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These wines are last, but not least

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By Celia Strong

So. Our last lesson for this year. And so many wines still to learn. That bodes well for next year, but puts the pressure on to tie up 2017 with a few that just shouldn’t wait. 

These are wines that we haven’t had time to get to, but wines we cannot miss. That being said, we’re going to take quickie looks at multiple wines today (and not in any order!). The more the merrier.

First, a new rosé: Délas Côtes du Rhône Rosé. This rosé is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault, all common ingredients in Rhône rosé wines. 

The first amazing thing about this wine is its color. If you just hold up a bottle in some light, it is a spectacular salmon pink, so pretty it almost doesn’t matter what it tastes like. But, it’s delicious too! It has pears, raspberry and pomegranate aromas and flavors with a fresh and delicate texture. It’s a real find for $11.99.

Second. Atmospheres. This is a bubbly from the Loire Valley. And one of the most fun to drink sparkling wines. Ever! It is made from Folle Blanche (80 percent) and Pinot Noir. 

This wine comes from the same area, the mouth of the Loire at the Atlantic Ocean, as Muscadet wines. All the grapes are grown bio-dynamically and hand harvested. It is medium bodied with peach, nectarine and vanilla notes. It is made with no dosage so it is bone dry. It’s also less imposing than Champagne, making this is one to drink and eat with. And drink all day and all weekend. For $19.99

Third. Domaine de la Fruitiere Muscadet. Always the perfect wine for oysters because the grapes grow in vineyards that are based on centuries old, decayed oyster beds. 

The wine is one of the crispest and driest with melon and peach notes, and a hint of brininess. It’s just perfect with the saltiness of oysters and other shellfish and seafood, and a change of pace from Picpoul and Albariño. For $13.99.

Fourth. Luigi Bosca de Sangre. A red blend from Argentina, the name “Sangre” tells you immediately this is a deeply colored red as well as big and bold vigorous and strong. 

It’s made from 70 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 15 percent Syrah and 15 percent Merlot. 

It’s not necessarily what we usually think of or drink from the land of Malbec, but this country does make other superb wines. And we tend to forget that. Sangre will go with any and every meat all year long. It is a steal for $24.99.

Fifth. Pol Roger 2004 Brut. A real Champagne. And a special one at that.

As a vintage wine, the ‘04 is leaps and bounds over the non-vintage brut, which is always a great Champagne. Pol Roger is still a family-owned company. (Pol Roger non-vintage brut is the Champagne that is poured at British royal weddings.) This vintage wine is more complex. It is multilayered with apple and pear flavors, brioche and mild nuts, all woven together seamlessly. It’s exactly what is needed to mark the end of one year and the beginning of the next. For $99.97. And limited availability.

Well, hopefully everyone sees an opportunity on our list? Or several? There are lots of chances left to try some new wines this year. And to start the new year with as well. Happy holidays!

Celia Strong works at Bill’s Liquor & Fine Wines on Lady’s Island.

Pink. Perky. Pinot Grigio.

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Editor’s note: The wrong Celia Strong column ran in the Dec. 1 edition. This is the correct version.

By Celia Strong

Wow! What are we getting into this week? Nothing to be overly anxious about, just another new wine. It is pink and perky and perfect for the holidays and it is an interesting new version of an ever popular grape variety.

By now, we should all know Pinot Grigio wines are white. Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the same grape. Just two versions of the name (one French, one Italian). 

The differences in these wines are caused mostly by where the grapes are grown and partly by what the winemaker does with his particular grapes. 

We need to review the differences in the members of the Pinot grape family. Pinot Noir is one of its red skinned members. It is probably the best quality grape in the family, difficult to grow, but capable of making very expensive and very long living wines. 

Pinot Meunier is also a red skinned member. It is known mostly for its use in Champagnes, although, on occasion, you can find a good still red wine made from it. Pinot Blanc is the white (truly green skinned) member. It makes fairly full-bodied, dry white wines. Unfortunately, it is usually left behind by the more popular Pinot Nour and Pinot Gris/Grigio. 

Looking at the color of the Pinot Grigio’s skin, it might be a bit confusing. “Gris” and “Grigio” both mean gray. But, the grape skin is really a grayish-purple- ish- rose-ish- blue-ish- brown-ish- pink-ish color. Kind of blotchy. Kind of between true red and true green skin.

So, are Pinot Grigio wines not supposed to be white? No. Of course they should be white. 

The first Italian Pinot Grigio wines were produced in the 1950s before some of the updated technology available today. Some Pinot Grigio grapes would grow and ripen with a more rosy tinted skin. And, the winemakers would use this to enhance the color and flavors of their wines. 

The resulting wines were copper colored. They were called “ramato,” Italian for copper. Sort of rosé, sort of not. For better or worse, the trend for clear, light wines and the technology to fine or filter out the copper color meant most of the ramato wines disappeared.

Since our wine is labeled as a “Pinot Grigio,” let’s look at its styles and flavors. 

The primary fruit flavors in Pinot Grigio are lime, lemon, pear, white nectarine and apple. There can be faint hints of honey, saline, clove, ginger and spice and bits of floral tones. And, always, the crisp fresh acidity these wines are known and loved for.

Our pink Pinot Grigio is Mirabello, from Adria Vini. This company is a winemaking venture established in 2003. It is owned by both Boutinot and Araldica Castelvero and is from the Monferrato hills in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy. 

The first reaction to this wine comes just from seeing its name. Pink Pinot Grigio? Really? Yes! We just have to get beyond all of our learning and realize new and different can be good. 

This wine is made from 87 percent Pinot Grigio and 13 percent Pinot Nero (Italian for Pinot Noir). The grapes are hand harvested, sorted in the vineyard and then destalked and crushed. 

Before pressing, they go through 12 hours of cold maceration with the skins for the wine’s color, then a gentle bladder pressing and a first fermentation in stainless steel. The Charmat process is used for a second fermentation that lasts two weeks, followed by eight weeks of aging on its lees. The lovely rosy pink shade of this wine comes from both varieties. (Sorry, though, no copper/ramato color.) 

It is creamy and fizzy in your mouth with flavors and aromas of red raspberries, strawberries and red currants. It has a lush texture and yeasty complexities.

As we go through the next weeks, full of holiday meals and parties and visits with families and friends and extra work and everything else that’s coming, a nice to perky wine is really going to be perfect. Sparkling Pink Pinot Grigio. For $8.99. Truly perfect! Enjoy.

Celia Strong works at Bill’s Liquor & Fine Wines on Lady’s Island.

Rare Pinor Meunier is perfect for holidays

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By Celia Strong

Glad we’re back together again. It’s been a while, but none of us have been going without wine. We just haven’t been doing any together. So, today, we’re going to enjoy a rare new wine.

Our wine is made from a much lesser known grape variety: Pinot Meunier. Although not phonetically correct, if you pronounce it “Moon Yay,” you’ll be close enough and not be tongue tied. 

This is a red variety that is a “cousin” in the Pinot family of grapes. In particular, it is a mutation, hundreds of years ago, from Pinot Noir. 

Pinot Meunier’s most popular source is the Champagne region, where it is blended with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to make some pretty amazing and pretty expensive wines. 

Actually, in recent years, Champagne producers have stepped up their public recognition of Meunier’s value in their wines. It gives them body and richness.

The name “Meunier” means “miller” in French. The underside of its grape vines leaves have flour-like dusty white down on them.

Growing Pinot Meunier is generally easier than growing Pinot Noir. Meunier buds later in the spring, which helps to avoid late frosts and ripens earlier, which helps it avoid early frosts. 

Its production levels are more reliable than either Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, growing 6 to 8 tons of grapes per acre. There are 26,000 acres of Pinot Meunier planted.

Compared to Pinot Noir, Meunier wines are lighter bodied, lighter colored and a bit more acidic. In Champagne, it gives fruitiness and aromatics to the wines.

Because it does not have the aging potential of either Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, Champagnes meant to be drunk younger have a larger percentage of Meunier. 

Besides the Champagne region, Meunier is grown, in small amounts, in the Loire Valley and Germany.

In California, Pinot Meunier is mostly used for blending in sparkling wines. Let’s face it, many California sparkling wine companies have their origins with French producers, especially Champagne houses. 

Meunier was first brought to California in 1850. And, originally, producers did try to make red wines from it. Since 1990, most of the 200 acres of Meunier are planted in Carneros, where the majority of high quality California sparkling wines are sourced from. 

Every once in a while, a winery will make some red wine from Meunier. Our wine this week is one of these few.

Bouchaine Winery is the oldest continuously operating in the Carneros district. They started making wine there long before the area was recognized for growing great Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. 

Boon Fly, a Missouri native who was the first to own this land, grew grapes and fruit trees in the late 1880s. In 1927, an Italian winemaker, Johnny Garetto, bought the parcel of land that is Bouchaine today. Beringer bought the estate from Garetto in 1962 and used it for storage and a blending facility until the Copelands and their partners bought what was a run-down property in 1981. They are the pioneers that started growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Carneros, after a lot of building renovating and soil restoration and replanting. They still own the 100-acre Bouchaine Winery.

Bouchaine Pinot Meunier is definitely a rare wine. For the 2012 vintage, only 879 bottles were made. The grapes for this wine were grown in Blocks 9 and 10 on the estate. These two blocks are cold and more susceptible to frost than the rest of the estate vineyards. 

With Pinot Meunier ripening before Pinot Noir, though, it works. The 2012 grapes were large and very full of fruit flavors. Also, with larger grapes, the ratio of juice to skins was changed. It means the wines are fruitier and juicier. The red fruit flavors of Meunier and the baking spice flavors are especially pronounced in this vintage. Forty percent of the wine was aged in French oak barrels for 11 months.

This is all good news, but, we do have some not so good. Bouchaine has decided to sell its Pinot Meunier only at the winery (their SRP is $40). No more shipping to anyone else to sell. 

For now, though, we are lucky. We do have a limited supply. So, if there is any time in the next few weeks when you might like a really good, rare bottle of wine for yourself or someone else, I recommend this Pinot Meunier. For $20.97. Enjoy!

Celia Strong works at Bill’s Liquor & Fine Wines on Lady’s Island.

Holiday wines from Parducci rule

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By Celia Strong

Okey dokey. Here we are again. More new wines. All with the upcoming holidays in mind. Have to love it!

Mendocino is our wine area for this week. This is a county that stretches across the northern borders of both Napa and Sonoma counties. Wine-wise, the Mendocino wine appellation is part of the much larger North Coast AVA. It is also one of California’s largest wine areas with some of the most diverse climates in its vineyards. There are 10 AVAs within Mendocino.

As a whole, Mendocino is one of the leading wine regions for organically grown grapes; about 25 percent of the 15,000 acres of vineyards.

The name “Mendocino” comes from the family name of a 16th century

Spanish explorer, Lorenzo Suárez de Mendoza, who explored the coast of this region. 

The first vineyards in Mendocino date back to the 1850s, in the Redwood Valley. Farmers chose planting vines as a second choice after not being successful in California gold mines. (Seems to me that maybe they didn’t know a gold mine when they saw one, what with the price of vineyards today.)

The range of climates in Mendocino make it a good source for a variety of grapes. The Anderson Valley is one of the coolest growing areas in the United States. 

There were a handful of wineries there, by the 1980s, but it was Roederer from the Champagne region of France that showed the potential for great sparkling wines. That means the Champagne varieties – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – do well in Anderson Valley. 

Around Ukiah, in the center of the Mendocino AVA, where the weather is warmer, Cabernet, Merlot, Petit Sirah and Zinfandel do really well. 

Just north of Lake Mendocino, the Redwood and Potter Valleys face each other. This is where the first vineyards in Mendocino were planted, within reach of the great redwood forest. Zinfandels do well here.

The oldest commercial vineyard in Mendocino County is Parducci Wines, our winery this week. 

Parducci (par-dew-chee) was founded in 1931 during Prohibition. Until the late 1960s, Parducci was the only commercial winery in Mendocino. In part, this was because San Francisco was more than 100 miles away. Napa and Sonoma wines benefited from their proximity to the city where their new American wines were showcased in shops and restaurants.

In May, Parducci celebrated its 85th year. With the release of a new wine, “85,” a special cuvée in honor of John Parducci. 

Parducci is based in Ukiah and owned and operated by the Thornhill family. This family continues the traditions started by the Parduccis with its award-winning wines and sustainable grape growing. Three times, in 2007, 2009 and 2014, the state of California has awarded Parducci Wine Cellars with the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award. (This is California’s highest environmental award.)

Like other producers, Parducci offers several tiers of wines. Ours, today, are from their Small Lot series. We are only discussing two, because these two are more suitable for holiday dinners. But, look out for and try others. 

With this series, they blend grapes from several select sites (lots). By blending they are able to produce more complex wines at really affordable prices.

Parducci Small Lot Sauvignon Blanc is our white. This wine is 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc, all from Mendocino County. It is full of lemon and tropical fruit (mangos, pineapple, peaches) aromas and flavors. Plus melons, and a subtle creamy texture along side the crisp, bright acidity. It’s terrific with vegetables, white pizzas, salads, and, yes, holiday turkey dinners. 

For $10.99.

The Parducci Small Lot Pinot Noir is a treasure. When you start looking at Mendocino County Pinot Noirs, there can be some price shock. The exact point of the Small Lot Series. 

This wine is all Pinot Noir, all from Mendocino County. It is aged for 12 months in oak barrels – 20 percent new French oak and 80 percent neutral oak. Each lot of grapes is fermented separately and then the blend is done. 

Juicy raspberry and strawberry aromas jump from your glass. And, then, you taste the berries and coffee and vanilla and black pepper and truffles and cedar. Just proves how parts of Mendocino are so well-suited for this variety. 

Try it with salmon, grilled poultry, pork and red meats. And turkey. 

For $11.99.

So, seems Parducci does rule. From Small Lots on up. 

Enjoy.

Celia Strong works at Bill’s Liquor & Fine Wines on Lady’s Island.

Tasty Pinots from Oregon

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By Celia Strong

Well, it seems that the holiday season is creeping up on us. Again. And that means we have to start thinking about appropriate wines for all the occasions that come over the next couple of months. 

The good news is that we get to try more new wines, and even get an extra glass or two (or bottle or two). 

Every year, it’s always a big, stressful decision. If we have choices ready for us, maybe some of that stress can be gone. 

For our wines this week, we’re going to Oregon, the Land of Pinots. That means mostly Pinot Noir, which is always an excellent choice for holiday meals. But, we will also discuss Pinot Gris, which is also an excellent choice, just for different reasons. And, for some of our meals, rosé wines from Pinot Noir. Hopefully, we remember some tidbits from previous holiday lessons and we can quickly review. 

Pinot Noir is a noble variety. It produces all the great red wines of France’s Burgundy region. 

Pinot Noir grapes, though, can be difficult to grow. They are susceptible to vineyard diseases and like to ripen in cooler climates where they can hang on their vines longer and develop more flavors.  

Oregon has soils and climates that are very close to those in Burgundy, so it is a perfect source for good Pinot Noir wines. Unfortunately, Oregon producers and their customers are aware of the quality of these wines which means, for the most part, they can be more expensive. 

Oregon Pinot Noirs are known for their cranberry and earth characteristics. But, they are also known for their black cherries, red cherries, strawberries, currants, plums, roses, black pepper, coffee and truffles. The cranberry is indicative of their slightly higher levels of acidity, compared to California Pinot Noirs, and the earthiness always makes them go so well with foods. 

Pinot Gris is one of the other Pinot grapes. Even though it is barely grown in Burgundy, it is one of Oregon’s most planted white varieties.

Being related to Pinot Noir, it, too, does really well in this state’s soils and climates. 

These wines are labeled as Pinot Gris because with these soils and climates they resemble the wines of Alsace more than those of Italy, where they’re called Pinot Grigio. 

These wines are, generally, medium to full bodied, rich, smooth, dry but not astringent, with floral and mineral characteristics with apple, pear, light lemon, milk and cream notes, too. 

Firesteed Wine Estates produces terrific versions of both these varieties. With its first vintage in 1993, Firesteed has sought to make premium quality wines that are still affordable. 

Pinot family grapes being what they are, Firesteed growers and winemakers have learned to adapt to the needs of their grapes and wines. The Oregon winery had the first sustainability program to be certified by the International Office of Biological Control.  

Firesteed makes several Pinot Noir wines, including an Oregon appellation. It also produces a Willamette Valley appellation. 

For this wine, they select grapes from several vineyards in Willamette. The wine is brimming with red fruit and baking spices aromas and flavors, along with cedar and earth notes. It is bold and beautifully balanced. And, it is aged in French oak barrels for about 18 months. For $8.99. (No, not a typo!)

Firesteed Pinot Gris is a secret gem. 

Also blended with grapes from several vineyards, this wine is medium bodied with true varietal aromas and flavors. Baked apples, pears and pear blossoms, melons, jasmine flowers and minerality bulge out of your glass. It bulges with texture, which makes it pair exceptionally well with food, and finishes with a bright acidity. For $9.99. 

Only one question remains. What happened to expensive Oregon Pinot Noirs? Especially when they are from the Willamette Valley and not just generic Oregon grapes? Do we really care? Here are two wonderful and affordable Oregon wines that we can drink as often as we please. Guess Firesteed did their job. And we win. 

Enjoy!  

Celia Strong works at Bill’s Liquor & Fine Wines on Lady’s Island.

Great wine comes from poppy fields

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By Celia Strong

Poppy fields, with their bright colored flowers, are an awesome sight. But, these fields also grow more than flowers. For us, this week, that means grapes for our new Monterey wines. 

Monterey County is known for much more than just great wines. There is Big Sur and its rugged coast, and Carmel’s bleached sand beaches, Pebble Beach and the rolling countryside just inland from the coast. 

All together, the steep slopes of Carmel Valley, the rolling hills of Salinas Valley, the warm sun and cool fogs from the ocean and the ancient soils all combine to make superb grape growing conditions. 

Over 200 years ago, Franciscan friars, in the Spanish mission of Soledad, planted the first grape vines here. 

None of these old vines survive, but today there are about 40,000 acres of vineyards. (All wine grapes!  No table grapes.) 

In the 1960s, Monterey County’s potential as a quality winemaking area was recognized. In 1960, Professor AJ Winkler, from UC Davis, published a report that categorized California grape growing areas by climate: Regions I through V. 

Monterey was in regions I and II, with comparable climates to Napa, Sonoma, Bordeaux and Burgundy. 

Wine grapes from Monterey are easily distinguishable. They all have intense varietal flavors, which means their wines have the true tastes of the grapes they are made from. 

Forty percent of the grapes grown are Chardonnay, with Cabernet Sauvignon being the second most planted variety. Besides Chardonnay, there are Pinot Noirs, Rieslings, and Pinot Blancs; and, from southern warmer vineyards, the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel. 

Growing grapes in Monterey can be easier than in other parts of California. The vines tend to producer buds about two weeks earlier. And, harvest starts about two weeks later. Doing the math, that means Monterey grapes have about a month longer on their vines. (Extensive canopy work, meaning the pruning and training of the vines to ensure the grape bunches have shade and cooler air temperatures from their leaf cover, is extremely important.) This helps develop the fuller, more intense grape flavors these wines are known for.

Poppy was founded by the Silva family in the Salinas Valley in Monterey. This family had worked in the wine industry for about 45 years, and, in 2003, they decided to start their own winery. They chose the name “Poppy” for the view of their vineyards where wild poppies grew in abundance. The golden Poppy is the state flower of California. So, appropriately, it is the name for wines that come from old winemaking techniques with new, California technology. Wines that are elegant and approachable for everyday. 

Poppy Chardonnay is 100 percent Chard, from the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA in Monterey. 

These vineyards have a steep slope, which is great for drainage, and eastern exposures for lots of sun and multiple ripening times for different plots. 

This is an elegant Chardonnay with aromas and flavors of sweet golden apples, ripe citrus, almonds, creamy yeast, vanilla and oak. The finish has a touch of minerality and bright acidity. For $12.99. 

Poppy Pinot Noir is also 100 percent its variety. These grapes come the the Arroyo Secco AVA. (The name means “dry river bed.”) In the canyons where these vineyards are located, they are shielded from the winds, which means they grow and ripen in slightly warmer temperatures. But, afternoon Pacific breezes keep them cool enough to lengthen their ripening time and develop their intense Pinot characteristics – fruit flavors with balanced acidity and deep colors. 

This wine has bright red fruit aromas and flavors (raspberry, cherry, strawberry, currant) along with baking spices, black pepper, vanilla and oak. Interestingly, this wine grows in your mouth and finishes with a vibrant, juicy texture on top of all its flavors. For $13.99

Poppy Cabernet Sauvignon is made from 100 percent Cabernet from Paso Robles, at the southern tip of Monterey County. In production, some of these grapes go through thermovinification. Talk about California technology!  

This process has some of the grapes going through fermenting with some other crushed grapes at very moderate temperatures, all to augment the wine’s fruitiness. 

Blueberry, blackberry, black cherry and black currant aromas and flavors abound in this wine, along with licorice, violets, cigar boxes, vanilla and mocha. It is medium to full bodied with soft tannins and great dimensions. For $13.99. 

So Poppy wines from the golden poppy fields of Monterey are all legal. And affordable. And plentiful. Enjoy. 

Celia Strong works at Bill’s Liquor & Fine Wines on Lady’s Island.

Chardonnay: There’s basic and not so basic

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By Celia Strong

With wines, it’s easy to wander down so many paths. Sometimes, though, we wander away from the basics and forget where we started. 

For sure, it’s always fun to find new wines. But, after years of looking and learning, a new wine that’s a basic can be just as good and rewarding. Which is what we’re going to do this week.

A Napa Chardonnay is pretty basic; certainly there is a specific style of this grape, but it’s truly basic. 

Chardonnay for years was the most popular and most planted white variety. Napa Chardonnays were favorites (and still are) for many wine lovers because of their intense flavors. 

Including oak, Chardonnay aromas and flavors are numerous and include lemon, citrus, apples, pears, tropical fruits, baking spices, vanilla, butter and toast, just to list just a few.

With barrel aging, and the secondary malolactic fermentation that takes place while the wine ages, a richer wine with a creamier texture is achieved along with vanilla, butter, butterscotch, baking spice and nut notes in the finished wine. 

Exact vineyard soils and exact winery treatments make each Chardonnay what it is. But growers and winemakers have a great basic ingredient to start with.

Oaked Chardonnays come from many wine regions around the world, not just Napa. In Napa, producers use both or either American and French oak barrels. Stronger flavors come from American wood. Quality barrels, of either wood, cost hundreds of dollars. (And, yes, there are cheaper woods and barrels, for less expensive wines.) In California, in addition to fermenting a wine in oak barrels and/or aging it in oak barrels, producers are allowed to toss oak chips into wine or add liquid “essence of oak.” It’s like “liquid smoke” for cooking. Obviously, the better barrels produce better wines. From better grapes. For higher prices. 

We deserve better, though, so our two Chardonnays this week are good Napa wines. Franciscan Estate Vineyards produces both.

Franciscan is located in Oakville, right in the heart of Napa Valley. They own 240 acres of prime vineyards. They were the first Napa winery to produce “Oakville” appellation wines, followed by Opus, Swanson, Silver Oak and Groth. 

But, their Chardonnay comes from further south in the valley: the Carneros AVA. There, they own 17 acres where cool breezes from the bay and clay and gravel soils yield Chardonnay grapes with outstanding structure and minerality.

The Franciscan Cuvée Sauvage Chardonnay is named for the wild yeasts that live on the grapes’ skins in the vineyards.

Traditionally, white French Burgundy wines always used the wild, savage, yeasts for their fermentation. In, 1987, Franciscan was the first Napa winery to do the same. 

This wine is 100 percent Chardonnay, 100 percent barrel fermented, and aged for 14 months in 94 percent new, French oak barrels. 

It is a light yellow color, with lemon, crême brulée, roasted hazelnuts and vanilla aromas and flavors along with pears and apples. 

It is a really rich wine with significant weight to it. It’s absolutely one of the icons of Napa. For $36.99.

Franciscan’s other Chardonnay is their Napa appellation. Also, 100 percent Chard and 100 percent barrel aged for seven months with its lies. Its barrels are both French and American, with 27 percent new. (Remember, new oak has stronger essences that transfer into the wines.) 

With its pale yellow color, this wine, too, shows honeyed pears and apples with a richness and creamy minerality. For $15.99. Or, while it lasts, $125 for a whole case of 12!

So, we have two expressions of Napa Chardonnay, both very typical and excellent, but just not necessarily for the same reasons. The treat is to be able to try them both. Enjoy.

Celia Strong works at Bill’s Liquor & Fine Wines on Lady’s Island.

It’s all in the packaging

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By Celia Strong

Sometimes, we get a present that is so beautifully wrapped that we hate to open it. Sometimes, as beautiful as the wrapping is, the present inside is disappointing. Sometimes, the wrapping is really not great and the present inside is spectacular. Sometimes, and this is the fewest number of times, the wrapping is great and the present is great. 

Well, guess what? It happens with wines too!  

Before we go too far down the packaging road, let’s get today’s lesson out of the way.  

To start, our wine comes from the Languedoc area of southeastern France; more correctly, the Languedoc-Roussillin area.

We have looked at Languedoc wines more than once. The area produces reds, whites, rosés and sparklings. 

With about 700,000 acres of vines, it is the largest wine producing area in France … and in the world. (In 2001, they out-produced the United States!) 

These are some of the oldest vineyards, tracing their history back to the ancient Greeks in the 5th century BC. Languedoc has belonged to France since the 13th century, and the Roussillon was acquired in the 17th century. 

There are multiple AC wine appellations in this region, the largest being Languedoc, formerly Coteaux de Languedoc. The best known is Vin de Pay d’Oc. They grow a multitude of grape varieties, including, but not exclusively, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Chenin Blanc, Picpoul, Bourbelenc, Roussanne, Marsanne, Muscat, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignan (the oldest vines in France) and Cinsault. 

Digressing for a moment, here’s a tidbit of Languedoc history that we haven’t learned before. The name “Languedoc” comes from the French words “langue” and “oc,” literally meaning the language of Oc. But, going back even further, the old French word for “yes” was the local word “oc.” Over time “oc”  became “oil” which eventually became “oui.” (Suppose that means we can stretch Vin de Pays d’Oc to mean yes wine? Mmmmmm.)

Anyhow, we have two wines this week: the Côtes de Roses Rouge and the Côtes de Roses Blanc. And, yes, the Côtes de Roses is a small area in Languedoc. 

Our wines are a red and a white from Gérard Bertrand, a company and wines that celebrate the Mediterranean lifestyle. 

Both wines are Languedoc AC. Both, too, are in an extremely special bottle (package), created by a young designer from the École Boulle. 

The Côtes de Roses red is a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. These grapes are harvested separately, as each one is ripe enough, usually the Syrah first. 

The crushed grapes are also macerated, for about three weeks, and fermented separately, so that the flavors and textures of each are achieved. 

The blended wines are lightly fined and stored about three months before their release. This wine is a brilliant ruby red color with intense aromas of ripe red fruits, particularly strawberries, red cherries and red currants. These are wrapped in a baking spice coat with mild tannins and a silky texture. This wine is generous and fleshy in your mouth.

It’s perfect for just sipping or with many styles of food. Truly, try it with everything! For $13.99.

The Côtes de Roses white, also a blend, is Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Vermentino. Like its red brother, the grapes for the white are harvested and fermented separately in order to achieve the distinct characteristics of each variety and where it grew. 

The grapes are cooled to about 46 degrees Fahrenheit before pressing. Cooler temperatures help enhance fruit flavors. Fermentation lasts 15 to 30 days. The finished wine is a pale yellow with gold tints. It has citrus and tropical aromas and flavors (lemon zest, kumquat, peach, tangerine, melon), floral notes like white roses (how apropos) and jasmine, pineapple and pear. All followed up with a refreshing mineral finish. Another perfect sipping and food wine. For $13.99. 

Bottom line is this: The bottles for these wines force you to pick them up. Hold them. Feel them. Stare at them. Fortunately, the contents are just as great as the packaging. 

Celia Strong works at Bill’s Liquor & Fine Wines on Lady’s Island.

A family affair

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By Celia Strong

Like so many other wines that we drink, the family they come from makes them what they are. We look at where the family lives, all the generations involved over years and years, what the patriarch (or matriarch) established as their style and standard. We’ve learned many of these names and depend on them. More than in other industries, wine is a family affair. 

Our family this week, and our wine, is Drappier. Let’s go back to 1604, when Rémy Drappier was born. 

Rémy was a cloth merchant in Reims. His grandson, Nicolas (1669-1724), was a public prosecutor during the reign of Louis XIV. But, finally, in 1803, François Drappier moved to Urville (a town in what is now the Champagne region) and began working in a vineyard. 

In the 1930s, in the vineyards of Urville, heated discussions took place. Georges Collot, the maternal grandfather of Michel, currently head of the Drappier company, planted Pinot Noir, for the first time ever in the region. 

Collot was nicknamed “Father Pinot.” 

History has shown how right he was. Pinot Noir is now 70 percent of Drappier vineyards and almost three quarters of the plantings for this part of the Champagne region. 

In 1952, André and Micheline Drappier launched their house cuvée brut, Drappier Carte d’Or, which is our wine for this week. But, we’ll come back to it. 

In 1957, the weather in Champagne was catastrophic. A frost destroyed 95 percent of the grapes. André introduced Pinot Meunier into their plantings, a variety that is far more resistant to cold than its more delicate cousin, Pinot Noir. 

Since 1979, Michel Drappier has controlled the winemaking for the company while André, with years of harvest experience, watches the vineyards and grapes. 

The company today owns more than 130 acres and controls another 123 acres through contracts. In 1988, they gained ownership of cellars under Reins that were built during the reign of Napoléon III. Michel and his wife have three children, born between 1989 and 1996. 

When the Drappier Carte d’Or is made, meaning when the reserve wines are blended to make a batch, three generations of the family sit in. 

Every time, they strive to ensure that the flavors and textures in each individual wine are maintained. Also, they are fiercely opposed to excessive use of sulphur. They use the weakest doses of any Champagne producer. That means that their finished wines show more natural colors, with coppery gold tones. And, the aromas are more pronounced. 

Their “liqueurs d’expedition,” the blend of sugar and wine that are added to each bottle to determine how dry it is, are aged in oak casks and then over 10 years in demijohns. 

With the added concentration and refinement from these “liqueurs,” Drappier’s finished Champagnes are more complex and purer. 

All of this is pretty serious and labor intensive. But it makes our wine, the Drappier Carte d’Or, a distinctive style of Champagne. This non-vintage cuvée is made using just the must from the first pressing of the grapes. Mechanical low-pressure presses and gravity helps to avoid pumping the musts and that helps to avoid too much oxidation. The alcoholic fermentation takes about two weeks. A total, natural malolactic fermentation takes place. And no filtering is done. Five percent of the wines are aged in oak barrels. 

The blend of grapes for this wine is 75 percent Pinot Noir, 15 percent Chardonnay and 10 percent Pinot Meunier, which explains why the perception is that it is a Blanc de Noirs. 

The Carte d’Or is the epitome of the Drappier style. It has rich aromas of stone fruits like peaches, and quince, which always comes to mind with this wine. There are also baking spice undertones. The wine is full and powerful.

It is definitely a food-friendly Champagne and goes with fish, like rolled stuffed filets; poultry, roasted or with a rich cream sauce; pork and veal roasts; omelets; and casseroles. It has Asian flavors, including soy sauce and Chinese five spice.

Seems the generations of this family have done us well. Our turn to share with our families. For $34.99. While it lasts. Enjoy.

Celia Strong works at Bill’s Liquor & Fine Wines on Lady’s Island.

A tale of two wines

in Wine by

By Celia Strong

If your memory is working, long term, you’ll remember bits and pieces of today’s discussion. 

Multiple years ago, we did enjoy a wine from the Margaret River area of Australia. Today, we have a new wine from there, from the same winery, in fact. And, because the wine we did years ago is still so good, and a newer vintage, we might just take a quick peek at it too. 

Margaret River “appellation” is located in the Western Australia wine region. There are about 200 wineries in the designated Margaret River area with over 12,000 acres of vineyards. (Interestingly, the first vines were planted in the late 1960s, which is fairly recently in the wine world.) 

The climate in these vineyards is very maritime-influenced, being right on the Indian Ocean. It has the lowest average temperatures of any Australian wine region, much like that of Bordeaux. 

The soil is predominantly gravelly or gritty sandy loam from the granite underneath it. The soil is very susceptible to water seeping into it, but, because of all the breezes (winds really) from off the ocean, it dries out quickly. That makes it good for growing grapes. Twenty percent of Australia’s wine production comes from this region. 

Our winery this week is Cape Mentelle, officially known as Cale Mentelle Vineyards. It is one of the oldest Margaret River wineries, founded in 1970, with just under 40 acres, and their first vintage produced was 1977. The winery’s name comes from a nearby cape. 

In the beginning, the winery experimented with different grape varieties – Shiraz, Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Zinfandel. In 1983, they won an award for their Cabernet Sauvignon: the best 1-year-old dry red wine. It established their reputation. 

For many years, their Cabernet was considered one of the best made in Australia. It almost meant, for many years, they concentrated on making red wines. 

In 1985, Cape Mentelle’s owner established their sister winery in New Zealand, Cloudy Bay. 

Huge success with the Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc turned their Australian side toward white wines. And the Cape Mentelle Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon was born.  

Hopefully, you remember this wine from our previous visit? It is 57 percent Sauvignon Blanc and 43 percent Semillon. 

Its style emphasizes the fruit forwardness of each variety and adds in the complexities and weights of blending the two. The wine is juicy clean with cassis, juniper berry, pepper, passion fruit and citrus; aromas and flavors; and honey notes and a creamy texture. 

Just when you think you don’t feel like a Sauvignon Blanc, there’s a perfect alternative. For $14.99

But, now, we get to discover our new, new wine. The Cape Mentelle Rosé is made from 71 percent Shiraz and 29 percent Grenache.  

These grapes come from their Crossroads vineyard, the only Grenache vines they own were planted there 13 years ago along with some Shiraz. 

They get more Shiraz from just north of here, in the Wilyabrup area. The soils are geologically-ancient with free draining sandy loams and a large percentage of lateritic gravel. The soils and the climate allow for the Shiraz to develop pepper notes and the Grenache to explode with complex fruit flavors. 

This is a beautiful wine, starting with the color that is like watermelon and rose-colored edges. The aromas and flavors include strawberries, cream, cranberries, roses, melons (including watermelon), lemon, basil leaves and citrus fruits. There is a fresh acidity, minerality and salinity.  

The complexities of this rosé let it pair well with a range of foods, from simple to elaborate. Sushi. Seafoods and shellfish of all sorts. Grilled, roasted, chilled, raw. Cream sauces. Tomatoes and tomato sauces. Vegetable dishes. Herb sauces. Cheeses. Gazpacho. Ceviche. And, my favorite, Sunday afternoon nibbles. 

For $14.99. Enjoy!

Celia Strong works at Bill’s Liquor & Fine Wines on Lady’s Island.

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