of Apremont which the wine capital of Savoie by excellence.

Located just south of Chambery, Apremont is a named Cru (like Jongieux, etc...) from the village of the same, whose name may be added to the appellation "Vin de Savoie". The wines are typically light, dry and mineral, predominantely whites made from the local Jacquere grape. Some reds are also produced with the local Mondeuse red grape variety.

With a little more than 200 hectares of vineyards and a rich wine-producing heritage, the vineyard of Apremont is the symbol of the village which has shaped its landscape and its land around this ancestral culture.

The vineyard of Apremont is situated on the east slope of the mountain Joigny which falls northward in the direction of the transverse valley of Chambéry. The main element of the soil is constituted of very thick white limestone on the surface. This white limestone constitutes the base of the Cretaceous period and contains fossils. Above this limestone is the black soil rich in humus, the thickness of which varies according to the plots of land. This ground is a mixture of humus, marl and deposits from former moraine glacial periods; we can also find pebbles brought by former glaciers. The vines found in this predominantly chalky and pebbly ground their favourite type of soil. The resulting produced wines express the minerality and the complexity of the soil, marked by a beautiful, refreshing and balancing acidity.

Cellier du Palais posseses 7 hectares of vines planted on slope facing east. The vines grow in a landscape bathed by morning and early afternoon sun alongside cherry trees, almond trees and fig trees. It has allowed the cicadas to settle on our slope.

Tyhe work in the vineyard continues in the respect of traditions. They strike a balance in an environmental concern to protect the vineyard and the surrounding environment. They encourage digging and ploughing to enhance the bacterial life of the soil and the rooting of the vines. They thin out the bunches of grapes and the leaves and prune the vines well back to maximize the yield.

2007 Le Cellier du Palais Mondeuse Vin de Pays d'Allobrogie Savoie France (Rene & Beatrice Bernard)

Suggested retail price $18-$21
Distributed by Metropolis wine Merchant in NYC

This Mondeuse is kept for one year in a vat and in a barrel before being bottled. The aroma is of red fruits and spices, characteristics of this typical Savoy vine. It will keep well for another 4-5 years.

The 2007 Le Cellier du Palais Mondeuse has a bright red ruby color with light purple hue. The nose is earthy, a touch smoky, hints of green tobacco leaf, with discreet yet distinct red and dark berry aromas, cassis, blackberry, mixed with floral notes of violette, roses and cloves. The palate is lovely, quite bright and juicy with great vivid acidity. The mouthfeel is delicate and fairly rounded, with excellent ripeness, ripe dark berries flavors with hints of spice and superbe balance. The finish is long, earthy, slightly raw, bit rustic and angular but in a good way.

Overall the palate is really focus and expanding in a pleasurable juicy and harmonious way. Very fresh and cleansing with an underlining touch of rusticity. Not your everyday wine, but definitely a must try food friendly wine. I love it.


LeDom du Vin

Info partly taken from the winery website at

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Friday, August 7, 2009

2006 Bisson "U Pastine" Bianchetta Genovese Golfo del Tigullio Chiavari Liguria Italy

2006 Bisson "U Pastine" Bianchetta Genovese Golfo del Tigullio Chiavari Liguria Italy

History of the Domaine: Enoteca Bisson was born in 1978 when Pierluigi Lugano fell in love with the wines of the Ligurian coastline. He began as a trader in small lots of bulk wine, later became a wine merchant and finally a winemaker in his own right. He now splits his time between his busy wine shop and wine cellar. He works hand in hand with local growers from pruning to harvest then carefully vinifies the different lots of grapes. Pierluigi is a serious student of oenology and is an expert on the local grape varieties. His passion extends to the preservation of local traditions and this is reflected in the distinctive character and personality of his large range of wines from the Cinque Terre region.

Composition of the Domaine: It takes a heroic effort to cultivate vines on the steep slopes of the Ligurian coastline high above the Mediterranean Sea. Mechanization of vineyard tasks is out of the question, everything must be done by hand. Only truly passionate winegrowers are willing to carry on the traditions that have come down through the generations since the ancient Greeks first planted vines on the steep, stony slopes here. Lugano works closely with several small, local growers. He believes, as we do, that wine is made in the vineyards and he closely controls the work done in the field. Further, he has embarked on an ambitious program to purchase his own parcels in prime zones throughout the Cinque Terre and surrounding areas. He staunchly defends indigenous, and increasingly rare, grape varieties and works tirelessly to ensure that they do not disappear for future generations of wine lovers.

Method of vinification: The small, but very well equipped, cellar is designed so that each lot of grapes can be vinified individually. With the exception of an occasional experiment with barrel aging, Lugano vinifies his entire range of wines in stainless steel to preserve the essential fruit of each vineyard site and each grape type.

Lugano's Bianchetta Genovese, known as "U Pastine" (local dialect indicating a very special product), comes again from a rare white grape found only in northwestern Italy. Pierluigi has saved several parcels from extinction and creates a truly unique white wine that is quite broad-shouldered and satisfying.

2006 Bisson "U Pastine" Bianchetta Genovese Golfo del Tigullio Chiavari Liguria Italy
Suggested retail price $17-$20
Imported and distributed in NYC by Rosenthal wine merchant / Madrose

This 100% Bianchetta Genovese has a pale gold color with bright golden reflects. Slightly undistinct, a bit difficult to describe, but my impressions on the nose were: a touch old, a bit oxydative, a touch mineral, not too expressive at first, gradually I could smell notes of golden apple, ripe pear and flowers (but difficult to really be precise on this one...). After a few minutes, fresh hay, honey suckle and white flowers with mineral hints were the predominant aromas. The palate is intriguing and interesting, not your everyday wine for sure but worth trying, a bit esoteric and earthy. The attack is good and rich, leading to an even fuller mid-palate, revealing a plain mouthfeel with earthy flavors of ripe golden apple, hay, almond and floral and mineral notes, almost sherry-like in the palate but fatter.

Overall, unusual and intriguing, a must try for esoteric wine lovers. Slightly oxydise notes and quite dry on the finish, not a sipper but definitely a food friendly white wine balanced with very good acidity, medium to full intensity, with almost a tannic sensation in the back. Have it with really earthy, slightly unsual dishes based with fish or white meats or even with a Ratatouille.


LeDom du Vin

Info partly taken from the importer /distributor website at

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Chateau Peyros Madiran Southwest France

Chateau Peyros Madiran Southwest France

Here is another article about a region dear to my heart, the Southwest of France. This time we are going to Madiran.

Madiran, like most southwestern French appellations, is rather unknown or let's say undiscovered. Part of the Gascony area, Madiran wines are produced around the village of the same name located about 47 kilometers northeast of Pau and 27 kms southeast of Aire-sur-l'Adour, nestled in a little valley surrounded by gentle rolling hills preceding the foothills of the Pyrénées.

About 10 kms apart from each other yet sharing the same area, AOC Madiran is the red twin sister of an other appellation called Pacherenc-du-Vic-Bihl producing only whites.

Madiran appellation produces slightly rustic, earthy, somewhat esoteric, fairly rich and tannic reds made with at least 40% Tannat, the predominant and indigenous grape variety which contributes to the fame, the uniqueness and the particular characteristic of Madiran wines. Tannat is often blended with Cabernet Franc (locally known as "Bouchy" or "Bouchet" in the rest of "Southwest of France" region), Cabernet Sauvignon, Courbu Noir (also known as "Madiran"), "Fer Servadou" (also locally known as "Pinenc") and "Cot" (worldly known as Malbec or "Auxerrois" in Cahors). Due to its tannic structure, Tannat has often been blended to make it more approachable. However, most of the best and most authentic Madiran wines are made with 100% Tannat, and usually express flavors of black fruits, earth, spices with toasted hints due to oak ageing and a fairly present tannic structure in the finish, which generally contributes to good ageing potential (between 4 to 8 years in general, and more for the best vintage).

FYI: Tannat, a typical and indigenous grape variety from the Pyrénées and more especially the Basque country, was imported to Uruguay in the 19th century by the basque settlers. It has now become the national grape variety of Uruguay, like: Malbec for Argentina, Carmenère for Chile, Shiraz for Australia, Pinotage for South Africa,etc... Tannat is also known in Uruguay as "Harriague", named after Pascual Harriague, one of the settlers who introduced it in the country. In France, in addition to Madiran, Tannat is also produced in the region of Irouléguy, Tursan and Béarn.

Also crafted in the Madiran region, Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Sec produces dry and sweet whites predominantly made with a blend of two local and indigenous grape varieties including "Petit Courbu" (another traditional Gascon's grape variety and a variation of the "Courbu Noir") and "Petit Manseng" (the sister grape of Gros Manseng, both indigenous from Gascony and more especially used in the Jurançon appellation to produce dry and sweet whites). Pacherenc du Vic-Bihl Sec wines are usually dry and tangy yet ample, intriguing and quite rich with a deep yellow color with somewhat golden apple, yellow peach, pear, honeysuckle, honey and fresh hay aromas and flavors. They can also be sweet depending on the vintage and sold under Pacherenc du Vic-Bihl (without the "sec" meaning "dry" in the name). In any cases, the local Courbu and Petit Manseng must make up at least 60% but not exceed 80% of the blend, which also can include "Arrufiac" (or Ruffiac) and Sauvignon Blanc (10% max).

Let's go back to the wine of the day:

Chateau Peyros is the southernmost property of the Madiran Appellation. It takes its name from a local Gascogny word which means "rocky location" or "stony place".

Combined with their exceptional terroir and ideal growing conditions, the main objective of Chateau Peyros is to apply the most natural and adapted wine making methods to their vineyard and cellar to protect the earth and its Biodiversity and to maximize the quality of their wines.

Most of their wines are not filtered to avoid imparting taste and flavors, therefore, any natural deposits and slight sedimentation in the bottle are a guarantee of the wine's authenticity and truthful, unique expression. A light decantation is suggested to fully appreciate this Tannat based wine.

2003 Chateau Peyros Madiran Vieilles Vignes Southwest of France
Suggested retail price $16-$19
Distributed by Baron François in NYC

This full-bodied wine is a blend of 60% Tannat and 40% Cabernet Franc from 40-plus year-old vines. Deep purple in the glass, initial aromas of dark plum, blackberry and cedar unfold to reveal layers of peppermint and coffee. Fully ripe dark fruit and black berry flavors coat the palate along with notes of bitter chocolate and spice, sustained by a generous acidity and firm tannins into a long, structured finish. An earthy, slightly rustic red to be enjoyed with hearty fare; think beef, lamb and game.


LeDom du Vin

Find more info about this wine at

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

2008 Union des Vignerons de l'ile de beaute Reserve du President "Cuvee Historique" Vermentinu Corsica France

2008 Union des Vignerons de l'ile de beaute Reserve du President "Cuvee Historique" Vermentinu Corsica France

Corsica is considered one of most beautiful islands in the world, one of the jewels in the heart of the Mediterranean. Engraved by time, the sun, sea, and the wind, all these contrasts, combined with the force of the mountain landscapes to the softness of the plains and the sunny shores. Centuries forged this wild and proud Corsica: one of the oldest wine growing regions in the world.

Corsican people are proud to be Corse, proud of their land, their culture, their language and their history. If it wasn't for the French and other political and geographical issues, the Corse will have probably claimed their independence a long time ago.

Corsica and the Corsicans are simply different. They like for other people to know about it, recognize it and do not question it. Corsica's people and vineyards all express their difference and their diversity drawn from their history.

Corsica, a land of beauty and passion, of hospitality and traditions has been a wine growing island for more than 2600 years.

Union des Vignerons de l'ile de beaute is a large cooperative that encompasses about 1700 hectares of vines and employs around 100 persons. They have two main wine making facilities, one in Aleria and the 2nd one in Casinca, both located in the villages of the same name on the northeastern and central eastern part of the island. The constant search for quality is their main concern.

The restructuration and reorganization of more than 50% of their grape selection and of their vineyards, as well as the consequent investments of the past years in their two centers of wine making of Aléria and of Casinca, have brought major and needed increase in the quality of their wines. The implementation of analysis laboratories, new wine storehouses for breeding and ageing, as well as sterile stations of bottling, show the efforts made in the search for optimal quality year after year by each center of wine making. (find more info on their website at

“Reserve du Président” is carefully chosen from over 1000 vineyard parcels, it is known by its constant quality and regularity, there is really never a bad year for the “Reserve du Président”.

This line of products from "Union des Vignerons de l'ile de beaute" represents the traditional Corsican wine heritage, producing AOC wines made from Vermentinu, Nielliciu and Sciacarellu, which are the most implanted grape varieties on the Corsican island. Chardonnay, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot have also played an important role in making “Réserve du Président" one of the Corsican wine leader for the last 30 years. Their constant quest for quality, their love for their earth and soil are illustrated in their products: charming rosé, attractive whites, our flavourful red, and our fruitful and subtle Muscat.

2008 Union des Vignerons de l'ile de beaute Reserve du President "Cuvee Historique" Vermentinu Corsica France

Suggested retail price $10-$12
Distributed in NYC by Maximilien Selections

This 100% Vermentinu (also called Vermentino in Italy) is a clean, fruity, simple yet pleasant sipper for the summer and roughly any occasions. The nose is fresh and floral with aromas of white flowers and white peach. The light palate follows with pretty much the same features, balanced by a nice acidity and a very enjoyable way of coating the palate. Very easy to drink and versatile, this friendly little white should complement summer vegetable salads, white meats cold cut and simple fish dish. Also great as an aperitif.


LeDom du Vin

Info partly taken from their following websites: and

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