Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Rosso di Montalcino Affair: A Crime against Culture?

In a recent post on the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, I identified the genesis of Rosso di Montalcino as a foil to the lengthy aging requirements of the Brunello.  The early drinking character of the wine would allow a stream of revenue to flow to producers while they awaited the realization of the promise of "big brother" Brunello.  Note that Rosso was not established to be a wine on its own; it was to provide revenue flow from the same infrastructure, resources, and harvesting to meet the day-to-day requirements of the winery while waiting for the "coming."   Yet the Consorzio -- the Brunello di Montalcino producers association -- seems hell bent on changing the character and intent of Rosso, an initiative which I see both as ill-founded and ill-fated and, potentially, a first step along the path of changing the composition of the hallowed Brunello di Montalcino.  In this post I will lay out some of my issues with the proposal.  I would also like to acknowledge quality efforts on this topic by @winewomansong, @doBianchi, and Decanter (which also points to an open letter written by Nicolas Belfrage MW).

The current Rosso di Montalcino battle is a microcosm of a larger overshadowing; the fear of which is driving the revulsion with which the Rosso di Montalcino proposal has been received.  As in many other old-world wine growing regions, Montalcino has been the scene of an ongoing battle between traditionalists and "new agers."  Banfi has been a leader in modernizing Brunello production so when its former oenologist Ezio Rivella was elected president of the Consorzio, it seemed a vote for modernity.  Rivella and Angelo Gaia, the famed Piedmontese producer (and now a Brunello producer of some stature), are identified as being in favor of blending international varietals with Sangiovese to increase the appeal of Brunello on international markets.  Gianfranco Soldera of Casse Basse is at the other end of the spectrum saying, in effect, that real winemakers do not make Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and that these varietals are "vulgar" in comparison with Sangiovese.  Lamberto Frescobaldi is quoted in the above Decanter article as saying that whatever needs to be done should be done while Franco Biondi-Santi has taken the position that many of the areas now planted to Sangiovese are not suitable for growing the varietal.

So here we have this fundamental discussion about the future of the region and, after advancing a proposal and then rescinding it, the Consorzio has advanced another proposal which calls for remaking Rosso di Montalcino into a blend with up to 15% of international varietals and adding a Rosso di Montalcino Sangiovese Superiore and a Rosso di Montalcino Sangiovese to the mix with the key differences between the latter two being yield, alcohol content, and acidity levels.  This proposal has been greeted with loud hoots of disapproval around the world (Free Willy and Save the Rosso signs are going up all over.).  The Consorzio is being accused of aiding the large producers in getting rid of their unsold Merlot crop by drowning it in Rosso; of fixing a problem that does not exist; of disadvantaging smaller producers vis a vis larger producers; of seeking to segment a market that has exhibited no need for segmentation; and of not demonstrating an understanding of the market.

While the battle is about Rosso, methinks this is really only one skirmish in the war regarding the future of Brunello di Montalcino.  Sure, if a large producer has offerings across the Rosso board, and a smaller producer has only one offering,a  consumer could conceivably discriminate against the small producer based on a perception of inability to compete and, following, a lack of staying power.  Sure this adds cost and complexity to the production of Rosso, and confusion in the customer environment, with potentially deleterious consequences.  But what I think opponents fear most is that a loss on the Rosso front opens up Brunello to similar attacks from the arch-enemies of tradition.

I would like to look at this battle through two different lenses: European Union (EU) Wine Laws and Italian cultural patrimony.  Earlier this year I attended an EU Wine Law conference hosted by UC Davis School of Law and held at the UC Davis campus in Davis, CA.  In one of the sessions, Alessandro Baudino, Attorney and Partner in the firm Franco Baudino e Associati, indicated that the 2009 EU reform targeted: improved wine producer competitiveness; perception of Community wine quality; and preservation of Community wine making traditions.  It is the EUs view that implementation of the laws will, amomg other things, guarantee fair competition in the wine industry.  Firstly, it appears to me that the move to dismantle Rosso di Montalcino is not exactly an action focused on preservation of Montalcino wine-making tradition.  The tradition, and the "sense of place" espoused in the laws, has been to make Brunello di Montalcino from 100% Sangiovese Grosso planted in demarcated areas of Montalcino.  Further, approximately 68% of the yield can be classified as Brunello with the remainder sold in bulk or allocated to an easy-drinking wine called Rosso di Montalcino.  So while the EU diplomats are out arguing for protection of these special places in world trade forums, the Consorzio is undercutting them by saying that these places and traditions are not so special after all.  See, we can add some names and change some blends and voila.  But you had still better protect us.

As a corollary to the above, the Consorzio is tasked by the Farming Policy Ministry with protecting and enhancing the value of Montalcino DOC wines.  Rather than protecting, this proposal expands the number of wines in a dilutionary manner (maybe delusionary would be better) with further unintended consequences sure to accrue. Rather than protecting the wines of Montalcino, the Consorzio proposal sets the stage for similar depradation of the Brunello franchise.

I have just finished reading a book by Felch and Frammolino titled Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World's Richest Museum (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011).  The book revolves around the Getty Museum's purchasing of looted antiquities but a major underlying theme is the fight by Italian authorities for repatriation of instances of the country's cultural patrimony that had illegally ended up in these large institutions.  General Roberto Conforti and Salvatore Morando of the Caribinieri Art Squad, Paolo Ferri of the state's prosecutors office, Judge Muntoni, Maurizio Fiorelli and Francesco Rutelli of the Italian Culture Ministry all played key roles in breaking the back of the looted-art conspiracy and gaining repatriation of the stolen objects to Italy.  Where are like-minded cultural fighters in the Rosso di Montalcino affair?  Not at the Consorzio.  They are more akin to the tambarolo, the men who robbed the ancient sites of the artifacts before selling them to dealers. Except this time the cultural heritage will be plundered in plain view.  And to add insult to injury, the pieces that are being removed from the shelves will be replaced with foreign wares.  And further, deeper encroachment into the patrimony may be in the offing.  With a victory in the "Rosso Affair" under its belt, the "internationalists" could ask to deepen the international component(s) of the blend as we move forward in time and (heresy) seek to impose the same type of construct on Brunello.

If there is a problem with Sangiovese, the Consorzio should facilitate its fixing.  So if, for example, there are areas of Montalcino planted to Sangiovese that should not be (as per Franco Biondi Santi), then maybe tightening the demarcation boundaries should be considered.  If major growers are sloshing around in Merlot, then maybe they should consider making an IGT wine and naming it in a fashion that does not confuse the market.  Robbing Rosso of its name and intent, and diluting its impact by confusing the buying public, is nothing less than a crime against culture.

Friday, August 26, 2011

2009 Beaujolais Tasting Lineup and Profiles of Selected Producers

In preparation for our upcoming 2009 Beaujolais Tasting, I have provided an overview of the Beaujolais sub-region, elaborated on the Beaujolais appellations, discussed the characteristics of the Gamay grape, and sang the praises of the 2009 vintage.  Based on the foregoing, the wines in the table below have been selected to allow us a taste-through of the sub-region.  In order to round out the coverage that has been provided to date, I

will profile the producers, beginning with Domaine du Vissoux and Domaine des Terres Dorées -- two producers with similar viniculture philosophies -- in this post.

Domaine du Vissoux

Domaine du Vissoux product will be used for our sparkling, Fleurie, and Brouilly wines.  The estate, located primarily in the hamlet of Vissoux, is owned by Martine and Pierre-Marie Chermette and the main property is a southeast-facing parcel sited on a bed of granite and planted to Gamay (14 hectares, Beaujolais) and Chardonnay (0.5 hectare, Beaujolais Blanc).  The Gamay vines range between 75- and 90-years old while the Chardonnay vines are approximately 25-years old.  The estate also grows another 0.5 hectare of Chardonnay grapes on 25-year-old vines in the nearby hamlet of Nandry and, further, has vineyards in Oingt-Le Bois à Oingt (6 hectares of Chardonnay), Brouilly (15 hectares), Fleurie (4.5 hectares), and Moulin-à-Vent (4.5 hectares).

The estate pursues an "integrated agriculture" policy with practices such as: (i) tilling or shallow ploughing between vines (or, alternately, grassing); (ii) yield control through hand-pruning; and (iii) growth management (budding, branch thinning).  Grapes are picked manually at optimal ripeness and are sorted both in the vineyard and in the cellar.

The estate's vinification practices are minimalist in order to provide the best environment for the character of the fruit to shine through.  Unlike most of the producers in Beaujolais, Domaine du Vissoux uses natural yeasts rather than 71B, the tomato-based, industrial yeast which is thought by some to impart candy and banana aromas and flavors to the wine. Further, little or no sugar is added to the must to increase the alcohol levels and little or no sulfur is added.  Grapes are vinified using semi-carbonic fermentation with twice-a-day pump overs beginning after two or three days of maceration.  The maceration periods are: 4 to 6 days for Beaujolais Nouveau; 6 to 8 days for "spring Beaujolais;" and 10 to 12 days for cru.  The macerated grapes are then pressed in a pneumatic press.

Domaine des Terres Dorées

Domaine des Terres Dorées product will be used for our Beaujolais Blanc and Moulin-à-Vent wines. Domaine des Terres Dorées is located in Charnay, a village about 30-minutes drive from Lyon, in an area called The Golden Stone Region (so called because the color of the limestone used in its historic buildings imparts a "warm, golden-brown complexion" to these stone houses).  The owner and winemaker is Jean-Paul Brun.  The primary vineyard is a 25-hectare parcel sited on permeable clay and limestone soil and planted to Gamay.  Jean-Paul also farms a 3-hectare Chardonnay plot and a 2-hectare Pinot Noir plot in close proximity to the main vineyard.  Further afield he owns small, granite-based parcels in Moulin-à-Vent, Morgon, and Côte de Brouilly.

Jean-Paul's style leans to the traditional with an emphasis on allowing the fruit to shine through unencumbered.  Like Domaine du Vissoux, he uses indigenous yeasts, does not chaptalize, and uses little or no sulfur.  Further, he does not filter his wines due to a belief that filtering strips out some of the natural flavors of the wine.


I will cover the remaining producers in subsequent posts.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Cress Restaurant (Deland, FL) Charity Dinner: The Back Story

In a stunning coup for the benefitting charities, the city of Deland, and Cress Restaurant, Executive Chef Hari Pulapaka of Cress has gained the commitment of four of Orlando's leading chefs to prepare dishes for a charity dinner to be held at Cress Restaurant on August 29th.  The participating chefs are: Scott Hunnell, Chef de Cuisine, Victoria and Albert's, Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa; James and Julie Petrakas, Chef/Owners, The Ravenous Pig, Kevin Fonzo, Chef and Owner, K Restaurant and Wine Bar; and, of course, Hari Pulapaka, Executive Chef and Co-Owner (along with wife Jenneffer) , Cress Restaurant.  All proceeds from the event will benefit Taste of the Nation - Orlando, the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida, and Central Florida Second Harvest Food Bank.  Having eaten at all of these restaurants, and considering the chefs among the best in Orlando, I perceive this to be a huge deal.  Wanting to get a better understanding of the genesis and objectives of the event, I interviewed Chef Hari on August 6th.  First, a little background on Chef Hari and Cress Restaurant.

Scott Hunnell, Chef de Cuisine, V&A
James and Julie Petrakas, Ravenous Pig
Kevin Fonzo, K Restaurant
Chef Hari Pulupaka, Cress Restaurant

Hari Pulapaka was born in present-day Mumbai and, after graduating from the University of Mumbai, came to the US to pursue graduate studies in Mathematics.  Hari was very successful in this pursuit with a Masters degree awarded by George Mason University in 1989 and a Doctorate by the University of Florida in 1995.  After teaching stints at Bethune-Cookman, Valdosta State University, and Gorgia Tech, Dr. Pulapaka arrived at Stetson University in Deland in 2000 and remains there to this day as a tenured Associate Professor in that institution's Mathematics department.

While teaching at Stetson, Dr. Pulapaka was afflicted with a self-described "midlife crisis" the upshot of which was attendance at Orlando Culinary Institute and, post-graduation, a Culinary Internship at Canoe (a high-end restaurant in Toronto, Canada) and a job as a Line Cook at Princess Cruise's Wilderness Lodge in Alaska.

According to Chef Hari, his stint at Canoe taught him about finesse and pizazz while his sojourn at the lodge taught him boldness in cuisine.  When the opportunity arose, he combined those characteristics with his affinity for spices into the locally grown, globally inspired entity that is Cress Restaurant.  The goal of the restaurant is to provide a charming atmosphere with great value for the customer using an upscale, refined approach within the context of the location.  The mission of the venture is to be responsible to the community and its needs and the sources of the products that make their way onto the Cress tables.  It was this understanding of the needs of the community, combined with Chef Hari's passion for philanthropy, that were the sources of inspiration for the upcoming event.

Cress Restaurant was going to be three-years-old on August 29th.  The restaurant had celebrated previous anniversaries with customer-appreciation events but Chef Hari wanted to do something larger and more meaningful for the third anniversary.  Chef Hari had been named a 2011 James Beard Nominee for Best Chef South, as had the chefs who will be cooking at the event.  Chef Hari felt that if he could get his fellow nominees to come to Deland and cook at his restaurant, it could be huge money-raiser for a worthy charity and fulfill his goal of doing something "larger and more meaningful" for Cress' third anniversary.  Once he got this idea in his head, he pursued it doggedly and, after a two-month effort, was successful in gaining their agreement to participate.  This was a tall order because: these are very important chefs in Orlando; they are very busy all of the time; they would be donating their time; and, finally, getting the calendars synchronized would require a herculean effort.  But he pulled it off.

The event will revolve around a 7-course meal, each course being paired with an appropriate wine.  Each chef decided what he/she was going to prepare and Chef Hari (i) placed them in the appropriate order and (ii) filled in perceived blanks with his courses.  Cress can seat 35 people and to date 28 attendees have been confirmed.  Ticket prices are $275 per attendee but the funds go to a good cause and it provides the attendee with an opportunity to taste all five of these high-end chefs in one place and at one time.

The critical succes factors of the event, as seen by Chef Hari, are: (i) that the event raises money (a foregone conclusion given the number of seats sold to date); (ii) flawless execution of the dishes; (iii) the attendees perceive an authentic experience; and (iv) the chefs feel, at the end of the day, that it was worth their time.  There are a number of challenges that will have to be overcome.  The Cress kitchen is small and hot, not the kind of environment these chefs are accustomed to working in.  He hopes that the feeling of being able to do what they want to do will far outweigh the frustration of working in cramped, hot surroundings.

In Chef's estimation, Deland, as a city, is happy and proud to be the venue for such a monumental meeting of culinary artists.  He is also proud of putting the event together and sees it as an opportunity for the Orlando culinary glitterati to taste some of his creations and provide  a "seal of approval."

There is no doubt that this event will be a feather in the cap for Cress Restaurant.  It will raise a lot of money for charity but, following closely on the heels of the James Beard nomination, this gathering of stars on the banks of the Deland River (well, not quite) serves to further cement Cress Restaurant as one of the "foodie-destination" restaurants in metro-Orlando.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Gamay Grape and the 2009 Vintage in Beaujolais

Gamay -- official name Gamay noir à Jus Blanc -- is famously known as the black grape of Beaujolais but is also grown to a lesser extent in the Loire, Jura and Savoie, and the Rhone Valley.  Named after a Burgundian hamlet in close proximity to Puligny-Montrachet, the varietal is the result of an ancient cross between Pinot Noir and Gouvais Blanc, an ancient varietal originally grown in Central Europe (According to Wineworld's Blog, "gouvais blanc was given by emperor Marcus Aurelius Probus (born 232 – 282 and emperor from 276 – 282), from Pannonia, to Gauls who planted it close to pinot vineyards where many spontaneous crosses resulted ...").  The varietal enjoyed the full run of Burgundy until ordered pulled out by Duke Philip the Bold who wanted to eliminate competition for Pinot Noir.  The vines in Beaujolais did not suffer the same fate as their core Burgundian counterparts and have flourished in the region to this day.

Gamay grows best in granite and limestone soils and struggles in alkaline conditions.  Its growing cycle is on the early end of the spectrum and, as such, it is susceptible to spring frosts.  The berries are large with thin, tough skins and grow in large clusters.  Wines from the varietal are generally fruity and acidic and winemakers have utilized carbonic maceration to accentaute the fruitiness.  Wines from the grape genearlly have a fruity, floral bouquet and aromas of bubble gum, banana, cotton candy, and vanilla.

2009 Vintage

Primarily due to the flash-in-the-pan nature of Beaujolais Nouveau, Beaujolais wines have not gained significant traction in the marketplace -- or the attention of the wine press and critics -- but the 2009 vintage has contributed significantly to putting the cru Beaujolais wines back on the wine-drinking map.  To begin with, the vintage was blessed with almost-perfect growing conditions with steady warming through August punctuated with a little rain in June.  Growing conditions and crop management processes resulted in low yield of high-quality fruit with great balance in sugar and acidity and high tannin levels.  These grapes were harvested between August 25th and September 25th and produced elegant, concentrated wines.  Georges Duboeuf, the so-called King of Beaujolais, calls 2009 "the vintage of the century" and describes the wines as being "... incredibly elegant and delicious ..."  The Wine Advocate refers to the 2009 Beaujolais wines as "... gloriously generous and genuinely complex ..." 

All in all, 2009 seems like a "come-home" vintage for those who have fled the fold and a great time for the uninitiated to become involved with Beaujolais wines.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Table Orlando: The Dining Experience

So now that we are familiar with its environment and key players, let's explore The Table Orlando's raison d'être.

After an extended sparkling-infused reception, we were invited to take our seats at "the table."  With a game of musical chairs concluded, and post Loren welcoming us into "this extension of her home kitchen," we settled in to enjoy the fruits of our chefs labors.

A dinner at the restaurant is generally a five-course affair but, for this evening, six courses were served.  More value for money.  The menus were distributed at this time.  They were printed on cream-colored, high-quality stock which was tri-folded and secured with a brown wax seal embossed with an archaic-looking letter T in its center. The courses and pairings were as shown below.

Course 1: Foie Gras Panna Cotta with Shaved Black Summer Truffle, Roasted Calamyrnia and Grissini for "dip dip".  Paired with Billecart-Salmon NV "Brut Reserve, Mareuil-Sur-Ay, Champagne

Course 2: Poached Sweetbreads, Herbed Pappardelle, Apple Daikon Salad.  Paired with Verget 2009 "Grand Elevage" (Chardonnay), Macon-Villages, Burgundy

Course 3: Bouillabaisse. Local Sheephead, Lobster, Clams, Calamari, Classic Rouille.  Paired with Lafon Rochet 2009 "Lafon-Roset" Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Estephe

Course 4:  Wagyu Strip Loin "Tartar" with Lake Meadow "Egg Custard," Purple Peruvian, Royal Trumpets "Ragu", Fresh Black Truffles.  Paired with Valter Scarbolo 2006 "Campo del Viotto" (Merlot), Venezia Giulia.

Cheese Course: Homemade Goat Crackers, Thomasville Tomme, 5-year-aged Gouda, Fromage D'Affinois, Petite Salad Champagne Grapes.  Paired with La Follette 2009 "Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

Course 6: Flan and Pavlova, Peach, Blackberries. Paired with Rancho de Oro Puro Vineyards 2005 Napa Valley Late Harvest

This was a classic lesson in food preparation and presentation and marrying it with the appropriate wines.  The Bouillabaisse, for example, provided great contrasts between the color, texture, and mouthfeel of the lobster and the same characteristics of the calamari yet they were both harmoniously accommodated by the Lafon Rochet, a Cabernet Sauvignon Rose with an earthy, peppery feel. The Wagyu Strip Loin and the Merlot was also a great pairing as the Merlot did not impress much when it stood alone.  But when paired with the meat (which had been cooked for 4 hours yet retained the tartare look, feel, and flavor) and egg (which itself had been cooked for 1 hour), the wine shone.

This was an excellent experience overall.  The atmosphere, food, wine, and service were special. There were adequate pauses between courses that lent to unhurried clearing of the plates from the most recent course, conversation with table mates between courses, and delivery of the plates associated with the upcoming course.  The wait staff was kind, caring, courteous, and equipped with ready smiles.  In addition to supplying guests with ample amounts of wine, staff were always ready to pour water into your glass, water which is carbonated in-house using a seven-stage reverse osmosis process.  Fidel hovered continuously in the background, answering questions and pouring wine.  The chefs (Loren especially) spent a considerable amount of time with us: welcoming us initially; introducing the courses; and then conversing with each of us individually at the culmination of the meal (itself a long and languid process as we sat around reveling in what we had just experienced).

We had each of us brought wines to have after the official dinner (remember, there is only one seating per night) but we were so complete that we took them all back home.  After four-and-a-half hours of great food and wine we were spent.  Thanks for the experience The Table Orlando.

According to Loren, the target audience for the restaurant is "people who are passionate about food and wine" and it is hoped that, after experiencing what The Table has to offer, they will pass the word on.  The restaurant is open to the public on Friday and Saturday and closed for private events Tuesday through Thursday.  The cost for the dining experience is $100 per person, an excellent value in my estimation.  The goal, according to Loren, is to have a different menu from Friday to Saturday in order to ensure a completely different experience for someone choosing to dine at the restaurant on both days.

You will not regret a decision to try this establishment.  I enjoyed the experience so much that I am going back this Saturday.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Table Orlando: Environment and Key Players

Orlando, welcome your new "it" place.  The Table Orlando, a restaurant concept featuring a single, large, 22-seat table, and exquisite small plates expertly paired with wines from around the world, has hit the city like a ton of bricks; and we are all the better for it.

I have known Fidel Palenzuela for a number of years now (he has gathered no moss at a number of area wine establishments that I frequent) and have fully enjoyed his friendship, wine knowledge, and company.  So when he invited me to his new restaurant venture, I promised to gather up a few friends and patronize the establishment the following Saturday.

The restaurant is unobtrusively positioned at the end of Via Dellagio Way (8060, Suite 106), a veritable Restaurant Row just off the granddaddy of Restaurant Rows, Sand Lake Road.  The glazed double doors, with stylized text, which announce that you have arrived, hide an environment that stops you in your tracks upon entering.

The room is dominated by a large, dark-colored, marble-topped table positioned left of center and surrounded by black chairs.  The table is a single piece of granite resting on wooden legs that were whittled by the staff.  The width of the table is brought into focus by the sight of two chairs at each end.  The table itself is decorated with shell-type vases in the center and is crowned by a shimmering aluminum and glass chandelier that is stunning to behold.  The aluminum for the chandelier was acquired from an airplane salvage yard while the hand-blown glass was purchased from an area retailer and repurposed for this application.  At the end of the table farthest from the door is an 18th-century chest made from reclaimed Indian cedar.

Over to the right of the dining room is a bar which is defined by wine bottles lying horizontally on luminescent, rectangular projections.  These "shelves" are connected to a computer which controls the color and intensity of the light contained therein.  Fidel explained that they had a miniscule budget so the build-out was done by the people working there.  They sure did a phenomenal job.

We were ushered into the establishment by Fidel's broad, welcoming smile and a flute each of Ca'del Bosco Franciacorta.  My guests arrived intermittently and it was interesting to see the looks on their faces when they opened the doors for the first time and surveyed the surroundings.  It was like peering at a mirror into the past and seeing the look of amazement that was probably on my face when I first stepped in.

The table seats 22 people so there were six attendees in addition to my group.  We all stood around drinking sparkling wine and gabbing about the restaurant.  After we had killed the Ca'del Bosco, Fidel began pouring Proseco (Flor, Bastia) and when that was exhausted, Billecart-Salmon.  The venue was phenomenal, and combined with the flowing sparkling wines/champagne and good friends, served to create a wonderful atmosphere.  At this point I knew that the only thing that could screw the evening up was "less-than-stellar" food.  After tasting butler-passed compressed watermelon and lobster bisque, I knew that the chefs were going to deliver.

Who are the people behind this venture and how did they arrive at this place?  The chefs are transplanted Rhode Islanders Tyler Brassel and Loren Falsone, a husband-and-wife team whose accomplishments include appearances on the cover of Food and Wine magazine and record attendees at the James Beard House.  They both teach at Le Cordon Bleu in Orlando and, according to Loren, the restaurant is an extension of their home.  They are passionate about food and wine and never miss an opportunity to have friends over to share this passion.  The Table Orlando represents their attempt to share these passions with the broader public.  The chefs are responsible for creating world-class dishes while Fidel is responsible for matching their creations with wines of equal quality.  In addition to his sommelier role Fidel also appears to be responsible for business acquisition and client engagement during the actual dinner.

From left to right Fidel, Loren, Tyler and Ron
I will cover the actual dinner in my next post.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Beaujolais AOCs

Beaujolais has long been hidden behind, and judged by, Beaujolais Nouveau the light, fruity wine that is eagerly snapped up by its adherents upon its annual November release and drunk almost before they have gotten back to the car.  But if you judge Beaujolais only by this ephemeral offering, you are misinformed; a condition which I hope to redress in this post.

The Beaujolais sub-region has 10 distinct appellations for red wines and a regional appellation for white wine.

The Beaujolais AOC, as shown in the map above, occupies the southern and eastern flanks of the sub-region.  This AOC covers 60 villages and10,000 hectares and is the source for fully 50% of all Beaujolais wine. The soil is primarily clay and limestone and the resulting wine is simple and meant to be drunk in the first year of the vintage.  The wine must be a minimum 9% alcohol and yield is limited to 55hl/ha.  Production averages 75 million bottles per year half of which is Beaujolais Nouveau. This area was accredited in 1937 and is the only Beaujolais AOC in which Guyot vine training is permitted.

Beaujolais Superiéur is sourced from selected vineyards within Beaujolais, has a higher ripeness level stipulated before harvesting, and is vinified to a 1% higher alcohol level than is basic Beaujolais.  The wines resulting from this process are light, fruity, and best suited for early consumption.

Beaujolais Villages covers wines sourced from 38 communes to the north and west of Beaujolais.  A village may append its individual name to the label if the wine is produced from grapes grown only in that commune.  Beaujolais Villages is 6000 hectares in size and is the source of 25% of the wine produced in Beaujolais.  The soils in this region have a higher granite content than is the case for the rest of Beaujolais and this, coupled with south-facing slopes for vineyards in the eastern foothills of the Massif Central, contributes to the attainment of optimal ripeness by its grapes and wines that are fuller-bodied and of greater complexity than Beaujolais wines.

Cru Beaujolais is the highest classification in Beaujolais and covers the wine produced in a 6500-hectares area encompassing seven named villages in the northern part of the region and the vineyards around the foot of Mont Brouilly. The wines are mostly produced using traditional fermentation methods and a little oak and have ageing potential of 5 to 15 years.

The lightest-bodied of the Cru Beaujolais wines are produced in Brouilly, Régnié, and Chiroubles.  Brouilly is the largest of the crus and sits in the foothills of Mont Brouilly.  Its soils range from pink granite through chalky clay deposits.  The planting of the white varietals Aligoté, Chardonnay, and Melon de Bourgogne (Muscadet) is permitted in this cru.  Régnié wines are sourced from grapes grown on the gently sloping hillsides surrounding the village of Régnié-Durette.  The 650 hectares of vineyards sit at an average elevation of 350 meters on soil that is granitic and sandy with a high mineral content.  Wines from this cru are elegant and structured with good aging potential.  Chiroubles has the highest altitude of the crus with elevation ranging between 250 and 450 meters.  Cool climates and long ripening seasons in this 360-hectare, granitic-sand cru make for light, fragrant, delicate wines.

St. Amour, Fleurie, and Côte de Brouilly are known for medium-bodied wines. The soil in St. Amour is granitic clay and schist and the wines produced therein range from Beaujoulais-Nouveau-style to fuller-bodied, complex reds.  Fleurie is sometimes referred to as the queen of Beaujolais and its wines are "fresh, floral, fragrant, and elegant."  Fleurie has 890 hectares of vines resting on granitic soil and produces 3 million bottles annually.  Côte de Brouilly sits higher up on the Mont Brouilly slope than does Brouilly and the soil here fluctuates between blue stones and marbled green stones.  The wines are more concentrated and have better aging potential than do the wines of Brouilly.

The wines of Juliénas, Chénas, Morgon, and Moulin-à-vent are the fullest-bodied of the wines produced in Beaujolais.  Juliénas has granitic soils in the west and sedimentary soils in the east.  Wines from this commune are characterized by red fruit, berry, floral, and vanilla aromas.  Chenas is the smallest of the communes and is named for the oak forest that once dominated the hillside.  The wine has a distinctive wild rose character and a 15-year shelf life.  Morgon, on the other hand, is one of the largest crus.  Its schist soil is older and more weathered than the other crus resulting in earthier, fleshier wines with good aging potential.  Moulin-à-vent has pink granite soil with a high manganese content, a composition that is  toxic to the grape vine and results in reduced crop levels.  The resulting wine is concentrated, richer and has fuller flavors.  These wines age well.

Beaujolais Blanc is a regional appellation for white wine but its production is concentrated mainly in the far north, bordering Maconnais.  This appellation came into being in 1937 with the designated varietals being Chardonnay and Aligoté.  The use of Aligoté in the AOC will be phased out by 2024.  The grapes  are crushed on arrival at the cellars and fermented for two weeks. The wines are characterized by floral notes, stone fruit flavors, limited ageability.  Many producers in the north prefer to bring their white wines to market under the more prestigious Macon label, thus depressing the nominal production levels of Beaujolais Blanc.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Beaujolais Sub-Region of Burgundy: An Overview

I recently signed up to attend the NY instance of The Guild of Sommeliers Beaujolais tastings but was a no-show due to conflicting priorities.  In that comprehensive Beaujolais tastings are infrequent, I gained access to a list of the event wines in order to reproduce the tasting in Orlando  (Andrew McNamara, Master Sommelier, was instrumental in getting me access to that list of wines and for that I would like to express my appreciation.).  Leading up to the tasting I will be exploring a number of facets of Beaujolais wines, beginning here with a discourse on the region.

The Beaujolais wine region is located in eastern France with Burgundy to its north (technically Beaujolais is a sub-region of Burgundy), the Rhone Valley to its south, and the Saone river hugging tightly to its eastern flank.  Proximate cities are Macon to the north and Lyon to the south.  The region measures 50 km long with width ranging between 10 and 15 km.


Beaujolais has a continental climate -- cold, dry winters and hot summers -- which is tempered by the Massif Central to the west, the Alps to the east, and its proximity to the Mediterranean.  The region is blessed with a warm growing season but the possibility of frost in the spring, or hail in the summer, is ever-present.

Beaujolais is divided into Haut and Bas Beaujolais, based on distinctions in the soil and the intervening Nizerand river valley, with Haut Beaujolais to the north and Bas to the south.  The north is characterized by rolling granite hills pock marked with patches of clay and limestone and with granite and schist in the upper slopes and higher stone and clay content in the lower slopes.  The south has a flatter topographical profile than the north and has primarily clay and sandstone soils.

There are approximately 3600 vineyards in the 55,000 acres that constitute Beaujolais.  The vineyards tend to be small to mid-sized plots owned by hundreds of farmers and carrying between 9000 and 13,000 vines per hectare.  For the most part, the fruit is sold to negociants who produce and market the wines.  In the north the vineyards sit on gently sloping hills at elevations that range between 500 and 2000 feet. The resultant exposure to the sun allows quicker ripening and harvesting in the north when compared to the south.  Vine training is primarily Goebelet but, recently, some Guyot training has been utilized in the south.


One of the unique aspects of Beaujolais winemaking is the widespread use of carbonic maceration for vinification of most of its red wines.  In this method of vinification the grapes are hand-picked in whole bunches and the bunches are placed serially into the fermentation tank.  The weight of the most recently placed grapes causes the lower bunches to burst and the juice that is released begins to ferment.  The carbon dioxide that is released during this process causes in-berry fermentation and the production of brightly colored, low-tannin wines with a characteristic fruity flavor.

A large part of Beaujolais' repute -- and disrepute -- is based on its Beaujolais Nouveau, a red, fruity, light, early drinking wine.  This wine, as is the case for most of the red wine produced in Beaujolais, is made from the Gamay grape.  Small quantities of Pinot Noir are used for red and rosé wines, a practice which will be discontinued after the 2015 harvest.  Chardonnay and Aligoté are used for the production of the little white wine that is produced in the region as well as for blending with red wines up to a limit of 15%.   The wines of Beaujolais are generally characterized by ripe, fruit-driven flavors with the wines from the north being aromatic, structured, and complex while those from the south are lighter, fruity, and early drinking.  Annual production in the region is about 190 million bottles.  Notable producers are Georges Duboeuf, Marcel Lapierre, Jean Foillard, Guy Breton, Jean-Paul Thivenet, and Pierre Chermette.

Beaujolais has 12 appellations, each producing its own distinctive style of wine.  I will detail these appellations in my next post.