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Wines of the Rhône Valley Classes March 19 and 26

Beginning Sunday March 19th, Esquin’s Arnie Millan will host a two-part series of classes

focused on the wines of the Rhone, their history and their effects on the world of wine.

The Rhone Valley is home to some of France’s greatest wines, from noble Hermitage in the North to celebrated Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the South. The ancient Greeks and Romans planted vines here. The Papacy moved here for a brief but unforgettable period, thereafter bringing great prestige to the area.

In short, this is a region with a wondrous past yet whose present achievements in wine attract the world’s attention. The wines of the Rhone continue to exert a huge influence on wines being produced around the world, from Washington State to Australia and South Africa.

The first class, on Sunday March 19th, features the Northern Rhone Valley from Cote-Rotie, Hermitage, Saint Joseph, Cornas to Saint- Peray.

The second class, on Sunday March 26th, explores the Southern Rhone Valley with its great villages dominated by the renowned Chateauneuf- du-Pape.

We will taste 8 wines per class from the region’s greatest appellations. Cost is $79 per class or $145 for the two-part series.

The classes will be held on on Sundays, from 1:30 – 4:00 p.m. in Esquin Wine & Spirits Sky Lounge at 2700 4th Avenue S., just South of the stadiums in SODO. Free parking is available in Esquin’s lot on the South end of the building.

Gift Certificates are available.

The Seattle Times has named Arnie “The finest Wine Mind in Seattle.”

To register, please click on the following links:

Rhone Valley Entire 2 Class Series
March 19th class: The North
March 26th Class: The South

or call Esquin at 206-682-7374 or email Arnie.

Domaine de la Pépière ‘Cuvee Granit’ VdP Loire ’14

PepiereThis little gem was recently brought to our attention, and wow – what a find. Domaine de la Pépière is in the Muscadet country in Nantes, in the western part of the Loire. Now, Muscadet is known for its white wines but here’s to hoping this lovely little red gets other vignerons in the area thinking outside the box a bit.

Cuvée Granit is a blend of Cab Sauvignon, Côt (aka Malbec), and Cab Franc on a vineyard with south-western exposure that is strewn with granite – hence the name. The other red vines are still relatively young, but the Cab Franc vines clock in at an impressive (for the area at least) 40+ years old.

Incredibly bright and focused, both on the nose and the palate, the wine showed off fresh notes of raspberry, cranberry, white pepper and pomegranate with enough darker, riper fruits on the finish to keep you interested coming back for more. Lots of minerality, as would be expected considering the soil, with a touch of smokiness and a hint of roasted peppers.

There’s clear structure to the wine and given time, this will settle down from its youthful pep into a very versatile food wine for the summer months. Serve this at cellar temperature when the weather warms back up and you’ll be the hit of the party.

Powerhouse Cotes du Rhone

Andezon Cotes du RhoneCotes du Rhone has been a go-to wine for me for years. It’s always an inexpensive, safe bet. There’s a lot of good examples I try regularly, but what does it take to stand out from the pack? Well, you’ve got to have some serious sizzle. I found it in the 2010 Andezon Cotes du Rhone.

The first thing that caught my attention about the Andezon (after realizing that it did not actually say Amazon) was the blend. Most Cotes du Rhones tend to be very Grenache-intensive. The Andezon,  however, is almost exclusively Syrah. (90% if you must know.) It reminds me of another favorite Cotes du Rhone, the Saint Cosme, which is an all-Syrah standout.

This is a big, brawny red. It doesn’t get it’s muscle from oak, though. The Andezon is fermented old-school, in concrete tanks. It’s delicious on it’s own but if you wondering what goes best with this delicious red, I’d say pair this bruiser with a bacon cheeseburger. Or anything you can eat with one hand so as not to obstruct a clear path to your glass.

My Favorite Affordable White Wine

Cassagnoles Gros MansengI have to admit that I’ve been going a little crazy over this wine. (And I’m not the only one here; it’s a staff favorite as well.) And sure, there are a few obstacles to overcome when recommending this wine. Like, for starters, the name: 2010 Domaine des Cassagnoles Reserve Selection Cuvee Gros Manseng Cotes de Gascogne. Yikes! I’m already flummoxed. But let me council some patience.

Would it help to say, “Oh, it’s a Gros Manseng from Gascogny.” Umm…maybe not so much. But, as a champion of the obscure and delicious, I’d probably just mention that I love the white wines from Gascogny. Most are a cheap and cheerful blend of such grapes as the aforementioned Gros Manseng along with Ugni Blanc (!) and Colombard.

But this Gros Manseng distinguishes itself from the charming wines of Gascogny by having an unexpected golden richness and texture. And then it finishes very refreshing. For under $15, it’s hard to think of a wine that has so many layers and so much interest. What a pleasure to drink! I love finding wines that surprise you like the Cassagnoles. Every time I open a new bottle, I think, “Is this as good as I remember it?” And then I take my first (of many) sips and my response is always, “It’s even better than I remember it.”

Enjoy this wine with an ocean of crab and/or a pile of lobster rolls. Because you just saved all that dough on wine, right?

A Loire Chateau Lunch

muscadet 054
I would have been content just to stroll through the gate at Chateau l’Oiseliniere, gaze at this stately, elegant, iconic home, and turn around and head directly back to the van. It was, however, an embarrassment of riches as I as able to tour the surrounding vineyards, sample a variety of delicious Muscadets, and have one of the most charming home-cooked lunches imaginable. If I didn’t have the photos to corroborate the previous two sentences, I might have though it was all a reverie brought on by my penchant for 19th Century French literature. So rather than gauzy, filtered memories, I have some sharp images to share.

muscadet 064
Above is proprietor Georges Verdier showing us that flowering has begun on the Melon de Bourgogne vines, which means that harvest should begin in about 90 days. Our lesson in grape growing over, it was time to sample the fruits of his labor. We found out that Muscadet is not only popular with those of us who love crisp, dry, refreshing white wines, but also (strangely enough) with felines:

muscadet 093
Our appetites primed by a dizzying array of bracing, memorable Muscadets, we went into the dining room to find a black olive, spinach, and onion tart with a whole wheat crust. This was no quiche; it had just enough binder to keep it together. I thought this would be more of a dish for a rosé, but the briny black olives brought out the salty, mineral-tinged aspect of the Muscadet. Brilliant.

muscadet 101
Next it was time for some white asparagus. I found myself counting my blessings for being in the Loire in time for both strawberry and asparagus season. We enjoyed a white asparagus custard surrounded by a green pea puree. Whoever says asparagus is difficult to pair with wine needs to try it with a richer-style, vegetable-loving Muscadet.

muscadet 106
We finished with langoustines atop a simple salad of garden-fresh vegetables. This seemed to be the penultimate dish to have with Muscadet, which is simply one of the finest wines to have with seafood, period.

muscadet 112
Here is the ubiquitous “I was there” photo that I include not out of vanity but to illustrate I have pen and paper by my side, dutifully taking notes. And although you can’t see it, I have actually glued myself to the chair I am sitting in, as I thought this was the most rational plan to make sure I never had to leave. Please forward my mail care of Chateau l’Oiseliniere.

muscadet 105

Full disclosure: I am a sponsored guest of the Loire Valley Wine Bureau on this trip.

The Bordeaux Report: 2009 and 2010

Bordeaux
Our own Arnie Millian is chronicling his recent European wine adventure, starting with Bordeaux. If you are curious about the heavily hyped and highly regarded vintages of 2009 and 2010 (and what Bordeaux from 1949 and 1961 tastes like), click here.

A Second Wine Worth a Second Glass

2000 Pagodes de Cos
I recently opened a bottle of 2000 Pagodes de Cos, the scond wine of the famous Cos d’Estournel in the St. Estephe region of Bordeaux. In the 1855 Classification of Bordeaux, it was designated a Second Growth. Regardless of the controversy over the subjective aspects of classifying chateaus, and the accordant lobbying and politicking, Cos d’Estournel is one the finest wines in all of Bordeaux. But its price leaves it out of the reach of the majority of wine drinkers. My advice would be to seek out the less heralded vintages, which often are ready to drink much earlier and can be had at a much lower price. (Avoid 2000, 2005, and the stratospheric pricing of the mega-hyped 2009.) But if you, like me, just had to get your hands on a pedigreed Bordeaux from a highly regarded vintage, seek out the second wines of famous chateaus.

The Pagodes de Cos comes from the same vineyards as the chateau’s first wine, but is produced from the estate’s younger vines. And the 2000 was a beauty. Medium-bodied and mature, it showed great secondary characteristics that only come out of a well-aged wine. Pure pleasure and elegance. If I had to quibble–and you know I will–I wished that it was a little more concentrated. I think that’s where you really get the difference from the younger versus the older vines.

A ton of wineries from all over the world offer second labels or “declassified” wines that allow you to experience the finest of vineyards and wine-making talent. Seek them out!

I would love to hear of your favorite wine discoveries; know of some famous names and places at (relatively) reasonable prices? Let me know in the comments.

Thoughts on 2009 Chateauneuf du Pape

CdP09
Recently I attended a tasting of the Southern Rhone’s most iconic wine, Chateauneuf du Pape, brought in by Wines of France. One of the lessons I have learned in the wine business is that when you find an imported wine you like, check out the back label to see who’s responsible. I have a handful of importers whose track record I trust implicitly, and I’d add Wines of France to that list. (Look for Alain Junguenet Selection.)

This tasting was a mix of barrel and tank samples as well as finished wine. I have to admit that it’s not easy to evaluate wines in their youth. Some I find very accessible and open; others very tannic and mysterious. It’s tempting to reward the wines showing well early, but then a few years down the road the more stubborn wines might be the stars of the vintage. And though I gleaned a lot from this tasting, keep in mind these are impressions. Having said that, let’s get to work:

Clos des Papes

The Deals: Relative bargains (for CdP) that should arrive under $45.

  • Domaine de la Charbonniere
  • Chateau Fortia “Cuvée du Baron”
  • Domaine Moulin-Tacussel “Tradition”
  • Domaine Tour Saint Michel “Cuvée des Deux Soeurs”(very rich and mouth-filling)
  • Cuvée du Vatican (a powerhouse)

Top Wines: Price be damned, these were my favorites.

  • Bosquet des Papes “Cuvée Chante le Merle”
  • Mas de Boislauzon “Quet”
  • Domaine Tour Saint Michel “Cuvée du Lion”
  • Cuvée du Vatican “Réserve Sixtine”

Most Unique Wine:

  • Mas de Boislauzon “TINTO” (100% Mourvedre CdP; 1000% delicious.)

Most Impressive Lineup:

  • Domaine Tour Saint Michel for the aforementioned bargain Cuvée des Deux Sours, the ultra-rich Cuvée du Lion, and the smoky, meaty “Féminessance.” (Cuvée du Vatican not far behind.)

Best non-CdP:

  • Domaine de la Charbonniere Vacqueyras: CdP-like quality, power, and distinction for under $30.

Still Life With Rosé

Seattle Restaurant Sitka & Spruce in Capitol Hill

Ah Seattle, such a bizarre day from you Wednesday. A sunny afternoon, bright light streaming through the windows of Sitka & Spruce. Then I return to Esquin and barely escape a torrential downpour. No matter, I’m still glowing from a lovely lunch with fantastic French wines from importer Kermit Lynch.

The pictured rosé, the 2010 Domaine Fontsainte Gris de Gris, was actually a tank sample, thus the DIY vintage labeling. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say it’s ready to go. Looking forward to the arrival of this rosé in about a month or so. I also really enjoyed the red wines Fontsainte produces in the Corbieres region of France. What was most interesting about these wines is that they go through a process called carbonic maceration. I know, it sounds a little…unsettling. But without getting bogged down in details, it’s a process most widely used in Beaujolais that helps produce very fresh, fruity, and lively reds. Do not fear the carbonic maceration!

Speaking of Beaujolais, we also sampled a few offerings from Domaine Dupeuble. Like the Fontsainte rosé, we tasted a few 2010 wines that were samples yet to be officially bottled. I had a similar reaction: “These are tank samples?!?” Could have fooled me. The 2010 Blanc, made of Chardonnay, was lively and bracing like a good Chablis; the Gamay, ready for a slight chill and to be passed around the table.

So are you ready for rosé yet?

Thank you to Kermit Lynch, Domaine Fontsainte, Domaine Dupeuble, and Cavatappi for providing lunch and the wines.

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