Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Just Another Day at the Office

Dinner at Chateau Lafite Rothschild in Bordeaux and a tour of the private cellar:

With my foie gras ravioli and main course of sauced turbot I drank a 1990 Lafite. Diane Flammand, one of the winemakers at Domaines Barons de Rothschild, explained that it was an unusually opulent vintage for Lafite and one of her personal favorites. (She‘s a fan of California wines, too) The 1990 Lafite was amazingly fresh for a 21-year-old wine and the feature I was most entranced with was its mouthfeel: so silky you hardly need to swallow, it just glides down your throat.

Had the rare opportunity to descend stone steps to the private wine cellar of Baron Eric de Rothschild in the main chateau he calls home when he’s in Bordeaux and was astounded to find dusty, cob-webbed bottles dating as far back as 1797. Besides its heady aromas, stimulating tastes and mood-softening properties, wine provides an amazing link through time. In the same room with me were wines that survived Napolean, The French Revolution and WWII when Nazis occupied the Lafite grounds and plundered most of the recent vintages. The family, knowing that the Germans were coming, hid many of the historic bottles.


Monday, May 16, 2011

The Sweet Life

The setting: Chateau Rieussec in Sauternes, France, next door to Chateau D’Yquem and considered second only to Yquem among Sauternes producers. It was a beautiful, bright May morning and the vineyard property -- a chateau for receiving guests, a wine production facility and more than 300 acres of neat, orderly vines with vibrant red rose bushes edging the vine rows -- all spelled quality with a capital Q. I tasted the 2002 and 2010 vintages to see how the latest vintage -- a stellar one according to reports -- tasted, and to see one that has been evolving in the bottle. The 2010 was luscious and heavily concentrated in the mouth with firm acidity but lacked distinct flavors and aromas that will emerge during the planned two years in the barrel before it is released. The ‘02 had a powerful honeyed nose with flavors of apricot , white flowers and that sumptuous mouthfeel Sauternes fans luxuriate in. Michel Negrier, export manager for Les Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite), which owns Chateau Rieussec among other properties in Bordeaux, Languedoc and around the world, told me that Europe is still the main export market for Sauternes, but Asia -- especially China, South Korea and Japan, is the real emerging market for Sauternes.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Spring for Rosés

Spring has sprung in many parts of the U.S. or will soon, so it is time for wine lovers to break out the dry rosé. I’m a firm believer that dry rosés can, and should, be drunk all year round, but spring is when the new vintage is traditionally released and the bottles usually don’t last long – at least not in my house.

They’re getting popular in other houses, too. Rosé sales grew at five times the rate that total table wine sales in the U.S. did last year. A pair of studies shows dry rosé wine growing rapidly as a category. Provence, in France, is the birthplace of dry rosé wine, the world’s leading rosé region and the fastest-growing French region in exports of wine to the U.S. market.

Dry rosé wines are often made from Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and other red grape varieties in much the same way red wines are, except their skins are allowed to soak with the grape juice for a short time – just enough to tint the juice a pink or light red color. They are not for aging, but for drinking fresh and young. Rosés are also known as rosado in Spain and rosato in Italy.

Here is a sampling of some roses that have crossed my tongue in the recent past. I recommend them all (or I wouldn’t list them). All reasonably priced, these wines possess another feature I love: they are all moderate or low in alcohol (13 percent alcohol or less). Enjoy.

* * * * Albrecht Brut Rosé, Non-vintage, from northern France. 100% Pinot Noir, dry, crisp, soft coral color. Sparkling wine made the same way as Champagne. $19.99

* * * * Lombardo Salvatore Nero D’Avola Rosado 2010. From Sicily.

* * * Cotes du Rhone "Belleruche," M. Chapoutier. Lovely, delicate, pale pink color. Made from Grenache grapes, medium weight, with red fruit flavors. Somewhat spare and lean, great palate-cleanser food wine. $12.99

* * * Bieler Père et Fils Rosé 2010 . Pale salmon color, medium weight in the mouth, substantial, yet restrained, palate. From Provence. $12

* * * Jaja de Jau Rosé 2010. The color of cranberry juice with flavors as bold as its hue. Juicy, vibrant fruit, tempered by acidty. From Southern France. $9.99

*** Gran Feudo Rosado 2009 From Grenache grapes, bright and fresh taste, lively acid, from Navarra, Spain $10

* * Les Deux Rives Rose 2010 From Southern France, pale in color, and lean and delicate. $9.99

* * Torrecilla Rosado The region this wine comes from, Navarra, Spain, is famous for its rosés. Lean and a bit steely. $10

* * Benessere Rosato 2009 Almost a red wine in color and weight, big palate, a touch of sweetness. Napa Valley. $16