Showing posts with label Southwest France. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Southwest France. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Pineau des Charentes

Imagine a night out on the town, walking into a hip club, a couple of lovely gents or ladies at the bar, whatever your preference. It's not too loud and everyone can hear as you, in your super-cool voice tell the bartender "I'll have an apricot schnapps on the rocks." What on earth are you thinking, pal?!?

Apparently if you were to commit the above atrocity, but in Paris, you would ask for a Pineau des Charentes. When I was thinking about writing this post I asked Bert of Wine Terroirs for his thoughts about Pineau des Charentes, and this is what he said:

I'm not speaking for the whole of France but I think it's quite objective to say that Pineau des Charentes is quite out of fashion. It is associated with the image of an older person's drink living in the countryside or rural areas. It is hard to know but I think that this type of drink was selling better in the 1950s' or 1960s'. But I am not in the best position to have an opinion because I haven't had one for years and I generally don't like too much these sweet, high-in-alcohol drinks.
Bert was careful to say that he doesn't speak for the French people, just for himself. But I think Bert speaks for the French people as a whole, so there you have it - Pineau is not terribly popular among the younger set in France nowadays. I remember sitting outdoors at a cafe in the 11th in Paris with BrooklynLady a few years ago and chit-chatting with the guy next to us. The waiter came around to take orders and I asked for Pineau (BrooklynLady and I were about to go have dinner) and this guy just started laughing, like I was some sort of an ape impersonating a man ordering a drink. But I'm here to tell you that Pineau is good stuff, and that anyone who appreciates a nice aperitif should check it out. Pineau wouldn't have lasted for four centuries if it didn't taste good. And here in the US, you don't have to deal with the social connotations of ordering Pineau, as you would in France. Maybe they order apricot schnapps over there...

Pineau des Charentes is made by combining 3 parts freshly pressed grape must (juice, skins, stem fragments - must is what you get when you press grapes) with one part Cognac of at least one year of age. Legend has it that this first happened in 1589, by mistake. A grower didn't realize that the oak barrel already contained Cognac when pouring in the grape must. Five years later a huge harvest required him to empty some barrels to begin aging new wine, and he discovered this lovely new beverage, fresh, sweet, and fruity, somewhat viscous in texture, and with the deep layers of flavor that come with Cognac. Those who got to taste the drink must have liked it, because the recipe has been perfected and Pineau des Charentes, as it is called, has been produced and consumed in huge quantities in France ever since.

Pineau des Charentes is a fortified wine, like Port or Lillet. The alcohol in the Cognac stops fermentation in the grape must, and the natural sugars in are left in the drink. Pineau can be red when it is made from Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and/or Cabernet Franc, but in the USA it is far more common to see white Pineau, made from a host of grapes including Colombard, Folle Blanche, Ugni Blanc, and Semillion.

The first time I tasted Pineau des Charentes was in France in October of 2006 at a restaurant in Chinon. The house aperitif that night was something built around white Pineau. It was served in a rocks glass with a single square ice cube, and it was just delicious - sweet, perky with acidity, with a really nice perfume. I asked what it was, and all I understood was Pineau. So I decided to buy some when I got home.

Pineau is sweet - no doubt about it, but it can be beautifully balanced if the acidity is there and the depth and body of the Cognac is there too. And here is something that should make you feel pretty good about Pineau: adding sugar to create the sweetness is strictly forbidden. It is only the sugar from the freshly pressed grapes that brings sweetness. In other words, growers must take care with their grapes and work carefully with nature in order to make Pineau. No shortcuts involving booze and bags of Domino.

That said, there are huge Cognac houses that make Pineau, and there are smaller producers whose focus is actually on Pineau, not on using Cognac rejects to make Pineau. These are the ones to taste, if you are curious. Try, for example, Birius, or Normandin-Mercier, Jacques Leteux, or Chevalier de Flourac if you can find them. But there are plenty more - ask and ye shall receive, if you're at a good wine or liquor shop, anyway.

I know that this post is a departure from the usual stuff that I write about, but the other night, a really chilly night, dinner was in the oven, the daughter was in bed, BrooklynLady was puttering around the house, and I felt like an aperitif. Nothing too strong because we would have wine with dinner, but just a little something. And then I remembered the bottle of Pineau I had stowed away. Chilled in the fridge for a half hour...what bright and completely enjoyable nip before dinner. So good that I felt like sharing with you, pal. I'm convinced that this is an under-appreciated drink. Try and see what you think.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cassagnoles Cuvée Gros Manseng Reserve

Early on this past summer I found a great wine from the Côte de Gascogne in the southwest of France. The fact that is cost $9 a bottle before case discount was gravy, because if you tasted this wine blind along with other summery whites and a plate of seafood, this one would do well in your scoring - no doubt.

This area of the southwest gets more props for Armagnac, the wonderful grape-based liquor (that offers a better value than you'll find in Cognac) than it does for wine. That's fine with me, as it means that the bracing and delicious white wines usually cost very little. The wine I came to love over the summer is made from grape varieties that are also used to make Armagnac - Gros Manseng, Ugni Blanc, and Colombard. They are also the names of famous spies from the resistance. That last statement is not true. But it should be.

Recently I saw another bottle by Cassagnoles, this one a reserve wine called Cuvée Gros Manseng. Hmmm, am I ready to take the single varietal step in the Côte de Gascogne? What happened to Colombard and to Ugni Blanc? Were they detained, captured, or worse?

2006 Domaine de Cassagnoles Vin de Pays des Côte de Gascogne Reserve Cuvée Gros Manseng, (about $12, should be easy to find). I am happy to report that Gros Manseng is carrying on quite well on its own in this case. The wine is entirely different from the other bottle. This is not the same racy citrusy seaside slacker. This is a medium bodied wine that is all flowers on the nose, some lemon oil too. Clean and fresh tasting, it's refreshing and delicious, and it would be great with heartier fish dishes, but also with things like roast chicken, vegetable stews, or even a simply prepared pork chop. This could easily be one of your three or four house whites for the next few months.

Southwest, huh? As the Euro begins to trade at over $1.50 for the next period of time, it's nice to know that there is a region of France making great wines at daily drinking prices.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

By the Glass

I used to call this kind of post "Recent Sips," but I think I like this better. Anyway, here are a few interesting wines from the past month or so that did not get their own post:

BrooklynLady and I learned our lesson, and went to dinner last weekend on our date (no more cooking classes for now). We went to Rosewater, a neighborhood favorite. They believe in using local and sustainably raised foods whenever possible, and the food is generally delicious. Great atmosphere too - small and intimate with flattering lighting, a knowledgeable and friendly owner/host, interesting and satisfying dishes - this place is a winner. Worth coming to from Manhattan, or when visiting NYC. Just take a look at their wine list! Someone cares about this list, you can tell.

BrooklynLady enjoyed her Goose Island Nut Brown Ale from Chicago and I was really impressed with my glass of 2006 Castello di Borghese Sauvignon Blanc (about $20, available at the winery or at Vintage NYC). A relaxed nose with citrus and grassy wisps, and a well balanced palate that followed through on the nose, with a round and smooth texture. This was a great sipper, and it paired very well with our cheese pumpkin risotto appetizer. I bet this would have done well in our recent blind tasting.

I ordered "Rabbit Three Ways" as a main (roasted rack, lardo wrapped loin, confit of leg) - what to drink with this dish? I went with a Gamay from the Loire Valley, a glass of 2006 O. Lemasson Touraine Le P'tit Rouquin ($14 or so, available at stores that carry Dressner wines). This is a challenging wine - I tasted it once before and thought it needed food. The nose is dominated by dried leaves and funk at first. Aeration brings about the cool minty red cherry fruit, but this is a foresty, potting soily wine, and it did go very well with the ever-so-slightly gamey rabbit.


2006 Jean-Claude Thevenet Mâcon-Villages Pierreclos ($15, readily available). A little Wine Blogging Wednesday research, if you will. This regional wine was dominated by minerals, Minerals on the nose, on the palate, all over the place. It had an almost quinine character to it. Maybe with clams on the half shell, but difficult on its own, not lots of flesh in this one.

2005 Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Les Tuffeaux (about $23, Dressner stuff again, might be sold out at this point but there are other Chidaine wines on the shelf - try one). I know that some people find this wine to be lacking in acidity. But I really like it. Yes, it's a fleshy and off-dry monster, but it has pretty quince and hazelnut aromas, herbal and woolly complexity, and a great mouth feel. I think this is a great aperitif, or maybe with young and creamy goat cheeses.

2006 Domaine des Cassagnoles Vins de Pays de Cotes de Gascognes Reserve Selection (about $12, should be easy to find - a Peter Weygandt wine). I loved the "regular" version of this Southwest France gem, so tasting the reserve was a no-brainer. This wine is 100% Gros Manseng and its much fleshier and richer than the "regular" blend, with a more floral perfume. Very lovely indeed, although I think the "regular" wine might be more distinctive. At $12 this is a great value too - a $15 beauty without question.


2006 Domaine du Vissoux Beaujolais Pierre-Marie Chermette ($15, readily available). My first 06 non-Cru (is that a word?) Beaujolais. More stemmy and rustic than the very ripe and easy 05, needs about an hour to show its stuff. When it does, it is lovely red fruit with foresty undertones. Very nice, but not in the same league as the 05.

2002 Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses (about $17, readily available). I love it when good producers hold back some of their wine and release it when it's a bit more mature. That's exactly what Raffault has done here. This is the top wine from that estate and 2002 was a good vintage in Chinon. If you come across this it's definitely worth a try. This is light to medium bodied wine with a complex nose of forest and fruit, with plenty of iron minerality. The palate is earthy and broad, with dark fruit and more minerals, maybe a bit of tobacco at the finish. It is graceful in texture and firmly structured at the same time. This could keep aging for sure, but it's fun to taste a high quality somewhat mature Chinon now...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Southwest France Revisited

Definitely not trying to steal Joe's thunder here, not that I could anyway. But after discovering this little lovely from Domaine des Cassagnoles for $10, I had to keep going, to taste more white wine from Southwest France. I like everything about these Southwestern whites so far. I like their vibrant citrus and exotic fruit flavors, their food friendliness, their light texture - perfect for summer, and I definitely like their price point at about $10. I also like the names of the grapes - they sound like French detectives. Have no fear, Detective Colombard is on the case. Or, careful buddy, better wipe away those prints or Gros Manseng will catch you.

I tried and so far failed to find wines by Domaine de Pellehaut as suggested by reader Steve L. who had this to say about them:
At the end of last year I was blind served a glass of Domaine de Pellehaut white and did a triple take. Man, I said to myself, I'd like more of this, figuring it'd cost about $20 a bottle. Well, it was more like $7 so I bought some, I told my family to buy some, etc. The 2005 is all gone I'm sure but the 2006 is starting to appear.
Joe also tasted the 05 Pellehaut and clearly enjoyed it. Marcus has a Southwest recommendation too, but I haven't seen that wine either so far. I did, however, notice a stack of $8 white wine at Chambers Street recently, and much to my delight, it was Southwest white. Here are my notes:

2006 Domaine Duffour Vins de Pays des Cotes de Gascone, $8 (Chambers Street Wines). Screwcap, which is fine by me, and a nice low 12% alcohol level. Strong cat pee smells upon pouring, but they relax a bit and blend with the grass and citrus aromas. The cat pee never entirely leaves though, and this is not something that I particularly care for. Yeah, I know that it's normal in many whites, expecially Sauvignon Blanc, but that doesn't mean I have to like it, pal. Pleasant light texure with clean citrus and rainwater flavors.

This wine is certainly pleasant, but it does not measure up to the Domaine des Cassagnoles. The Duffour began to fade about a half hour after opening, and never really had the depth and complexity of the Cassagnoles, which by the way was twice as good with 24 hours of airtime. You have to spend a full 25% more for the Cassagnoles, which in this case is 2 United States Dollars, and I recommend that you spend it.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Another $10 Wine, This Time French

I didn't love my recent foray into inexpensive Spanish white wine, but thanks to a few helpful comments, I have some new Albarinos to sample some day. Got me to thinkin' though, it's great to have a couple of go-to white wines in the summer, wines that are refreshing and flavorful, and low enough in alcohol to be easy with food, or to enjoy on their own.

There are not many wines I know of at the $10 price point that meet all of those criteria, but here is a great one. It's from Gascony in the south west of France, the region of Madiran and Jurancon. This wine is a Vins de Pays (Country Wine) des Cotes de Gascogne. Like a Cotes de Nuits in Burgundy is made with Pinot grapes from a range of areas within the Cotes de Nuits (possibly including grapes from famous villages such as Chambolle-Musigny), a VDP des Cotes de Gascogne is a wine made from grapes from all over of Gascony.

Domaine des Cassagnoles VDP des Cotes de Gascogne, $10 (Prospect Wine Shop).
Amy, the always helpful and deeply knowledgeable manager of Prospect Wine Shop in Park Slope recommended this wine. A blend of Colombard and Ugni Blanc (now that's an obscure pair, eh?) that is typical in the Cotes de Gascogne, this wine was perfectly lovely when we opened it. There was a distinctly passion fruit aroma and a nice dry citrus and mineral palate. For $10, I was quite impressed - the wine seemed honest, relying only on yummy grapes. How could I know the treat we were in for the next day?

The next evening we had the remaining half bottle while preparing dinner and the wine was completely delicious. It gained weight and complexity overnight. Isn't that strange for a humble country wine from some where in Armagnac-land? Does this mean that I have to open my $10 white summer sipper the night before I want to drink it? That would be annoying. Maybe we will simply drink the wine over two nights instead, although that won't be easy to do - it's really good and at 12% alcohol you can have a glass while cooking, another with dinner, and the last sip while doing the dishes.

Anyway...The next night the aromas still displayed plenty of passion fruit but balanced by something floral and citrus oil, like twisting a lemon peel. Pure flavors of wet rocks, citrus, and a bit of wax. Medium bodied with a nice texture. Bone dry, lip smacking, and yummy sipping, this would be great with seafood sure, but could definitely stand up to roast chicken or even lean pork loin. This is a serious wine for $10 and I for one, will be getting more. I feel like Joe up in Montreal drinks a lot of wine from Southwestern France - maybe he has tried this little beauty?