Tag Archives: terroir

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.

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.

Around the Edges — Chateau St. Michelle Syrah 2011, Columbia Valley

Chateau St. Michelle 2011 Syrah, Columbia Valley

Chateau St. Michelle 2011 Syrah, Columbia Valley

Where was it grown?  In most technical sheets published by wineries, where the grapes came from is omitted.  When you think of a wine being an expression of place, this is surprising.

Cabbage does not express its terroir.  Grapes can and do.  They keep that expression, if kindly treated, through the process of fermentation and élevage.  They lose it if they are man-handled and altered by winemaking interventions that go beyond astute and artistic adjustments.  This one shows aspects of place that are known to Washington Syrah.

We like to see the differences that Syrah, for example, shows when grown in gravel (Hermitage) or in soils that are richer, lighter, and more fertile (Barossa) .  Columbia Valley soils range from light loam to stoney, gravely terroir.  This Syrah, from Chateau Ste. Michelle, displays an acid lift on the edges of its flavors — a noticeable facet of some Washington Syrahs.  Main flavors of dark ripe fruits (just a splash of fresh raspberry) and judiciously added oak flavors (dominantly vanilla and spice) round out the core of the wine.

As it breathes more oxygen, notes of clove and toast emerge and the darker side deepens.  But as the wine finishes on the palate, the edges become more apparent.  It finishes with an acid lift that causes the mouth to salivate assertively and very pleasantly, and it does not lose this over several days.

It is not a sign that the wine is out of balance but a sign that the wine has kept something in reserve to show you.  Do you prefer a wine that is consistent from sniff to swallow, or one that develops and reveals different faces?  The lift around the edges is not dominant in the wine but an encore, with a flourish as the curtains descend on its performance that gives this wine character.  Without it, the wine is just another Syrah, albeit a good one.  Syrah from Washington State in certain soil types can exhibit this quality.  This is terroir speaking.

We could even call this lift a hint of citrus — to my taste, lime.  The beneficial factor is the cleansing the wine offers at the end of its journey and I’m ready for the next taste or bite of food before returning for another interesting journey.  Not all Syrah is the same, as Australia has proved, and not all are the same within one region, either.  Please explore as you experience wine.

Get yourself a bottle and see for yourself.  Ask yourself which representation of this classic grape you prefer — a Hermitage, a Shiraz, or a Syrah from another place: Washington?

P.S. The comments above are not a snapshot of the wine but an examination over a period of four days.

Rating: 90

Emotional rating:  High, where rich foods need a relief and yet the main element of dark fruit and oak are needed to complement.

Available almost anywhere.