Finally we are breaking out of the winter doldrums. Spring is in the air! The smell of damp soil is one of my favorite Spring aromas. Laugh if you must, but I think that is why two of my favorite wine aromas is earthiness and barnyard. Wet earth is the pretext to the first floral aromas of the season, and the initial sign that blooms are around the corner.
As Spring descends upon us (I am ignoring that the Farmers Almanac says that we are in for a last snowstorm at the end of March), my eating habits begin to change, which affects my wine choices, as well. Recently I presented 8 wines as part of a wine education class at The Tasting Room Wine Bar in Reston. When I selected the wines from the wine menu presently offered, I was dreaming about Spring and so the line-up reflects that. Well, what does that mean? It means I leaned towards lighter, crisp whites, and one light semi-sweet white; and reds that are medium to full bodied, with prominent fruit, and not heavily oaked.
2007 DOMAINE ROBILN SANCERRE (SAUVIGNON BLANC), FRANCE
CHEESE PAIRING: FLEURS VERTS – GOAT CHEESE WITH HERBS
I began with a 2007 Sancerre from Domaine Robiln, and it turned out to be one of the two favorite whites from the line-up. For those of you not familiar with it, Sancerre is a wine region in the Loire Valley of France and Sauvignon Blanc is the main white grape. Hence, Sancerre on the label means Sauvignon Blanc in the bottle. Sancerre characteristics are typically crisp, meaning a good level of acidity, with aromas ranging from grassy, herbaceous, lemon/lime to grapefruit, and minerally/flinty. The Domaine Robiln was very lemon/lime on the nose, flinty, crisp and fresh – just the way I like it. It paired perfectly with the goat cheese. Why? Because fresh goat cheese pairs best with light white wines, and possibly light bodied reds, like a Beaujolais or Gamay.
2008 SANTIAGO RUIZ ALBARINO, RIAS BAIXAS, SPAIN
CHEESE PAIRING: FLEURS VERTS – GOAT CHEESE
Albarino has gained more notoriety in this country during the past 8 years or so. Rias Biaxas is the region in Northwest Spain that is recognized for producing great Albarinos. It has sometimes been described as Viognier-like, but I think that really depends upon the producer. The Santiago Ruiz was not very aromatic, and had less acidity than I expected from an Albarino, but it was still a very pleasant fresh tasting white wine that also paired well with the goat cheese. Another wine that I would categorize as a ‘deck sipper.’ I am a fan of Albarinos, especially during warmer months, and to pair with grilled fish dishes.
2007 TRIENNES, VIOGNIER, PROVENCE, FRANCE
CHEESE PAIRING: BELLETOILE – COWS MILK
I have presented this wine before, and it does not disappoint. It was the favorite white by the class participants. The owners of Triennes are two well-known vintners from Burgundy, who have revived a decaying vineyard in Provence and are now producing a lovely Viognier. I’ve written about Viognier before, and its growing popularity as a leading Virginia wine, and my admiration for its ability to pair with a variety of foods. I am a fan of Triennes for its balance and flavors; the nose captures apricot, violet or lavender, honeysuckle and importantly, the palate has just enough roundness to enable this wine to carry through as a dinner wine. The Belletoile, a triple crème cheese, did not overpower, but I would not pair it if the cheese had been left out longer and had developed a riper flavor profile.
2008 J. ORDONEZ BOTANI MALAGA (MOSCATEL), ANDALUCIA, SPAIN
CHEESE PAIRING: COMTÉ – COWS MILK
I chose the Moscatel for the line-up to make the point that semi-sweet table wines, when well-made, are one of the loveliest warm-weather apéritifs. And they are also a great pair with Thai, Moroccan, or Asian spiced grills of fish or chicken.
Semi-sweet table wines have received a bad rap because of some of the badly made American sweet table wines. Varietals like Moscatel, Muscat (as called in France), Moscato (Italy), Vouvray (Chenin Blanc grape) are examples of semi-sweet to sweet wines that have that characteristic because of the grape varietial, not a trumped-up sweetness. The key to a sublime semi-sweet wine lies in the balance of acidity, so that it doesn’t drink like syrup.
Sooo, back to the Moscatel. Anadalucia is a region in south of Spain that is widely known for Sherry production, and Malaga is right on the Mediterranean. This Moscatel had an aromatic nose of honey that leapt out of the glass, but a rather neutral palate; not quite as expressive as I would want it to be. The nuttiness of the Comté was a yang to the Moscatel’s ying.
2007 DOMAINE DROUHIN PINOT NOIR, WILLAMETTE VALLEY
CHEESE PAIRING: DRUNKEN GOAT – WASHED IN A FRUITY SPANISH RED WINE.
Drouhin is as big a name in Oregon Pinot Noir, as it is in Burgundy. This 2007 lived up to what we always expect from Pinot Noir, regardless of what region it comes from. Bright raspberry, sweet spice, mild toast was prevalent and the palate carried through to a fine finish. I chose the Drunken Goat Cheese to pair because it was washed in a fruity Spanish red wine, had an appropriate richness, and was aged enough so that it wasn’t tangy like a fresh goat cheese. Not that I am comparing a fruity Spanish red wine to a Drouhin Pinot Noir. The pairing point is that the feminine lushness of the Pinot Noir relates more to this cheese than, say, a cabernet sauvignon.
2006 SYRAH, RUDI SCHULTZ, STELLENBOSCH
CHEESE PAIR: PARMESAN – SEMI-HARD, COWS MILK
This is the first South African Syrah that I’ve tasted and I liked it! It had the bold blackberry and spice that we love about Syrah, and a medium body with a satisfying finish. The Parmesan was a nice pair. For those of you who care, Spectator gave this wine a 93, and I think its deserving of it.
2007 BOXWOOD WINERY, MIDDLEBURG, VA
BLEND: 42% CABERNET SAUVIGNON, 42% MERLOT, 16% PETIT VERDOT
CHEESE PAIRING: MONTASIO – COWS MILK
This was the favorite red of the line-up. I’m not just saying that because Boxwood hires me to give these classes! I took a ‘hands up’ poll at the end of the class to review the wines for feedback as to what were their favorites. And what about the 2003 Giscours? I’ll get to that next. The majority agreed that, yes, the Ch. Giscours is indeed an excellent wine, but not one they would drink as often as the Boxwood. Why? Well, pricing aside, it isn’t as drinkable now as the Boxwood. And the Boxwood delivers everything that you are looking for in a Bordeaux-style red…complexity, power on the nose of rich black cherry, plum and the inky, black currant of Petit Verdot that carries through to a rich mouthfeel. This wine has a solid structure and flawless balance. Recently, this wine received a Spectator rating of 88 (Very Good – A wine with special qualities), which is very meaningful for a first submission from an American winery. 88 seems to be the highest that Spectator typically gives a wine from an American wine region, other than California, Washington or Oregon. Glass raised to Boxwood and Stephane Derenoncourt!
2003 CHATEAU GISCOURS, MARGAUX, FRANCE
BLEND: CABERNET SAUVIGNON, CABERNET FRANC, MERLOT
CHEESE PAIRING: ST. PETERS FARIBAULT BLUE
The pedigree for this wine is clear. It’s located in the Margaux region, with many Premier Cru Chateaux; Ch. Giscours is a 3rd Growth property that dates back to the 16th Century; and 2003, although not the 2005 vintage, was a very hot growing season, which is always good in wine regions that don’t typically get long, hot growing seasons. It still has some chewy tannins, but not overwhelming to me; not as fruit-forward as the Boxwood, which is not unusual in many Bordeaux, even at 7 years old. But, the fruit was apparent, just not as up front. Certainly, it is an outstanding wine that will continue to benefit from further aging. Having said that, in hindsight, I would not have paired it with the Faribault Blue. The cheese was a tad too big for the wine and overpowered it. I, instead, would have done the Blue with the Boxwood and the Montasio with the Giscours. This can be a challenge, because so many people want to pair Blue cheese with a big, bold red…so, one tries to deliver what the people want. At first, I was going to leave out the Blue altogether….but, I caved in. Cheese professionals always recommend that those big Blues be paired with Sauternes/White Dessert wines, or the very least, a Port. So, keep that in mind!
The next class is on Saturday, April 10th from 3pm-5pm.
“Beauty is worse than wine; it intoxicates both the holder and the beholder” Aldous Huxley