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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

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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.

Misunderstood, not forgotten

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By Celia Strong

As we’ve all learned, there is a world of wine terms. Some of them are easy enough to understand, and some not so easy. Some just make no sense at all.

And, some have more than one meaning. Today, we’re going to look at one of those. 

“Chablis” is the name of a town. It’s a legal French wine appellation. It’s a euphemism for CWW (cheap white wine). We’re going to look at the town and the French white wine that is made there. 

Chablis, the town, is located in central northern France. Its vineyards are officially in the Burgundy region, although Chablis is about 60 miles away from Burgundy. (The soil in that 60 miles is not as good for grape growing, so it was not included in the wine region.) 

The wines of Chablis are all whites made from Chardonnay. The soil in the vineyards is Kimmeridgian with strains of chalk. Kimmeridgian is mineral rich with abundant marine fossils (mostly oyster shells) that put lime into the soil. The wines made from the grapes grown here are leaner, brighter, drier and more mineral-ly than the Chardonnays from the rest of Burgundy. 

Chablis is known for its citrus flavors, white flower aromas and lighter bodied flavors of citrus, pear and herbs (including chives, thyme, tarragon) with minerality and salinity.

They are also known for their tingly finishes with mineral kicks and flintiness. While some Chablis wines do get a bit of barrel aging, many producers don’t use any wood so their wines maintain the special Chablis characteristics.

Chablis vineyards are classified into four tiers. From less to better to best: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru and Chablis Grand Cru. Petit Chablis is a small part of the area’s total production. They are lesser wines from slightly lesser soil, but with lower costs. 

There are 40 specific sites that can produce Premier Cru wines and seven that can claim, and make, Grand Cru quality wines. Of course, pricing adjusts accordingly. The more Kimmeridgian the soil, the better the appellation. (The seven Grand Cru sites in Chablis are all located in a line on one southwest-facing hill east of the town.) 

Plain Chablis makes up about 60 percent of the area’s production.

Our Chablis today comes from the Maison Joseph Drouhin. Joseph was from Chablis, but chose to start making wine in Beaune in 1880. Beaune is a small city further south in the Burgundy region and central to much of the whole region’s wine industry. 

Joseph founded his company with the highest standards of production and dedication to the unique subtleties of Burgundian wines. His descendants still run the company and make their wines under his guidelines. 

The family today owns the Moulin de Vaudon in Chablis, the watermill of Vaudon. And, since 2008, all of their Chablis wines are labeled with both the family name and the mill’s. 

They own 15 acres in Chablis, with soil that is Kimneridgian limestone and loaded with marine fossils that are embedded in a whitish mortar-like paste that might have actually been the bottom of the ocean hundreds of millions of years ago. 

Their vines here are an average 24 years old. They purposely keep their yields low, about 20 percent below what is legally allowed.

This allows for fewer grapes to get as much as possible from the soil, and deeper flavors in the wines. Harvest is done by hand and the pressing is slow and gentle. These wines are aged for a short period in barrels in French oak but never, never new barrels. Used barrels give softer more subtle nuances to the wines. 

This finished Chablis has a bright, brilliant color with hints of green. Its aromas and flavors are typical and traditional Chablis with lemon, herbs and salinity. In your mouth it is soft and lively at the same time. 

This particular vintage, 2015, was spectacular for white Burgundy wines.

So, hopefully, Chablis has a new meaning for us now, especially after we taste this wine. Unfortunately, though, we can’t depend on getting too much of this wine. Maison Drouhin doesn’t make it every year. They only have enough grapes for it in better vintages. For now, though, we can be Chablis-Vaudon fans. 

For $21.99. Enjoy.

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

Little rascal: It’s just a name

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By Celia Strong

Our wine this week is a “little rascal.” It’s a great find for summer weather and summer food. And, maybe, if we drink enough of it, we could be little rascals ourselves? 

We’re going to Italy for this wine, namely Northwestern Italy’s Piedmont region.

Sometime between 1246 and 1277, papers from the Casale Monferrato mentioned lease agreements for vineyards that were planted with “de bonis vitibus barbexinis,” as Barbera was called at that time. 

Today, Barbera is the third most planted red variety in all of Italy, after Sangiovese and Montepulciano. Barbera produces good yields: wines with deep color, low tannins and high acidity levels. (We need to make a note of the latter, here, because it plays a role in serving temperature for these wines.) 

Young Barbera wines have intense aromas, including fresh red cherries, raspberries and blueberries, blackberry and black cherry. Lighter style Barbera wines are known for loads of fresh fruit aromas and flavors. 

Barbera d’Asti wines, meaning made from grapes grown in the town of Asti (in Piedmont), are generally the lightest and most acidic of Piedmont Barberas, and are brightly colored and elegant. These are DOCG-level wines. 

Wines labeled Barbera d’Alba (from the town of Alba) are DOC and they are a bit fuller and heavier than those from Asti. 

In Alba, though, Barbera has to compete for the better growing sites with Nebbiolo vines, which are more profitable for growers and winemakers. Barbera del Monferrato wines, for lack of any better way of describing them, are a blend of these two styles. 

Barberas are considered very food-friendly wines because they are robust but still have soft tannins, are crisp, and because of their higher acidity levels, they are also smooth and round.  

They can be drunk younger than their Nebbiolo counterparts, and they cost less, which means they can be enjoyed more frequently. These wines go well with grilled and roast pork, inexpensive cuts of beef (flank steak, skirt steak, hangar steak, burgers), braised lamb, stews, Italian sausages, pizzas with meats and sausages, meat-filled pastas, heavier seafoods, poultry and duck, spaghetti sauce and cream sauces. Did we leave anything out? If so, it’ll probably work with Barbera too. The more tomato or cream in your meal, the better the Barbera pairs with them.

Since the lighter styles have more acidity, the wines can be chilled for half an hour or more to tweak their acidity. The best thing to do is to taste your Barbera with a chill and at room temperature and see where you like it best. 

Our Barbera this week is the Marchesi di Barolo Maraia Barbera del Monferrato. Marchesi di Barolo is a superb Piedmont producer. They own about 430 acres of vineyards in the Langhe area of Piedmont. Their cellars are located in the town of Barolo in the castle of the Marchesi Falletti di Barolo. The originator of Barolo wine!  

The Marchesi and his wife, the Marchesa Giulia, did not have children. When they died, there was no heir to the Marchesi di Barolo business. Their family assets were donated to charity and a nonprofit foundation was created in their name to help needy people in nearby Torino. That foundation still exists and wine sales from their vineyards still fund the charity. 

In 1929, Pietro Abbona bought the winery and, eventually, its vineyards. Pietro’s great grandson, the fifth generation, still operates the business. 

The Maraia Barbera del Minferrato is made from 100-percent Barbera. 

The grapes are handpicked and gently pressed. Maceration lasts eight days and the wine is aged in Slovenian oak barrels for one year. Its color is a lively, brilliant dark ruby red. The aromas are perfume-y with berries, currants and sour black cherry notes and hints of vanilla and toasted oak. The flavors are warm and robust, full bodied, smooth and balanced. 

This wine is known as “Maraia,’ which translated from the Piedmont dialect means “little rascals,” which helps us understand the sassy character of this wine … and maybe the sassy evenings we can have with it. Little rascals that we are. 

For $12.97. Enjoy.

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

Exploring the world of Pinots

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By Celia Strong

The world of Pinot Noirs is probably one of the most complex and confusing in the wine world. 

As we’ve discussed in the past, this a particularly difficult grape to grow and to make into wine. It is more susceptible in the vineyards to soil and climate subtleties and to vine diseases. 

For years, the icon for good Pinot Noir wines has been the Burgundy region of Eastern France. There is also a huge range of styles of Pinot Noir. 

But other styles have shown themselves over recent years in California. Oregon, Argentina, Chile and New Zealand. That’s bad news for wine drinkers because as more is learned about Pinot Noirs, their prices have risen. Sometimes, the higher prices mean something, sometimes not. Our lesson today has a “not” wine to learn.

Louis Latour is one of the very best producers of French red Burgundies and some of the best and most expensive Pinot Noir wines in the world.

Like other producers, the Latour company has expanded its resources to vineyards outside the official Burgundy boundaries. According to French wine laws, these vineyards may not be as good soil and climate sites, but that doesn’t mean they cannot make good wines from the grapes grown there. Really good wines. 

One has to trust the expertise of a company like Latour to know good soils and climates, and how to make good wines from them. It’s not like they’d put their centuries old reputation in jeopardy to make an “ungood” wine!   

For background, Maison Louis Latour has over 200 years of history in the Burgundy region. The family has been growing grapes since the 17th century. The house was founded in 1797. Today, they own 125 acres of vineyards, a massive holding in the region. 

In 1997, Maison Latour was admitted to the Hénokiens, an exclusive club for family owned businesses with at least a 200-year history and still owned and operated by the family and still with the founder’s name.

In 1979, the Latour company decided to make a Chardonnay wine from vineyards outside the official Burgundy region. The Ardeche area was chosen for its clay and limestone soil. For Pinot Noir, outside of Burgundy, they chose the Var region. This region was formed in 1790, at the time of the French Revolution. Latour’s goal was to make a top quality but still affordable Pinot Noir wine: Domaine de Valmoissine.  

This domaine is located on the site of an ancient monastery. The area is the truffle hunting capital of Provence. The vineyards are 1,640 feet above sea level with lots of sunshine during the summer months, but still cool nights and limited spring frosts. 

All of which lands us at our wine for this week: Latour Domaine de Valmoissine Pinot Noir. 

This wine is 100 percent Pinot Noir. The average age of the vines is 15 years. The vineyards have a southern exposure, with clay and limestone soil. But the vines are pruned to control their yields, which means more flavors in fewer grapes. 

Many of the grapes are hand harvested, which allows for more control of the maturity and ripeness of each and every grape, factors that show themselves in better quality wines.  

The grapes are fermented in open vats, and the wine is aged 10 to 12 months in stainless steel.  

The Valmoissine Pinot is elegant with remarkable finesse. It is fruity with cherry and berry flavors with hints of truffle and expresso. Absolutely true to its variety. It has a soft, silky texture in your mouth, and soft tannins that make it a food wine and a sipping wine. 

Some critics have said this is the best Vin de Pays Pinot Noir wine that anyone produces. And, even better, that some Burgundian Pinot Noirs would be lucky to taste this good. Pretty high bar to hit!  

So, our lesson is not only a new wine, but a new perspective. As good as the highest level wines are, most of us can be really happy with better than they have to be “lesser” levels. 

Truly, there are Pinots and then there are Pinots. 

For $11.99! Enjoy.

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

Crackling, sparkling wines make for warm weather imbibing

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By Celia Strong

In the world of sparkling wines, there are several levels of quality and many sources for different styles. One detail of sparkling wines that we haven’t covered much is the various degrees of sparkling that are made.

Not all sparkling wines are as sparkling as the others. That means that some have more bubbles than others. And it’s done on purpose.  

Champagne and traditional method sparkling wines have bubbles that are made, in the bottle, from a second fermentation. The CO2 that is a byproduct of the second fermentation, is trapped in the sealed bottles and, with time, absorbed into the wine. 

Less expensive wines can be made with a secondary fermentation done in a sealed tank. Then, the wine is bottled under pressure to preserve the bubbles. 

Even less expensive sparkling wine is gassed. Wines are placed in sealed tanks, a hose of CO2 is placed below the surface of the wine and bubbles are shot into the wine. The quality of the wines and the size of their bubbles are partly how we judge them.  

Beyond these basic methods, though, are others. Minimally sparkling wines can be made by stopping the first fermentation and bottling the wine. Then, when the first (alcoholic) fermentation finishes in the bottle, the CO2 byproduct is caught and held inside. But, the amount of CO2 is less, so the quantity of bubbles in the wine is smaller.  

Despite the fact that we’ve been trained to look for a lot of bubbles, there are advantages to having fewer. These wines are younger and fresher because they have only had one fermentation. And, they are less filling as we drink them. 

Truth be known, Champagne and good sparkling wines will never be replaced. It’s just sometimes that not-so-intense flavors and gasses are lighter and more refreshing.

These wines with less effervescence do have a name: Pétillant. (Pétillant translated from French means crackling and sparkling.) A bottle of Champagne, or a sparkling wine made by the same process, has about 75 pounds of pressure per square inch in it, roughly two times a car tire. Most crémant wines have about 35 pounds per square inch. Pétillant wines drop by about half again. Not a flat tire, but not a full one either. Hence, there is less full feeling and less burbing.  

Is it easier to drink more of? Definitely. 

Our pétillant comes from the Penedès region of Spain, which makes it a Cava – the Spanish wine law name for bubbly wines from this region. 

Ninety percent of all the wines labeled “Cava” come from Penedès. The word “cava” means “cellar” and refers to the place and the length of time needed for a second fermentation.

The main grape varieties for Cavas are Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada. 

Our Cava Pétillant comes from Avinyó, a family-owned winery with almost 100 acres of their own vines. They specialize in using the three main varieites for Cavas. And, they emphasize using estate grown grapes, which is very rare for Cavas. 

Their Pétillant is made from 80 percent Petit Gran Muscat (a distant relation to Moscato) and 20 percent Macabeo (also known as Viura which makes white Rioja wines).  

The vines are up to 50 years old. At Avinyó, they call their Pétillant “vi d’agulla,” the local dialect for “prickly.”  

The grapes are fermented in stainless steel and the bubbles come from a short second tank fermentation. 

It has bright almond and honeysuckle aromas with lemon peel flavors, a faint brininess and a stunning acidity. It is very dry and balanced in your mouth. And, note the bottle seal!   

This is a wine for all seasons, but especially warm weather. For $11.99. Enjoy.  

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

The unknown Sauvignon Blanc. At least almost.

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By Celia Strong

It’s very interesting. As much Sauvignon Blanc as we drink, it is rarely one from the Bordeaux region of western France. 

We know Bordeaux makes red wines, some of them the very best and most expensive in the world. Like Chateau Pétrus: 100 percent Merlot for $700-$800 a bottle. 

For white wines, Bordeaux is known for its sweet, dessert wines. Made from Semillon grapes that are harvested after “botrytis” (a mold that grows on overripe grapes, still on their vines, and reduces the ratio of liquid to sugar so the wines have more sugar) has grown on them. These also can be very expensive; $300 for a half bottle. (Dry and sweet white Bordeaux wines, together, are only about 7 percent of their total production.) 

Sauvignon Blanc, though, is a legal variety in Bordeaux. And, it is used to make dry white wines, both by itself and blended with Semillon and, sometimes, little bits of Muscadelle. (Muscadelle is a totally separate variety, not related at all to Moscato or Muscadet.)  

Because of the soil and climate of Bordeaux,  their dry white wines are different than elsewhere. In fact, there are two styles. 

First is light and fruity with big flavors and aromas  of citrus, grapefruit, lemon, gooseberry, lime, grass, wet concrete, honey, passionfruit and honeysuckle flowers. This style is usually made with a bigger portion of Sauvignon Blanc. 

The other is a rich and creamy style with a more oily texture in your mouth and baked apple and pear, crème brulée, caramelized grapefruit, orange zest, ginger, figs, lemon butter and chamomile aromas and flavors. 

Compared to Sauvignon Blanc wines from around the world, white Bordeaux lean more to citrus and floral, not grassy and herby. They are less tropical and peachy than California, and way less citrusy than New Zealand. The appellation on these wines is Bordeaux Blanc. 

When pairing a white Bordeaux with food, some acidity will work. But, too much will overshadow the wine. Basil, lime, avocado and garlic all do well with these wines. White fishes like halibut and cod, crab and lobster, cream sauces and butter sauces, pesto, arugula salad with lemon and Parmesan, asparagus risotto, sushi with avocado also pair well. (Hungry yet? Or thirsty?)

Our dry white Bordeaux wine is from Chateau Saint-Suplice. The chateau is owned by the Dubergé family. They have produced wines in Bordeaux for 300 years. 

There are 100 acres at the chateau, which is located in a village with the same name in the northern end of the Entre-Deux-Mers region.   

They make mostly red wine, a bit of rosé and their white, Esprit de Saint-Sulpice Bordeaux Blanc, the spirit of Saint-Sulpice. This wine is made from 80 percent Sauvignon Blanc and 20 percent Semillon. The grapes are all sustainably grown. Fermentation is done at a cooler temperature to maintain the wine’s freshness, vivaciousness and natural delicacy. It is dry and full flavored with a minerality and a long finish. Intense aromas and flavors of green grapes, honeysuckle, pineapples and mangos make it delicious. 

So, now we have a new Sauvignon Blanc. New source. New style and flavors. Don’t be afraid of the unknown. It could become your new best friend. For $12.99. Enjoy. 

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

A rosé by any other name is not just any rosé

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By Celia Strong

Just as there are many Chardonnays, or any other variety or category of wine, there are many rosés. 

They come from different countries, from different sources within one country, from different grape varieties, different winemakers and oOn and on. 

So, just because we just recently found a new rosé, doesn’t mean we can’t have another new one, one that is totally different, but still delicious. 

Our new rosé comes from a brand new wine area (for us, anyhow): the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. 

Formerly, this small area was part of Provence.  It is located in very Southeastern France, with part of its eastern border being Italy. It is an area of plateaus, valleys and hills with tourism (skiing) as its main industry. 

The area’s population is under 200,000 with most living on the valley floors. But, a third of the housing is second homes. 

It’s great for skiing in the winter, but summers are warm with thunderstorms and wind. White rocks are scattered all over the area in a thin layer of topsoil.  Some mountain flowers grow and there are some stunted trees. Deforestation and flooding has resulted in minimum of fertile soil. Small quantities of wine are made, but it is good wine.

Most French wines we’ve had have had AC designations, the top legal level of this country’s wines. A second level is IGP, or Indication Geographique Protégée. This level was known as Vin de Pays before the EU. 

These wines come from designated areas with slightly fewer restrictions and controls that the AC wines.  

Our wine this week is an IGP from the official Alpes de Haute Provence designation. It is called Les Hautes Palteaux and is made from 40 percent Syrah, 40 percent Grenache and 20 percent Cinsault. These are all typical varieties for this part of France and all grown in the designated area for the IGP.  

A quick look at these pieces of our wine might help us enjoy it more. 

Syrah rosés are usually deeper colored wines. They are bolder wines and can be served a bit warmer to enhance the style. 

They have white pepper, green olive, strawberry, cherry and peach aromas and flavors, and they tend to pair well with slightly spicy foods.  

Grenache rosés are more brilliant rose in their color. These have more acidity so they do well served more cold to add zip and freshness. They have ripe strawberry, orange, hibiscus and baking spice (allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon) notes. These wines pair well with traditional Greek food and flavors. Think feta cheese!  

Cinsault rosés are more pale colored with coral tones, and they are fuller bodied, heavier wines. They have floral notes (violets, roses) with cherries, plums and herbs. Grilled meats and seafoods go well with them. Each of these varieties brings their share to our rosé. 

Les Hautes Plateaux (which translates to mean the high plains) is salmon colored. It has an intense nose, with gooseberry and tart red fruits in the front. It shows purity and freshness with vibrant red fruit flavors, floral notes, a racy minerality and acidity. It is mouthwatering and juicy. Totally delicious, but still structured and food friendly. 

Usually it’s about $10. But Bill’s Liquor has it for only $7.99. Enjoy!

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