Thursday, May 14, 2015

Back in La Bourgogne - May 14, 2015

Welcome to Cépage et Cuisine, Mary’s and Brian’s blog about wine, food, people, and culture.  We’re back in Burgundy, a place we’ve come to love for so many reasons, a place where we’ve established friendships, relationships, and not only because of wine.

Above is our plane in Detroit.  I’m fascinated by the sheer size of these things, so big it has two jet bridges for boarding and deplaning.  We can both testify to the fact that the on board experience is the same as for every other plane, pretty much jammed in there.  Sleep was almost impossible. 

We departed at 6:30 p.m. Eastern and arrived Charles de Gaulle at 8:00 a.m. Paris time.  After a bus transfer to the train station in downtown Paris, Gare de Lyon, we trained down to Dijon where we picked up a car and grabbed lunch, including a refreshing Saint-Véran, a Chardonnay from the Maconnais region of Burgundy.  Sorry I don’t have a photo.  

We finally arrived at Magny-les-Villers, our destination, at about 4:30, very fatigued but happy.  This photo shows our gite, which is translated basically to cottage.  It has all the comforts of home, including laundry facilities and full kitchen.  We've learned to travel light and do laundry, shop for a few groceries, and occasionally cook at home with local ingredients.  Marie Zecchini, her son Florent, daughter Severine, and three grandchildren were waiting for us and greeted us enthusiastically.  Bonjour, bonjour!  They’ve become our French family.

I went for a stroll around Magny to unwind after the long journey.  The top of the blog shows a photo of the village from a hillside.

Domaine Cornu is just around the corner, steps away from the gite.

Magny is a wine village, but lots more is going on.  It’s tiny, population 200 (deux cent habitants).  Here’s a back yard with fruit trees and roses.

And strutting around is this free range friend.

Irises are prolific here in Burgundy and are well ahead of ours in Michigan.  I love purple irises.

Here’s the church, the oldest part built by the Romans.

And here’s the village school, which doubles as the city hall and community gathering spot.

As strange as it might seem after such as long trip, Mary cooked for dinner.  That’s because we were even less motivated to go out to a restaurant.  Plus, today is a holiday in France, Ascension Day.

Mary emailed Marie a shopping list ahead of our arrival and Marie had everything on hand for us.  Saucisse aux herbes, champignons blanc, poirve rouge, oignons, ail, pommes de terre, which is sausage with herbs, white mushrooms, red bell pepper, sautéed onions and garlic, and potatoes.

Marie picked up a nice cheese for us, Saint Marcellin, a soft cow’s milk cheese from the town of the same name near Lyon, a couple of hours south of us.
We asked Marie to get a recommendation from Alex Cornu at Domaine Cornu.  We’ve visited him before and actually hoped to walk around there and see him today, but I guess he wasn’t available on the holiday.

Alex suggested a Côte de Nuits-Villages from a vineyard right here in the village, Le Clos de Magny.  It was very young, a 2012, and had fresh, bright aromas and flavors of red cherry, raspberries, and strawberries, good acidity, a smooth texture, and paired nicely with dinner.  It wasn’t highly complex, but it was a solid red Burgundy that hit the spot for a couple of tired travelers.

That’s our post for today.  Thanks for reading us at Cépage et Cuisine.  We’ll be here for a week or so, then take a couple of days to transition to Bordeaux.  We’ll post up a blog post whenever we can with photos of our adventures.  In the meantime,



Sunday, March 1, 2015

Spring Is On Its Way

Baby, it's cold outside! Hi, everybody. Welcome back to Cépage et Cuisine, Mary's and Brian's blog about wine, food, culture, and people.

February here in Detroit was the second coldest on record. We've had several days recently with low temps below zero. Our temp this morning, Feb 28, 2015,  was -3° F, or as Mary says, "There's a minus in front of our 3!"  I took the photo you see here yesterday while I attended a meeting in downtown Detroit.  The view is across the Detroit River to Windsor, Ontario.  You can see the river is frozen almost completely across. The joke is that in winter you can walk from Detroit to Canada. The Coast Guard has an icebreaker that keeps the channel open for shipping. Quite a sight to see.

Here's a montage of snow photos on the deck in our back yard, digging out the barbecue grill. The neighbors probably think I'm strange, and they are probably correct.

Ok, that's the context for the title of the blog entry. Spring is on its way! In just a few more weeks, baseball season opens! I got an email announcing pre-arrivals of Bandol rosé at Morgan and York in Ann Arbor, one of our favorite shops for wine and cheese.

If you're one of our Michigan readers (either one of them) or visiting Detroit or Ann Arbor, Mary and I recommend visiting Matt Morgan and Tommy York. They're great folks with great products, a fun place to hang out and browse on Saturday afternoons.

So, thinking warm thoughts, Mary and I decided to have our own little private blind tasting of a couple of rosés from Provence. As you may remember from earlier posts from our travels, Provence is a region in southeast France on the Mediterranean, very sunny and warm. It is especially known for its rosé, refreshing and fruity, most popular during warm weather and with light summery fare. We enjoy it all year but we enjoy it most in warm weather.

There are lots and lots of producers of rosé in Provence. They are usually refreshing with brisk, food-friendly, lip-smacking, mouthwatering acidity and bright flavors of red fruit, readily available and not too expensive.
Here are the wines we compared.  Domaine Tempier is a prestigious estate in Bandol, a particular part of Provence. Their rosé is in high demand and quite expensive for the category, about $45. La Vieille Ferme is produced in another Provence area called Ventoux. It is widely available in wine shops and supermarkets, delicious, and a great value at $8. We try to keep a bottle in the fridge at all times. Rules to live by.

So, the question is, tasted side-by-side without knowing which is which, can we tell them apart?  And even if we can, is there enough of a difference to justify the price of the Domaine Tempier that is more than five times the price of the La Vieille Ferme?
Ok, right off the bat, we could easily tell them apart. The color difference is less noticeable in the glass than in the bottle, but the experience on the nose and in the mouth of the first wine, which turned out to be the La Vieille Ferme, was very characteristic. The aromas were of fresh berries and melon, perhaps some white floral notes. The palate was light-bodied with brisk acidity and flavors of fresh raspberry and strawberry, maybe a little bit of a spice note. The balance was really nice and the finish was short, barely over 10 seconds. Finish is the amount of time the flavor remains noticeable after swallowing the wine. The cépage, the blend of grapes, is Cinsault, Grenache, and Syrah. The alcohol level is 12.5%, quite modest.

By contrast, the Domaine Tempier Bandol showed quite a different profile. The aromas were more floral and with a noticeable savory quality, a little gaminess, no doubt a reflection of the cépage, which is 50% Mourvedre. The other grapes in the blend are Grenache, Cinsault, and Carignan. The palate was round in comparison with the La Vieille Ferme, a bit lower in acidity, and clearly had more weight and density, even while finessed and elegant in its presentation. Red fruit notes were there, but riper in flavor, and there were also savory herb and spice characteristics.  The balance was beautiful, it is a much more complex wine, and the finish was almost twice as long. The exact alcohol percentage isn't labeled, but I'm sure it's higher than the La Vieille Ferme, indicating the grapes were riper when harvested.
So, what can we say about the comparison?  The Domaine Tempier Bandol is clearly a more complex, interesting, and serious wine, a wine that deserves attention and not simply consumed without thought, and a wine that pairs with serious food, what the French call vin gastronomique. Here's Veronique and her mother, LuLu at Domaine Tempier in 2013.

The La Vieille Ferme Ventoux is easy to drink, not too complex, doesn't require a great deal of contemplation, pairs with just about anything, just drink it down. Heck, keep a bottle in the fridge and sip on a glass while cooking. Throw a splash into whatever's on the stove. It's inexpensive and delicious.

What about the cost difference?  Is the Bandol really worth five times more than the Ventoux? Probably not, but it's a value judgment that varies from person to person. Mary and I treat the Domaine Tempier as a bit of a special occasion wine, enjoyed on a weekend when relaxing, perhaps with some friends out by the barbecue grill or around the table, enjoying good food. At $8, the La Vieille Ferme is a terrific value. If you buy a case and get a 10% case discount, it's about $7 a bottle. Just can't beat that. So, for Mary and for me, both wines have their place, both bring pleasure, both enhance food, and both can be shared with friends. Isn't that what wine, food, culture, and people are all about?

Before you know it, we'll be enjoying flowers in the back yard and relaxing under the umbrella over the patio table!

That's our post for today. Thanks for reading us at Cépage et Cuisine. Post a comment and let us know your thoughts. And, as always, in the meantime,



Tuesday, December 9, 2014

New York Finger Lakes - Day 2, November 29, 2014

Hi, everyone. Welcome back to Cépage et Cuisine, Mary's and Brian's blog about wine, food, culture, and people. In this post we're describing the second day of our Thanksgiving weekend visit to the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. The photo here shows the view from our bed and breakfast, looking down the slope of the lawn to a vineyard on the shore, and across Seneca Lake to the west side.
This view is from the driveway with a vineyard right next to us and Seneca Lake right in front. Across the water you can see vineyard sites on the other side.

The snow hasn't been a problem at all for getting around. The roads were fine. In fact, we think the wintry landscape enhanced the beauty of the experience. Bundling up against the cold, going into the warmth of winery tasting rooms, and getting to know the wine producers while looking out the windows at the snow, the evergreens, and the lake was wonderful.

Instead of the continental breakfast at the B&B, we opted to check out Berta's Cafe in nearby Burdett NY. What a delightful little town and what a delightful little cafe it is.

It's a homey place with a gas fireplace warming the one room.

The furnishings appear to be whatever Berta could find second hand, but the coffee was hot and delicious, a man was strumming a guitar, and we soaked up the ambience of a snowy late-November Saturday morning.

Berta makes everything from scratch, including the tortillas for breakfast tacos that were just delicious. She patties the tortillas from masa de maiz and cooks them up crisp on the grill, puts a fried egg on them, and tops them with refried black beans, chopped peppers, shredded cheese, and guacamole.
After breakfast we made our way over the ridge that separates Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake (pronounced kee-yewga) to Sheldrake Point, on the west side of Cayuga and practically right on the water.
The tasting room was large and modern. Like the producers we visited the previous day, the Riesling was their best effort, but they also had a nice Pinot Gris, the only place where we saw it, so we bought a few. Once again, we saw a clear trend that indicates the area is great for Riesling, but the producers are struggling a bit with almost all the other varietals. There seems to be a tendency to emphasize quantity over quality is some ways, which is an indication of a wine region still maturing.

It's a beautiful place and we'd like to visit again sometime.

After dinner the evening before, I read an article in the New York Times about an old state psychiatric hospital and the unmarked cemetery where patients were buried. By amazing coincidence, it was within a few miles of us, Willard State Hospital, so we drove around until we found the site. It closed in 1995 and is a sad and tired-looking place now. I wish I had made a few pictures.
We stopped at Wagner Winery on the basis of a review I read, but were completely unimpressed. Not only were the wines unremarkable, the visit was like rushing through an exhibit at an amusement park. Enough said about Wagner.
Down the road a piece and after a turn onto a long, bumpy dirt road that makes its way down the hill closer to the water's edge, we found Silver Thread Winery. I was actually glad it was harder to reach because I thought it might attract more serious-minded visitors and a higher quality product. This time, we were rewarded.
Paul and Shannon Brock took over the estate a few years ago and are part of the emerging trend of quality-minded producers in the Finger Lakes. We enjoyed the chance to chat with Paul while we tasted the wines. He is earnest and dedicated to his work. This image shows part of the vineyard on the slope down to the lake.  The narrow, deep lakes have a moderating influence on the vineyards, cooling them during the summer growing season and protecting them in the winter from the harshest freezing temperatures. The winter temps are actually warmer next to the water than farther away.

Our last winery stop of the day was the improbably-named Bloomer Creek Vineyard Winery. Here we found another producer that resonates with what we seek in a wine grower and winemaker, someone who is willing to sacrifice quantity for quality, to take care of the land, and let the place express itself in the wines. Kim Engle farms the vineyards, picks the grapes, makes the wines, and served us in his simple tasting facility overlooking Seneca Lake.
Kim limits yields to better concentrate and ripen the grapes. He limits use of herbicides and insecticides. He doesn't inoculate with cultured yeast, preferring instead to allow ambient yeast to initiate fermentation, which takes longer to complete. His wines are vivid, compelling, precise, interesting. In addition to his Riesling, we found distinctive Gewürztraminer and, even more interesting, a red blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. We're pretty experienced with Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley of France and, I swear, if I was sniffing and tasting them side by side, I don't think I could tell them apart. It was the only red wine we tasted during our visit to the Finger Lakes that we felt was worth taking home. Meeting Kim and tasting his wine was a highlight of the trip.
Back at the bed and breakfast, here's a view from the back deck of the winter sunset over Seneca Lake, a beautiful end to a beautiful day of exploring the wine scene in the Finger Lakes.
On the suggestion of Kim Engle at Bloomer Creek, we tried the Hazelnut Kitchen in nearby Trumansberg. Who is that peering over the lace curtain in the front window?

There he is again! Under the snowflakes!

While we were waiting, I snapped this photo of my sweetheart. She's just so cute.

We shared this salad of roasted honeynut butternut squash, toasted pumpkin seeds, whipped goat cheese, pickled cranberries, and arugula.  What an interesting combination!
Mary's main course was a blackened and baked chicken breast with, baked peas, which to me looked like the field peas of the South, warm slaw, and hot cornbread. In New York, of all places!
I had a braised pork shoulder with roasted brussels sprouts on a bed of celery root puree and creme fraiche.  Sensational!
And since we were at the Hazelnut Cafe, Mary had a dessert of hazelnut butter cake with salted caramel and hazelnut chocolate ice cream.
The wine was this Lamoreaux Landing dry Riesling from the shore of Seneca Lake. It was a lovely wine, aromatic of flowers, lemon, grapefruit citrus and a little stone fruit. The palate had great acidity, very clean and crisp, with delicious flavors of citrus, peach notes, maybe a little spice, and a nice mineral stoniness. Beautifully balanced, fairly complex, a great effort, 12.5% alcohol. And only $28 in a fine restaurant. Tough to beat that. It was a lovely dinner with someone I love.

Tomorrow we return home to Plymouth. We enjoyed our visit to the Finger Lakes very much and would like to return, perhaps in the summer or autumn. It is definitely a wine region in transition, finding success with Riesling, for sure, and trying to decide on other paths to success. They have to resolve that it is better to make excellent wine at somewhat higher prices than to make an ocean of low-cost quaffers, but that means the consumers must understand, appreciate, and value wines that can compete on the world stage. From our standpoint, it's fun to watch and experience the evolution. I'm optimistic about the coming years in the Finger Lakes.

That's our post for today. Thanks for reading Cépage et Cuisine. We hope you liked it and will read us again. Keep checking back. In the meantime ...



Saturday, November 29, 2014

Niagara Falls Ontario and New York Finger Lakes - November 27-28, 2014

Hi, everybody.  Welcome again to Cépage et Cuisine, Mary's and Brian's blog about wine, food, and culture. We're off to a Thanksgiving weekend visit to the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. I've been reading more about the area and how its wines are improving and finding their place on the world stage, so we decided to come over for a couple of days.

The most direct route is through Ontario, entering Canada at Detroit to Windsor across the Ambassador Bridge.  Our destination the first day was Niagara Falls, Ontario. Neither of us had ever seen the falls, so we thought that would be a fun stopover. Thanksgiving in the U.S. is not a holiday in Canada, so everything was open.

Niagara Falls is a natural wonder that must be seen in person to comprehend it. Awesome is a word that has been cheapened by its use in everyday language, but it is a word that is appropriate for the falls. The power, the amount of water, the sound, the falls are both thrilling and terrifying up close. The photo above shows Horseshoe Falls, the larger of the two main falls and mostly on the Canadian side. Below is a view of American Falls, which is just downstream from Horseshoe Falls.
Here's a short video.
Here's my sweet wife. The temp was about 25° F, cold but not unmanageable. The morning after Thanksgiving dawned with about four inches of new snow, so we were extra careful getting back across the border and onto the New York Thruway near Buffalo.
We made it to Geneva in time for lunch, then visited the first producer on our schedule, Red Tail Ridge Winery on the west side of Seneca Lake. This winery was founded by a California couple who worked in the wine business, then relocated to the Finger Lakes to grow grapes and make their own wine. Like most producers here, their best wines are Rieslings. They also make unoaked and barrel-fermented Chardonnay and a couple of reds, including Pinot Noir. We like the Rieslings, especially in the dry style.
Here's a little background on the Finger Lakes. They are long, narrow, very deep lakes, running north and south and formed by ancient glaciers, roughly south and between Rochester and Syracuse.  It's a cool climate, good for growing aromatic white grapes. The region is very rural and very beautiful with many picturesque small towns. The lake in the middle of the image above is Seneca Lake. That's where we are. We spent our first day on the west side with plans to stay overnight and spend the second day on the east side.
Our next stop of the day was Hermann J. Wiemer (pronounced weemer) Vineyard in Dundee. Herman Wiemer emigrated from Germany and was a pioneering vintner in the Finger Lakes, paving the way for many of today's successes. He's retired now and his apprentice, Fred Merwarth, now owns and runs the estate. Like Red Tail Ridge, we really liked the Riesling in the dry style, but the others were not very inspiring.

It is a beautiful estate. Here's a photo of the old farm home on the property next to the winery.

They also produce sparkling wine. Here you can see the bottles of sparkling wine in their riddling racks. Every so often, the bottles are turned slightly for the dead yeast cells to settle in the necks of the bottles. Then the bottle necks are frozen, the bottles opened to expel the frozen yeast particles, then corked again.
I suppose it's no surprise that the wineries would be busy on the day after Thanksgiving when many people are not at work. The tasting room was crowded and the staff member pouring the wine didn't have time to talk much. An elbow-to-elbow experience isn't as enjoyable as a more leisurely encounter. Plus, most people in a situation like this are just out for a fun afternoon, not really serious about the wine. Mary and I call it the rolling party. They migrate from winery to winery. And they don't spit, so I'm sure they become dangerous out there on the roads. I guess we're just sticks in the mud, but we're more interested in the behind-the-scenes aspects of wine. When we pull in to a winery and see a tour bus, we just keep going.

The west side of Seneca Lake is gorgeous.  Here are a couple of snaps we took on our way to our final appointment of the day.

Our next and final appointment of the day was at Kemmeter Wines, owned by Johannes Reinhart. Now this is more like it! 
We've been doing some reading about the Finger Lakes and are fascinated by his story. He is a German who was working on the family estate with his father. Johannes is the 13th generation, I think. He and his father didn't agree on certain points about wine production and Johannes ultimately left the family estate and found his way to the U.S. where he has been the winemaker at Anthony Road Winery since around 2000. In the last couple of years he has been working on his own project, Kemmeter Wines. Johannes brings European knowledge and history to winemaking and it shows in his wines.

I think the basis for great Riesling is the balance between fruit, acidity, and alcohol. Many Rieslings have residual sugar that makes them sweet, which is fine, but without enough natural acidity to balance the grape sugar, it can taste cloying and seem clumsy. If there isn't enough acidity present, I think it's preferable to ferment the juice all the way dry. If the acidity is very high, a little residual grape sugar actually improves the balance. Johannes has found that balance in both his dry and off-dry Rieslings.  Mary and I both love the Kemmeter wines. I think they're as good as a fine German or Alsace Riesling.

After we left Johannes, we made our way around to the other side of Seneca Lake to Chateau Lafayette Reneau, which is both a winery and a bed-and-breakfast. We got there just before dark, too late for photos.

Dinner was at Daño’s Heuriger, an Austrian-Hungarian restaurant in Lodi NY. The food seemed similar to German, which was exciting to Mary. Here, you see one of her favorites, sauerbraten with pickled red cabbage and spaetzle. Mary describes the sauerbraten this way: It is a pot roast that has been marinated in vinegar for several days and then slowly roasted in the oven until tender. This sauerbraten had a gravy that had some tomato in it, so it was nice and spicy. Spaetzle is like a little dumpling made with flour and eggs and water and the dough is pushed through a sieve before cooking in hot water. 

I had a selection of sausages like knockwurst, bratwurst, and a Hungarian sausage with sauerkraut and green beans. We both enjoyed our dinner completely.

The wine was an Anthony Road Winery Riesling Finger Lakes 2013. This is also one of Johannes' wines. Like the Kemmeter wines, it had that great energy and tension between fruit and acidity.  It was fermented almost dry with just enough residual sugar to give it a little more richness of texture without heaviness. It was aromatic of lemon and peach with similar flavors on the palate, along with a nice mineral note.  It was only 12.0% alcohol.

That's our post for today. We hope you liked it. Tomorrow we're spending the day on the east side of Seneca Lake. Check back for another post about our visit to the Finger Lakes.  Thanks for reading Cépage et Cuisine. Until next time,