Wine is “Bottled Sunshine”

ProvenceWhispering Angel Rose

Provence is still ancient Roman in character, but its wine is entering the modern era.  This is a region of great terroir and appeal.  Soils and climate have attracted money that is pouring in, so watch the quality soar.  It already has some great quality wines.  Wine is now truly becoming “bottled sunshine” in Provence.  Because of the higher altitudes further inland, Pinot Noir has shown great promise.  We have already seen the quality of Mourvedre from the Bandol area, a small area of Provence that is inland from the town of Bandol.

Provence lays claim to the oldest vineyard area in France (dating back to the early Greek settlements) and vines transported from Phoenicia.  Herbs and flowers are everywhere, so look for their aromas in the wines.  Wonderful aromas are found in some rosés together with soft finesse.

We are going to try two Rosés with bread dipped in olive oil and with “Mediterranean gold” — garlic!  After you have evaluated these wines alone, taste it with bread dipped in a quality garlic-flavored olive oil and notice how Provence rosés blend well with the flavor of the oil.

In the last French wine comparison, we compared a New World wine with a Bandol wine from the Old World.  This time, we will experience two Provence Rosés (two Old World rosés).  It is hard to find a fair comparison with rosés since they are made from a variety of grapes and in such a variety of ways.

Whispering Angel from Caves D’Esclans, Cotes du Provence, 2015 is an attractive, smooth, rosé that rewards with a character that lingers on the palate.  It is clean, brilliant and light, with little viscosity, proving that it is not a viscous wine but still coats the membranes.  Scents of roses and flavors of strawberry, pineapple and melon are highlighted with the freshness of the acids.  It approaches the palate softly and strengthens in the finish to a strong and characterful conclusion.  It bowed out with the statement of a wine that says, “I will do well with the cuisine of the area” — namely, well with olive oil flavored with garlic.  It is worth the $23 price tag.  This is distinctly a Provence Rosé of quality.  “Fresh, floral, fruity, and appealing” describes Provence Rosés.

Rating: 89+

To prove the point that rosés are made from different grapes and in such a different way, let’s experience a rosé from South Africa: Secateurs 2015.  This bottle was a disappointment in that it had spent time in old oak and the flavors of an old barrel came through.  The fruit flavors were muted; the aroma was faint and not at all fruity or floral as one would expect from a rosé.  The wine was well balanced and had adequate acids and a soft attack.  Texture was good.  Grapes were Cinsault, Shiraz, Grenache, Carignan.  A good wine, but in my opinion it can be faulted for the flavors.  This wine highlights that a wine can be a disappointment in either the New World or the Old World, and comparisons with rosés is like comparing apples with oranges.

Rating: 83

Next, we will taste another rosé from Provence before we move on to the Western Languedoc.

The Move from White to Red Wines

French wines will be continued soon.  Let’s take a quick look at something to tantalize your tastebuds a bit.

Creekside Cellars 2015 RoseCreekside Rose 2015

If you are a white wine drinker, this Rosé is the ideal introduction to also becoming a red wine drinker.  It is delicate and gossamer-like, with just a touch of those red phenolics (the flavors and tannins that red wine drinkers come to love).  Result?  Nothing but elegance and refreshing pleasure in this wine.

Don’t let the light color fool you, though.  There is a lot in this wine that the slight touch of rosé color does not suggest.  Its dominant aroma is of white peaches, with floral and other light fruit notes, perhaps even a reminder of melon in its flavor arsenal.

Spirited acids, fresh and cleansing, flush your palate, but pay attention to some of this wine’s hidden flavors.  For example, raspberry notes on the finish give you the hint of its red fruit origin and this becomes its final song.

A finely-spun wine like this one has more complexity than it at first presents.  Concentrate and it will release its gentle pleasures.  It bridges the gap between white and red and in doing so, widens its appeal to give a liveliness to more robust appetizers — an excellent introduction to a red meat meal.

Yes, it’s clean, but not so clean that the cleanliness strips the flavors.  It surprisingly retains a touch of the grape’s tannins.  Now you have been introduced to what red wines are about and want to give you.  But don’t rush off to the reds.  Enjoy the charming details of this doorway into wine’s red world.

Rating:  89

Emotional Rating?  The more you concentrate, the more it will stimulate your emotions.

Availability:  From the winery.

See Why Napa Can Be So Good!

Duckhorn 2008 Cab Sauv

Duckhorn 2008 Cabernet SauvignonWith grilled steak, this wine is heaven!  On its own, it is a perfect example of why Cabernet Sauvignon is King of the red grapes.  Napa Valley can claim this one with pride.  It is all Napa: rich, full, velvety, balanced, and complex.

With grilled steak, this wine is heaven!  On its own, it is a perfect example of why Cabernet Sauvignon is King of the red grapes.  Napa Valley can claim this one with pride.  It is all Napa: rich, full, velvety, balanced, and complex.

Black currant lives here, wafting from the glass, filling the mouth with its contrasting elements and resting long on the finish.   Some meatiness, leather, and layers of oak flavors fused with the rich fruit and the lively touches of anise make it memorable and distinct.  It’s not just another Cab.

This wine is worthy of a 94 or even 96!  It scores high on all the measures of quality and I find it hard to discover anything that would make me want to downgrade it from classic.  It is certainly a classic example of a Cabernet Sauvignon in its prime.  The wine can last much longer, but why wait when it offers such stellar rewards now.

There’s not much more to be said about this wine except, hurry up and enjoy it!

How Wine Got to France – Mourvedres Compared

Cline Mourvedre 2014Bandol

The smoothness and (for a Mourvedre) the abundant fruit of the Cline Family Cellars, you will remember, is what we saw as the character of the California wine.  As with so many New World wines that strive for a seamless balance, it can leave you with little to differentiate it from another wine.  All slide down without a clear statement of their personality, at times.  French wines are usually not driven by these same goals, so expect (even in the warmer climate of Provence) a difference.  One can conclude that the French wine’s lack of smoothness and fruitiness to match the California wine is due to the inability to ripen the grapes as fully in France.  But we shall see that in Provence, where ripeness is really not a problem (certainly not as it is in regions like Bordeaux), the winemaker is striving for a different goal: the unique character of the terroir.

In La Bastide Blanche from the Appellation Bandol Controlee 2012 (to be named as an appellation wine, it must contain a large proportion of Mourvedre), we will be introduced to both the appellation (terroir) and the grape variety.  Given this southern climate, it comes in at 14.5% alcohol — only half a percent less than the Cline from California.   Go ahead and choose a Mourvedre from the New World — US (the Cline, if you can get it) or Australia — and compare the two.  I chose the Cline Ancient Vines Mourvedre 2014 at 15% alcohol because it would give us a good contrast and point out the difference in New World and Old World wines to begin our journey through France.  Taste with me.

Bandol in Provence:  We are met with a deep shade of ruby (maybe a little lighter than the Cline), vanilla, tar, black cherry, plum, cedar and perhaps a little burnt toast, with added mineral layers.  This wine slides over the palate smooth and with a refreshing, pleasant acidity.  The finish is long, with lingering mineral and wood notes mixed with a little fruit and no bitterness from the tannins. The tannins are soft in a slightly less warming alcohol than the Cline.  It is truly varietal, as is the Cline, but different.  This wine has real character and a greater complexity than the Cline.  The Cline is smoother, softer, and fruitier.

Do you think that this wine has more finesse, dryness and layers of dark, savory flavors?  For some palates, it may take a little getting used to — especially if we crave a touch of sweetness and loads of fruit.  Remember, I flagged you that this grape is difficult to vinify and can show flavors of tar.  Does this one do that?  Some people like the flavors of this wine, and some don’t.    This is about you and your taste.  Make your decision.

Perhaps the main difference is the minerality we get in the wine.  Is minerality something you like?  Again, that depends on you and your taste.  Old World and New World stand in contrast, side by side, with these two examples of the Mourvedre grape.  We will find both similarities and contrasts as we journey.

Both wines make this grape of ancient origin — familiar in France, Australia, and Spain — a truly informative experience.   I hope you have enjoyed our first leg and learned something from this winding journey through France and the New World.

How Wine Got to France

Provence

Provence, France

Provence, France

There are many theories about how wine came to France, all of which lack enough evidence to put them beyond dispute except the carefully phrased statement that wine first came to France via the Middle East, Greece, Phonecia and the spread of the Roman Empire.  Provence was one of the early targets for the Ancient World’s expansion and settlement.  It’s success necessitated the planting of the vine.  Soon viticulture was expanded beyond the coast and up the Rhone Valley via the Rhone River.

It is here in Provence, the oldest vineyard area in France, that we will begin our vinous journey through France.  Winemaking has been reinvented here over the last few decades.  From rather ordinary stuff to wines that command respect, these wines now compete with their own character and individualism against wines from anywhere in the world.  The reds are certainly worth your study and the Rosés should own your leisure moments, adding their tantalizing pleasures.  From the coast to the hinterlands, wineries are demonstrating that they are gearing up to take on the serious challenge of the New World.  Rosés from this region are already well known.

Within Provence, the Palette, Cassis, Bellet, and Bandol appellations are of special interest.  Arid soils seem to produce complexity and a notable distinctiveness to the wines.  The arid, terraced slopes facing south to the sun and the sea are common vineyard sights.  Just a description of the topography and soils suggests a viticulture heaven.

Bandol is such an area.  The dominant grape of note is Mourvedre, which can offer us wines with distinctive bouquets and a smoothness that belies their dark and deep character.  They can be hard to vinify because they can develop reductive smells that also remind of tar (not a negative if not dominant).

For our first French wine in this series, we will choose La Bastide Blanche from the Appellation Bandol Controlee, 2012 (14.5% ABV).  However, let’s also choose a Mourvedre from the New World (US or Australia) and taste it first.  We’ll have its character firmly in mind before we note the differences in the French counterpart.  I have chosen Cline Family Cellars Ancient Vines Mourvedre, 2014 (15% ABV).

Mourvedre from Cline, Contra Costa County, California:  We have a very smooth and well balanced wine — so much so as to be harmonious throughout with a soft cedar overtone on the nose.  Dark cherry and plum notes with no mineral notes but an attractive touch of chocolate ride on smooth tannins and acids.  This wine is truly varietal and a soft, easy drink.  It is a good example of the attempt by many New World wines to be fruit-forward and velvety smooth.

I hope you’ll taste the wines in this series along with me.  In the next blog a comparison with Bandol will give us a great introduction to this area of France, so you might want to wait and compare the two wines at the same time.