Gamay, Beaujolais Nouveau and Wine Tasting Adventures
First, let me start by saying that being Wine Esquire and having a baby are not always so compatible. Little baby fingers like to grab things they shouldn’t; and little baby lungs like to cry as soon as you sit down to type/sleep/drink wine/fold laundry/eat/shower, etc. I’m writing now with a baby on my lap. This is a first and he’s suddenly discovered that his life’s burning desire is to type! But we’re working through it, slowly but surely. One glass at a time.
I’ve also noticed that my palate is totally different post-Baby. Going wine-free for 9ish months clearly had an impact. My favorite big, smoky Cabs now find me smacking my lips and looking for a glass of sparkling water to cleanse my palate. Instead, I’m now gravitating toward lighter grapes like Pinot Noir, Gamay and Pinotage.
This evening’s glass is a lovely French Gamay; an easy drinker, perfect for my new sensitive palate.
Slight traces of sweet raspberries on the soft pretty nose make way for a soft, silky and jammy sip of wine with a touch of sparkle on the finish. Now this is what I’m talking about!
… fast forward one week and I’ve finally gotten the chance to get my computer open again…
The bottle was the 2015 Georges Duboeuf Juliénas Château des Capitans, 100% Gamay grown on the grounds of a 19th-century castle in the heart of the AOC Cru Juliénas, on a tiny plot of land known as Les Capitans. Juliénas is a village named after Julius Caesar; local vintners believe this area was home to the first vines planted in Beaujolais by the Romans during their conquest of Gaul.
Unbeknownst to me when I opened last weekend’s bottle of Gamay, it
was Beaujolais Nouveau release week! Never heard of Beaujolais Nouveau? On the third Thursday of November, the winemakers of Beaujolais, France release the product of their most recent vintage. The wine, having just been picked weeks before, is fresh, new and ready to drink right away. Georges Duboeuf essentially introduced the Beaujolais Nouveau holiday in the US in 1982, and quickly gained recognition with his iconic, colorful wine labels. He is perhapss the most well-known producer from the region, and he’s not just a fly by night marketing genius, his family’s history of wine making spans four centuries.
Beaujolais Day happens to arrive just in time for Thanksgiving every year… coincidence? I think not! Light, fruity Gamay is PERFECT to pair with turkey and all the fixins.
Given that it was a wine celebration week, I continued on the Beaujolais path and attended a fabulous tasting at Max’s Oyster Bar. This was my first wine event since Baby Wine Esquire and I have to admit, I was a bit rusty, but it was a great reintroduction to the wine world, confirming that I’m ready to be back.
The tasting started with the 2017 release of Terres Dorées L’Ancien by Jean-Paul Brun, paired with an excellent pate de foie gras. The wine was super juicy and screamed of bright cherries. Jean-Paul Brun ha been a staple in Beaujolais since the late 1970s, producing 400,000 bottles per year from grapes planted on his 40 acres throughout the region.
As the tasting moved on, with a delectable Soufflé au Homard, Bourride Pyramidale and Poulet en Fricassee Louhaannise, so did the ages of the Beaujolais. It’s important to remember that not all wine grown in Beaujolais is the unaged nouveau release; Gamay ages quite beautifully. The next selections were all beautiful wines, but the rusty WineySquire forgot to take home her notes. I’ll be better next time. Promise.
The important takeaway here is that Gamay from Beaujolais is a serious winner, with lots of stunners for less than $25. So if you haven’t shopped for Turkey Day yet, head out and try some Beaujolais!
My fellow bloggers know how difficult it is to get something published as it is; now with a little bundle of joy bopping around, it’s been proving even more difficult.  It was 9 “ish” because this baby took 41 weeks to make his world debut and by the end, he was fully cooked, and a little bit of wine did us both a lotta good.  And by “this evening” I mean last Sunday. #winebloggerproblems  Baby Wine Esquire is currently amusing himself by trying to eat his crinkly and squishy Very Hungry Caterpillar Book … #teething  A sample I received from Quintessential Wines. Merci!  If that’s the case, then you probably live under a rock!  Beaujolais is a region, not a type of grape. Roughly pronounced Beau-ju-lay.  Similar to Bordeaux’s En Primeur concept, only this wine is very drinkable right after harvest.  Speaking of which, I’m so excited for all the fixins. #sweetpotatoparsnsipsandgreenbeansohmy  So much so that I left the menu with my notes on the table. #amateur  Lobster Soufflé  Fish Stew  Braised Chicken  BTW, during the course of finishing this blog, Baby Wine Esquire became completely disinterested in his crinkly book, got super fussy and is now napping. #thankgodmybabylovestosleep
Sometimes I have really great ideas. Driving into New York City, by myself, during rush hour, on a Friday afternoon, did not happen to be one of them. I’ve never driven into the heart of Manhattan before, at least not by myself. Now that I’ve done it, though, I think I can pretty much conquer the world. If you find yourself having to do this, I found that blasting classical music helps to keep tempers calm.
But let’s get to the important stuff. Like why I was driving into NYC, by myself, during rush hour, on a Friday afternoon. It was because I was on my way to meet with Paul Smith, winemaker at Wirra Wirra Vineyards in McLaren Vale, Australia. I’d met Laura at the Wine Bloggers Conference out in Lodi earlier this year and she works for Negociants USA, an Australian-focused wine negociant and distributor. They brought Paul in to New York to do some tastings and events, and I was lucky enough to meet up with him before he got back on a plane to head back Down Under.
Our meeting was supposed to be at 4 p.m. I had snuck out of the office left work early to drive in to the city and when I left, Waze told me I’d arrive by 3:00. That would give me enough time to check in to the Library Hotel, freshen up and make my way to Flinders Lane, an Australian restaurant in NYC. Well, time passed and the traffic increased, and soon my ETA was 4:45. I let Laura know I’d be a wee bit late, but they were very understanding. My arrival time ended up being around 5:30; I was a bit stressed, but once I arrived, caught up with Laura, met Paul and started tasting the wine, all was well again in the world.
Paul described Wirra Wirra’s McClaren Vale as the place where the vines meet the sea, and told me that Wirra Wirra roughly translates to among the many “gum” or eucalyptus trees.
Founded in 1894, the winery was started by an eccentric cricketer named Robert Strangways Wigley. His wine business lasted until the early 1920s but then fell into disrepair after his death. Cousins Greg and Roger Trott revived the vines and began making wine again in 1972 after rebuilding from the ground up. Since then they’ve become a household name in Australia, with their Church Block red blend becoming the number one by-the-glass wine in Australia.
As you may have guessed, the Church Block vines are grown around a little church; with such a long running history, it has become a tradition for families to come to the winery each year to taste and purchase each vintage. The blend of Cabernet, Shiraz and Merlot spends 15 months in a mix of French and American barrels. The result is a luscious, smooth and velvety juice. The nose on the 2013 Wirra Wirra Church Block is almost flowery, the mouthfeel is gorgeous, and at $21.99, it’s not going to break the bank. So far so good, Wirra Wirra.
The storytelling that accompanied the wine was top notch and next up was the 2014 Catapult Shiraz. With a drawing of a catapult on the label, I knew the story was going to be good. Founder Greg Trott had the brilliant idea to build a medieval trebuchet, or catapult, for a very important and serious purpose: to hurl wine bottles at neighboring wineries for a bit of good fun. He figured that if he built one, so would his neighbors, and they could build a bit of a tourism draw to the catapulting wineries of the McLaren Vale. Surprisingly, none of his compatriots thought it was a good idea and the plan never materialized. His Wirra Wirra successors, however, revived the idea and built a three story high Catapult in 2010. While no wine bottles have been flung, watermelons are tossed with regularity.
The 2014 Catapult Shriaz was lovely. A bit of raisins and berries with a slightly spicy finish. A gentle and delicate Shiraz that was a very easy drinker. Interestingly 1% of the blend is Viognier, which may play a part in the delicacy of this wine. Paul told me how these grapes are pressed before the tannins get too hard and then spend 12 months in French oak.
I asked Paul how he got into winemaking, and another enchanting story ensued. He started out as a young man wanting to be a sheep herder, so he packed his bags and moved far away from home. Paul tried to get into vet school but didn’t have the grades, he also didn’t have the money to get home. His friend found him a job with Francois Jacquard, a well-respected Australian winemaker, pruning grapes before the harvest. His friend told Francois that Paul knew what he was doing, which was a bold faced lie. After observing Paul’s work for a bit, Francois took him aside and said, “You should be called Edward Scissorhands, you cut everything!” From there, Francois took Paul under his wing and taught him to prune. Paul fell in love with the agricultural process and wine has been part of his life ever since.
We tasted several more wines, including the Dead Ringer Cabernet, one of their flagship lines. A delicate nose, definitely not a fruit bomb. A hint of tobacco with dark, deep plum fruit and nice chewy tannins. Great texture and structure. Leathery with a long finish. This wine spends 18 months in a blend of new and old French oak. The history of the name Dead Ringer peaked my lawyerly interest. This line of wines started out in 1989 being called Angelus, and it is still known this way in Australia. But Château Angélus in Bordeaux took exception to the similar sounding name once it made its way over to mainland Europe. Lawyers were hired, a cease and desist letter was sent, and Wirra Wirra’s Dead Ringer was born, because it was a proverbial “dead ringer” for the wine formerly known as Angelus.
We wrapped up our tasting and said our goodbyes. Laura and Paul were both flying out early the next day and I was tired from my strenuous journey. I headed back to my lovely abode at the Library Hotel.
I was able to catch the tail end of their evening reception in the Reading Room with free flowing wine, bubbly, cheese and sweet treats. My inner book nerd went crazy for the hotel’s collection of 6,000 books, organized according to the Dewey Decimal System. Each floor of the hotel is a Dewey Decimal category, and each room features a collection of books on a unique subject.
Lawyer Footnotes  It didn’t, however, help with the sweaty palms.  The girls from Negociants USA hosted what I heard was a wild Aussie wine tasting after-party back at their house during #WBC16. Unfortunately, my lameness factor was on high though and I missed it. #SleepyHead  #lawyerlife  It also told me that I’d only have to make TWO turns off the West Side Highway in order to get to the parking garage. TWO. Not TWENTY TWO. TWO. #RushHourReDirect  This may have slightly exceeded the “Fashionably Late” concept.  Officially added to the Wine Bucket List.  The folks at Wirra Wirra like to say it’s the “one church that unites us all”. #cheeky Over the course of our wine tasting, it quickly became apparent to me that having fun at Wirra Wirra is a top priority for everyone, winemaker included. Their website suggests pairing the Church Block with “Beef, mushroom and red wine pie.” WHAT IS RED WINE PIE AND WHY HAVE I NEVER HEARD OF IT BEFORE?! Don’t worry, I found a recipe. You’re welcome. Husband will be making this for dinner in the very near future. I’ll let you know how it goes.  Such a good idea.  With some inspiration from this crazy English Lord who likes to muck about by catapulting flaming pianos and CARS on his estate. What?! #NBD
 Something about dangerous broken glass … #liability.  A tour of the vineyard will apparently reveal random divots here and there, evidence of past watermelon tossing.  This in itself is so awesome.  The name Angelus, of course, had its own history. Back in the 80s, a Wirra Wirra winemaker had swapped a few cases of wine for a ¾ ton bell that came out of a church in Adelaide. They hung the bell at the vineyard to signify the start to the work day.  ANOTHER twist to the story is that in China, one of Wirra Wirra’s bigger markets, the wine is known as the Golden Bell, because apparently anything with “Dead” in the name won’t sell. #InternationalBusiness
I’m pretty sure that Rosé Cruises are the best way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I found myself aboard not one but two boats in Greenwich last weekend and another in NYC yesterday. I don’t know if #CharmedLife is really an appropriate hashtag, but the past two weekends have been spectacular.
Last weekend’s boat jaunt took me and some friends around the Greenwich Harbor with 90+ Cellars. The weather was epic, the wine was divine and the houses along the waterway were seriously out of this world. 90+ has quite a few Rosé options available at the moment, a Sancerre, a Cotes du Provence, Lot 33 from Languedoc, Rose de Pinot Noir by Earthshaker and of course, the new big thing, Lila Rosé in a can. We’re talking about some seriously affordable Rosé people, and they’re widely distributed so, unless you really live in the boondocks, you should be able to grab yourself a few bottles, er, cans.
The second boat I hopped on wasn’t part of the day’s planned itinerary, but sometimes you just have to walk onto a 101-foot yacht and request to take some photos. You may just get a glass of champagne out of it …
Thanks Mr. P.
Yesterday’s Rosé cruise was the much anticipated La Nuit en Rosé which took us around the Hudson River’s Upper Bay. We cruised past New York’s iconic skyline, the Freedom Tower, Brooklyn Bridge, and then finally, Lady Liberty herself, all while sipping on the loveliest of Rosés. Whispering Angel, Bernard Magrez, #rosesvp and Chandon all made an appearance. The weather was gorgeous, if not a bit breezy; the weather gods have certainly been smiling upon me. If you’re in the NYC area and missed out again, you need to examine what you’re doing with your life and make sure you get onboard next year!
I don’t have any boat cruises planned for next weekend, so if you know of any, or if you have a seaworthy boat, let me know. I’ll bring the rosé!
Until the next glass, Cheers!
Lawyer Footnote  No trespassing sign notwithstanding. Note I am not recommending that you break the law. But, I’m also not your lawyer. #LegalDisclaimer  Taking a page out of the Queen’s book, weighted hemlines may have been a good idea. #FlyingDresses  Many thanks, Universe.
[If you’re just jumping in, take a look at my previous post for some context on #FancyinFrancey and how I won the most epic wine trip to Bordeaux ever.]
We got an early start on Day Two of our Bordeaux wine adventure. With James Bond set to arrive at 8:15, I set my alarm early and woke to a spectacular sunrise over the vines. Was this real or was I still dreaming? Apparently it was real. After tearing myself away from the beautiful scene outside my window, I got myself ready and went down to breakfast. No big deal, right? Well, when you’re living Château Life, breakfast is served in the grand dining room by Chantelle, complete with classical music playing from the heavens. She made our coffee to order and we feasted on a spread of croissants, bread, jam, honey, cheese, meat, smoked salmon, yogurt, granola and the fanciest juices ever. A girl could really get used to this.
We collectively sat there for a few minutes, soaking it all in, pinching ourselves to see if this was real. When we realized it was, we finished up, got ourselves out the door and enjoyed the trek to Bordeaux City where our guide Bruno greeted us with a huge, mischievous Cheshire Cat grin. Bruno had our route planned out so that we would get out at major sites then take a walk to our next destination where Mr. Bond would meet us to take us on the next leg of our journey.
Bordeaux City is a beautiful European metropolis filled with rich history, old world architecture, cobblestone streets, and beautiful people. The modern electric tram system is the first of its kind to not need cable extensions, and a good majority of the city is tram and pedestrian only, making it easy to wander around safely with a group of winos like us. Turns out that fifteen years ago, Bordeaux was a blackened mess, with dirt and grime caking the ancient limestone façades. Thankfully, its newest mayor, Alain Juppé, came in and cleaned things up, literally, and the city is now a sparkling star in the heart of Bordeaux wine country.
We drove up to a beautiful gated chateau with an ancient olive tree in the courtyard. The gorgeous foyer opened to a decadent dining room, with soaring ceilings and outstanding Baccarat chandeliers. I’ve eaten some fancy meals, so I wasn’t really fazed by the two Michelin Stars everyone kept raving about. Having a Michelin Star is like being Zagat rated right? Uhmmm, no. The difference was quickly apparent.
Our tasting menu began with petite quinoa and spicy mayo bites and a bread trolley with a DOME of butter, yes, a dome, which they shaved off into perfect curls topped with a smattering of sea salt. The trolley featured basket after basket of artisan rolls and baguettes, some delicately inlaid with squid ink, some with cheese and bacon, others perfectly plain.
For wine we began with a 2013 Chateau Fombrauge Bordeaux Blanc, and again, to say that these whites from Bordeaux are underrated is an understatement. The wine was bright, beautiful and complex. Stone fruit, citrus with a touch of minerality. Bon.
Our first course was a deviled egg. Now, my mother in law’s holiday specialty is deviled eggs, and I just don’t do them. But when this deviled egg came out, my mouth dropped. To start, it was beautiful, but what was on the inside was even more beautiful. Resting within the egg was a healthy portion of super fresh King Crab, and on top was a healthy dollop of caviar. Did I mention there was GOLD sprinkled on top? Yes. Actual Gold. I was done. Best.Deviled.Egg.Ever. And with the wine? Magnifique!
Each course was exquisite; perfectly prepared, beautifully presented and utterly delicious. Fast forward a few courses and we were all basically losing it. The “La Canette,” which was explained to us as “young lady duck,” had me absolutely melting. I mean seriously MELTING. Especially when I took a sip of the 2006 Château Les Grands Chênes. Deep, rich, flowery and gorgeous, it was like mouth heaven. The young duckling was perfectly cooked, nestled in local foie gras, with two dainty pallets of foie gras to the side. To know me is to know that I love foie gras. I was in liver heaven. My stomach was full. How could I go on?
I almost couldn’t, but then we started getting sweet. And why have one dessert course when you can have two? We began with what I dubbed “Anguilla in a Glass.” Passion fruit and rum served atop a sweet custard. Gorgeously light, and since it was really meant as a palate cleanser, I realized it was calorie free. With this delight came a 2010 Sauternes. Flowery, thick and beautiful, with the slightest hint of mustard.
After the palate cleanser, over came the dessert trolley. Adorned with a chocolate egg the size of my torso and a smattering of petit fours, our waiter prepared several plates of the sweetest sweets for us to taste. I couldn’t pass up a macaroon or two, because just like croissants, it’s really hard to get good ones over here. We wrapped up with a selection of coffee and teas and a wee spot of Armagnac, because, when in France, why not have an Armagnac?
After lunch we hobbled over to the Institut Culturel Bernard Magrez, or the Magrez Art Institute. Mr. Magrez is passionate about the arts, and the Institute is a place where up and coming artists have a chance to shine. Housed in another gorgeous chateau across from the restaurant, elegant chandeliers graced every room.
The exhibit boasted countless pieces in a variety of mediums, and the creativity expressed was truly awe inspiring.
Next up on our schedule was a tasting tour of Millésima’s cellars, a gorgeous, winding cavern that carefully watches over more than two and a half million bottles of wine. The Millésima team pulled out all the stops for this, and you could tell they had a blast, not only in the planning, but at the event itself. Throughout the night we literally wandered through the cellar, stopping at strategically placed tasting tables where wines were poured and gourmet chefs prepared small bites.
Each stop featured a new activity; at one area, darts, another, an art lesson, we competitively sifted for gold, and then, the finale, a photo booth.
In the hall of magnums, we were each presented with an award for our blogging efforts, and a final hoo-rah of Sauternes and perfect desserts capped off the evening. Though exhaustion had begun to set in, we all left beaming, fully sated and extremely happy.
Hard to believe this was only the first full day. The next morning we’d be off to the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UCGB) official En Primeur tasting, followed by lunch and a tasting at Chateau d’Yquem. Yes. You read that right. Chateau d’Yquem.
Until the next glass! Cheers!
Lawyer Footnotes  This means Day Two.  Our chauffeur. There were several over the course of the week, all of them impeccably dressed like their famous namesake. It was pretty epic.  Coffee in France means espresso. I had to specify Café au Lait (coffee with milk), and by day two, Chantelle knew what I wanted before I even asked. S’il vous plaît.  In fact, I did get used to this. Breakfast at home has been rather depressing.  A bit later than the schedule called for, every morning, without fail. #slowpokes  It all worked out well except my infamously poor choice in vacation footwear blew up in my face during the first hour of our trek. #wedgesarentgoodforwalking  At least according to Bruno, who was very, very proud of his city’s achievements.  Although all the people on bikes can be a little dicey. #bicyclebell  Did you know? Bordeaux? 15 years ago? #insidejoke #sorrynotsorry  At only 4,000 Euros a night, I’d say it’s a steal.  The newest Tesla model was also parked out front. #bougie  This was our first glimpse of the Baccarat/Magrez partnership, and we’d be exposed to even more later in the week. #bottlesizedglasses  Read a quick breakdown of the difference. Essentially, Michelin restaurants are TOP NOTCH, Zagat restaurants are awesome. Also, the top Michelin award is three stars, not five like I assumed, so to get a 2 star rating, within ten months of opening, is a true gastronomic feat! Bravo Messers Magrez and Robuchon!  I could have been happy with just the bread and butter.  French for good, but when you say it, it almost sounds like “Boom.”  Hellooooo caviar. I love caviar. Why don’t we eat more caviar?  A sprinkling of gold on your caviar is par for the course when you’re living #ChateauLife  Mother-In-Law, are you taking notes?  Just found out that “foie gras” translates to “fat liver”. I probably have a fat liver now. #worthit  This is real guys.  We’ll get to Sauternes very in depth in a later post. For now, it’s enough to know that Sauternes is divine.  Trolleys are the best. We need more trolleys over here across the pond.  The menu described this course as “escorté de mignardise”. Google translate says this means “escorted cuteness”. #lostintranslation  It was about this time in the meal that we learned about Windy Pops from our British friend Mike. They may also be referred to as Whirly Pops. “Windy Pops” is a cute way of saying passed gas and/or burps. Mike had a lot of windy pops that week, but we still love him.  Literally. We were hobbling. Me not only because of my inappropriate footwear choice for the morning’s tour, but we had all just eaten our body weight in Michelin Stars.  Even the dogs in France go to art museums. #cultured  I almost couldn’t eat anything because of our amazing lunch, but then a truffle pasta came out and that went out the window. #YoureStillEating? #insidejoke  My darts hit the board, maybe not in the area where they were supposed to, but I’d call that a win.  Like I needed any more macaroons, but like I said, when in France…