Taking gewürztraminer to a higher level

The Alsace uses a concept of “noble varieties” to define which grapes can be used in the areas that are designated as “Grand Cru”. I’ve always wondered what could be meant with “noble” varieties. The grapes that are used to make the highest quality wines, I read everywhere. OK. Riesling is one of those grapes that no one will question, I suppose. But why do the noble varieties in the Alsace include pinot gris and not pinot blanc? Or pinot noir for that matter? And then there is muscat and gewürztraminer, both noble varieties in the Alsace. On the one hand, I’m very happy that there are still regions that want to cultivate the traditional varieties, and that do not massively plant sauvignon blanc or chardonnay. On the other hand, these are not my go-to grapes in general. The grapy character of muscat and the aromas of lychee and rose in gewürztraminer tend to be rather dominant. I like it when a wine invites me to sniff and sniff and sniff again before I even consider having a sip. Then when you do take a sip, the wine sinks in and makes time stop for a couple of seconds. It gives you that whoa-moment that every wine lover wants to experience once every while. I think I have not tasted the right muscats and gewürztraminers until now to experience that. Luckily I recently had a chance to taste the wines of Domaine Lissner…

It was without great expectations that I went to a wine fair in Ghent, called PURr, dedicated to natural and organic wines. I’ve been to a couple of such wine fairs before and had my share of, well let’s say, animal aromas… I don’t mind when they are there a little bit, they can actually add complexity, if you’re open for it… But when it’s too much, it’s just too much, off-putting even. In whites you will then find aromas of apple cider or ashes. It was therefore a nice surprise to taste very fresh and complex wines at the stand of Theo Schloegel of Domaine Lissner. We started off with a muscat that was not grapy at all, and that had a crystal-clear acidic structure. Very refreshing and salivating. It was the gewürztraminer, however, that made me silent for a moment.

IMG_1594This gewürztraminer comes from the Grand Cru Altenberg de Wolxheim. When Theo poured this wine, his tone became somewhat worried. He said : “Please, take your time to taste this wine, at least one full minute!” After he repeated this one or two times more, I was aware that this wine was a) very dear to him, b) not just a quaffer, and c) that he probably has his share of people who come to wine fairs to down as much as possible. He then said : “You should actually drink this wine in ten years time!”. He then repeated once more : “Really, take your time to taste this wine!”

The first sniff at my glass made it clear from the start : this is indeed not “just a gewürztraminer”. No can of lychees in my glass, but a mineral start, followed by orange, exotic fruit such as pineapple, and a bit of curry powder. Nothing overwhelming, rather a subtle, yet intense nose that makes you sniff and sniff again. The first sip revealed a bit of the spiciness that you can have with gewürztraminer, but again very well dosed. The mouth feel was very round and the concentration of the wine was enormous. You could almost chew on this. Definitely no simple summer quaffer. By then, I could perfectly imagine why this wine should be drunk in ten years time! And also why I needed to take my time… Another interesting thing about this wine is that it is completely dry. Gewürztraminer is sometimes made with a bit of residual sugar to make it off-dry. No such thing here. The remarkable consequence of that is that this wine has a whopping 15,5°C alcohol… Luckily well integrated.

As you might expect, this is the kind of wine that invites to eat with it. I matched this wine with rojak, a fruit and vegetable salad commonly found in Malaysia and Indonesia. It’s an eclectic mix of pineapple, mango, bean sprouts, toasted peanuts and, in this version, fried tofu. The dressing is a mix of lime zest and juice, oil, sambal oelek and sugar. A very refreshing, tangy salad, yet at the same time lightly sweet and hot. This turned out to be an absolute winner with the gewürztraminer, because the lime and the chilis added a bit of structure to the wine, while the wine beautifully echoed the mango and the pineapple. A great example of how one and one can be three…

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Hit the ro-jak!

So here we are. All of this goes to show that you just need to keep tasting and exploring! Otherwise you miss out on these hidden gems, made by super passionate wine makers, who put their heart and soul in it. And with stunning results…

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Cheers!

I joined the French Winophiles this month, a group of wine bloggers who publish one article a month on one central topic. Please join our chat on Twitter. Simply tune in to the #winophiles hashtag on Twitter this Saturday, June 16 at 10am CDT. You can also check out the #AlsaceRocks hashtag for more Alsace fun during and after the chat.

Here’s a list of Alsace wine suggestions from the Winophiles :

 

Riesling with Asian food – an all-time favorite

It’s classic stuff… Riesling with Asian food. If you’re a bit of a foodie, then you surely know that Riesling is an often recommended companion for Asian dishes that are built around sweet and sour contrasts. Riesling basically has very similar characteristics : often you’ll find pine apple, candied lemon, peach, and honey if it’s sweet or evolved. And of course that magnificent acidity that makes that Riesling hardly ever comes across as flat or plump, no matter how sweet the wine is… When the dish has more spicy flavours coming from cardamom, cloves, cumin,… then muscat or gewürztraminer will also be a very good match.

Today I prepared Yotam Ottolenghi’s vegetarian version of a Chinese classic dish : Black pepper tofu. This is one of our favorites here. But mind you, this is an extreme dish, in every possible way! In his recipe, Ottolenghi uses 8 chillies, 12 garlic cloves, three table spoons of ginger, and 5 (!) table spoons of crushed black pepper. It made me laugh when I read his version is already a milder version than the original… I can have a bit of pepper and chili, but I toned things down another notch or two, bringing the quantities down to 4 chillies, 6 garlic cloves and a few whiffs of pepper. Believe me, I found that hot enough.

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There’s a funny anecdote to this dish. You’re supposed to dust the tofu with corn flour to make it a bit crusty when you fry it. I had corn flour, but it was yellow corn flour to make polenta. That’s a much rougher version than the white corn flour, which is so fine you can hardly distinguish a single grain. On the picture above you can clearly see the corn flour I used. Well, this sure gives a crunchy coating! But we actually liked it. By now I’ve prepared this dish quite a few times, and I’ve tried both white corn flour and yellow corn flour. We actually prefer the yellow corn flour as it adds structure to the dish, which is interesting.

The wine we drank with it was a Riesling of Domaine Meyer-Fonné, a winery in the Alsace, France. It was the Pfoeller 2012. That’s a “lieux-dit”, a single vineyard coming from a specific place with the name Pfoeller.  On the website they describe the wine as follows : “The palate has a clean attack, distinguished, and an athletic acidity. As a slowly developing wine this is a riesling without compromise for the enlightened connoisseur.” Well, I can confirm that this wine has an “athletic” acidity (what a nice description, don’t you think?), but as is so often the case with Riesling, the acidity is not disturbing at all. This is a mouthwatering wine, very elegant, racy, complex. I also love the minerality in the nose, and there’s a hint of honey suckle as well. It’s true that this wine is no where near the point that it needs to be drunk. This wine will still develop for many years to come and will still get better, probably developing more mellow flavors alongside the racy acidity.

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The glass is empty and so is the bottle!

The combination worked really well. This black pepper tofu dish was very rich, and the riesling was a refreshing break in between the chili-loaded tofu. If you decide to make this dish and use the original amount of chili and black pepper, then by all means do not hesitate to take a riesling that’s slightly sweet, such as a Mosel Kabinett. It’s wrong to think that such wines are dessert wines. The sweeter versions, think of Spätlese, are indeed good partners for a fruit dessert. But a Kabinett can perfectly be paired with hot dishes and will help not to burn your tongue with the chili and pepper…

If you try this dish out, let me know how that went. Especially if you go for the hot version 🙂

 

 

 

Never waste a good climate change – Burgundy

One man’s loss is another man’s gain. Climate change is a challenge in many wine regions, but creating opportunities in others. Take Burgundy, for example. 2015 was hailed as a great year by many critics. Very good weather conditions resulting in high quality grapes and wine. At least if you like very rich pinots with loads of ripe fruit. Many of the 2015s I tasted at the wine fair of independent vignerons recently in Lille, France, were very generous, ripe and had moderate acidity levels. Of course, this is my personal preference, but I look more for Burgundies with freshness, fresh fruit, good acidity, tension and elegance. The contrast was immense when I tasted the wines of Domaine Jacob at the same wine fair. They do not put the wines in barrels for very long and were therefore capable of already bringing the 2016s to the fair. Well, they were vibrant! And that’s how I like them. To be totally honest, you don’t find the cream of the Burgundy crop at this wine fair so it would be unfair to judge the quality of the vintage just on the Burgundies I’ve tasted there. But still, it gave me a general idea. And it strengthened my belief that the great vintages according to the wine press, do not always produce the wines that I like.

All of this made me wonder about the effects of the hot weather on the wines coming from the plateau of the much cooler Hautes-Côtes in Burgundy. These vineyards are located on top of the Côte d’Or escarpment, the east-facing hills where you find all the illustrious vineyards of the Côtes de Nuits and the Côtes de Beaune. The Hautes-Côtes are higher than the Côtes, as the name suggests, and are not protected from the winds coming from the west. The difference in temperature can be a whopping 5°C… No wonder it’s difficult to have ripe grapes here. Except perhaps in warmer vintages such as 2015? Curiosity got the better of me, and I bought the Hautes-Côtes de Beane “Les Perrières” from Denis Carré, a winemaker based in Meloisey, a village in the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune. I had tried this wine before but from a cooler vintage (2013) and it failed to convince me then, so I was eager to see what the 2015 had to offer :

The nose offers plenty of typical pinot fruit. “Ça pinote”, like the French say. Cherries are singing the tune, with raspberries doing the backing vocals. There is something in the nose that I would like to call “wild”, perhaps a touch of brett even? But it’s not of the sort that overwhelms. It actually adds an intriguing element to the nose. There’s also some herbs on the background, and a whiff of old barrel. The wine kicks off with the cherries and the raspberries but there’s good acidity here that creates a ripe-sour contrast that I like. It lacks a bit of depth and length, but it definitely gives typical pinot drinking pleasure.

 Not too bad for 14,95€, is it? The hierarchy is obviously respected : no great complexity here. But then again, this is a pleasant wine that pinot lovers will like for its typicity and its pretensionless every day drinking character.

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Conclusion : it’s early days to start putting all your money on the Hautes-Côtes in Burgundy, but if temperatures keep rising, the Hautes-Côtes may have good stuff for us in store. New rendez-vous in 20 years or so…

Goodbye champagne… Hello champagne!

You can never have enough champagne in the house. Seriously! I’m hooked. I’ve come a far way, though. Before I was really into wine, I used to say : “why would you buy an expensive bottle of champagne if you can have cava for 5€? What’s the difference?!” Well, that was a long time ago… With the discovery of a whole new world of wine during my sommelier training, I also came to appreciate champagne. The aromas of apple, chalk, butter, toasted bread, brioche are now aromas that I cherish every time I drink a good champagne.  Continue reading “Goodbye champagne… Hello champagne!”

Boutenac : balance in the Languedoc

The Languedoc was known for a long time as the wine lake of France. The region was the main source of very simple wine, often Vin de France. Luckily, things have changed considerably. Winemakers have become aware of the fact that quality is important if they want to gain respect and sell their wines at a higher price. The evolution in the Languedoc to a tiered system with the AOC Languedoc as the basis, with communal AOCs in the middle and Crus at the top of the pyramid, is one of the things that shows how the region is focusing more and more on quality. Things are changing at a fast pace : Terrasses du Larzac was promoted to cru status in 2014, so was La Clape in 2015, and Pic St Loup was the latest to join in 2017. Earlier sub-regions to have become Languedoc crus were Roquebrun and Berlou (Saint-Chinian), La Livinière (Minervois) and Boutenac (Corbières).

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Continue reading “Boutenac : balance in the Languedoc”

If it makes you happy… #Winophiles

…it must be Sud-Ouest! There are two reasons why I love Sud-Ouest, and why their wines do make me happy. First of all, if you’re a bit of a winegeek like me, you will feel very much like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory if you see the multitude of indigenous grapes that the Sud-Ouest has. Fer Servadou, braucol, duras, abouriou, gros manseng, petit courbu, you name it! Sometimes you will find that there’s a good reason why such grapes never  achieve stardom, and that’s simply because they do not produce very interesting wines… That, however, is not the case in the Sud-Ouest. I already wrote here about a hidden gem in Gaillac, made of braucol and duras. And I strongly recommend you to try out this food wine pairing. The reason why you will not find many of these wines in your typical wine shop is simply because there’s not alot being made. Take an appellation such as Marcillac. I once enjoyed a great Marcillac from Lionel Osmin. But all in all they only have 185 hectares of vineyard. Compare that to the 117.000 hectares of vineyard in the whole of Bordeaux and you’ll be able to put things in perspective. Continue reading “If it makes you happy… #Winophiles”

Master Class Bordeaux with Fiona Morrison MW

The alumni association of sommeliers-conseil organised a master class with Fiona Morrison, Master of Wine (MW), on Bordeaux. And I had the pleasure of being there. Not only does Fiona Morrison hold the most prestigious title in the wine world, she is also married to Jacques Thienpont, the Belgian owner of some of the most famed estates in Bordeaux, such as Château Le Pin, Vieux Château Certan, and l’If. That makes her very well placed to talk about Bordeaux, obviously, but also about the wine culture of the Belgians, as she lives and works in Belgium.

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Jacques Thienpont, Fiona Morrison MW, Cyrille Thienpont ©Château Le Pin

One of the first things she learned after coming to Belgium was that good wine for Belgians means red wine, and Bordeaux… Yes, generally speaking, we do have a classical taste. Belgium is even the biggest importer of right-bank Bordeaux, beating China, Germany and the US! It actually makes you wonder why we so often describe our life style as “Burgundian”… Continue reading “Master Class Bordeaux with Fiona Morrison MW”

Hidden gems in Gaillac

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One of the things I want to write about on this blog are grapes or wine regions that are not well known, but that sometimes harbour hidden gems. Well, here is one of those : Domaine de Brousse. They are based in Gaillac, a French region that is still not very well known. And yet, you can find almost every style of wine here : dry white, rosé and red, with every year also “nouveaux” wines (as in Beaujolais), semi-sparkling wine (“perlé”), sparkling wine “méthode ancestrale” (interrupted fermentation), and sweet white wine. That doesn’t make it any easier to market your wines, of course. Things get even more confusing if you look at the bigger picture : Gaillac is one of many appellations of France’s South-West, where there are many different grapes, resulting in very different styles of wine. And in fact, Gaillac is closer to the Mediterranean than the Atlantic. So much for being part of the South-West… But don’t let that put you off. As I’ve experienced myself, those who dare venture into something new will be rewarded!

I’ve discovered Domaine de Brousse at the wine fair of independent vignerons in Lille, France. I was impressed by their reds. The entry level wine, Origine, is made of Braucol and Duras, two local grapes. The domaine wine is aged in wooden barrels and is made of Braucol and Syrah. Braucol is the name of the grape in Gaillac, but it is to be found in several appellations in the South-West, such as Marcillac, where it is known as Mansois, or in Béarn, under the name Pinenc. And it also known in general as Fer Servadou. Again not simple… For Duras it’s easier : Duras is Duras, and it is also a local grape that can be found in some of the appellations of the South-West. Instead of telling you what literature says about the typical aromas of these grapes, I will let the wines speak for themselves…

Origine 2014 (70% braucol and 30% duras)
Transparent red. Beautiful ripe red fruit, some herbs, very fine and elegant nose. The acidity here is just right, keeping the wine nicely fresh and well-balanced. The tannins are very mild. This wine made me think of the juiciness I often get in Crozes-Hermitages, but two fellow wine freaks with whom I tasted this wine also linked this wine with the freshness of a Cabernet Franc, the lushious fruit of a Beaujolais, or even an Italian wine, because of the acidity. For me, this shows that this wine is not easy to compare to anything else, and really has its own profile. I really like this wine because of the great drinking pleasure it gives, and… because it doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg. I bought this bottle for 7€ at the wine fair. This is not the wine you will find in many wine critics’ lists. Why? Because the appellation is not known, because the winery is not known, and probably also because this is not a “big” wine. And if they had reviewed it, this would have been the kind of wine that disappears in the anonymous ocean of wine scores where people don’t look if it’s not 90 or more. That’s why I find it important to say that this wine gives me great satisfaction.

Domaine de Brousse 2014 (50% braucol and 50% syrah)
on day one I had mostly cherries and a bit of wood. Not bad at all, but it had quite a modern and international feel. I was a bit disappointed actually. On day two the wood had integrated more and the ripe strawberries from the Origine started to show here as well. It’s only on day 3 (!), however, that this wine showed its full potential, displaying cherries, a bit of cassis, ripe strawberries, even minerality reminiscent of certain Beaujolais, and some herbs. Velvety mouthfeel, ripe tannins. Great length also, and the intensity of the fruit in the final is remarkable. I had almost given up, but was very happy to have one glass left of this wine on day three! I will keep my remaining bottles of this one tucked away in a dark corner for a couple of years.

So, if you have a chance to pick up one of these bottles from Domaine de Brousse, do give it a chance. You will see that it pays off to leave the beaten track behind.