Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Tasting Exam

It has become an annual event to be a guest judge at the final English exam of the Ecole de Viticilture in Le Montat.  Over several weeks Marie Delphine prepares future wine industry students to conduct tastings in English, and they then get a a chance to practice with a dozen anglophone volunteers.  I was particularly looking forward to this year's exam because some of the students decided to forgo presenting the Coteaux du Quercy wines from the school in favor of their own (e.g. Languedoc, Loire, and Cognac.)  And as luck would have it, two of us were going to be judging the Cognac groups in the charming chapel.

We would be tasting three wines....two pineau de Charentes and a cognac, with an eau de vie thrown in for good measure.  The first student presented the chateau, the wine region, and a bit of history.

The next students presented respectively an ugni blanc-based Pineau white and a merlot-based Pineau red.  Both were delicious aperitif wines that were pleasant without being too sweet.

The final student presented a powerful but smooth cognac as he discussed its process of distillation.

I was curious about a pot of coffee sitting on the table and assumed it was either a palate cleanser or a means for us tasters to sober up.  It was in fact there for the preparation of a popular coffee drink called "brulot charentais".  You begin with a cup of cold coffee, add a little eau-de-vie on top, pour more eau-de-vie into the saucer with a couple of sugar cubes, and the lit it.  The flame will burn blue for several minutes until the coffee has been heated up and most of the alcohol is gone;  then you poor the remaining liquid in the saucer into the cup and drink. Delicious and a great way to end our tasting exam...passing marks for everyone!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

On the Wine Road

In the year and a half since I joined the wine club in Lauzerte, I have come to admire the breadth and depth of the wine holdings of the members.  Our defacto leader Frederic will decide on a  wine theme or region (e.g. cote-rotie, champagne, corbieres, madiran) to highlight for our monthly dinner, and the members will respond by bringing a dozen superb wines from their cellars.  Recently they were able to put together a vertical of vintages (1996-2005) from Sociando-Mallet for a memorable Bordeaux dinner.  I began to wonder how the members acquired such impressive collections: wine fairs, the internet, relationships with individual chateaux .... or, as I was soon to find out, a wine tasting/buying road trip.

We departed at 5:55 a.m. from Lauzerte in two vans for the Minervois wine region in the Languedoc.  Having just enough time for a coffee en route, we arrived at our first tasting in Badens at Domaine Pierre Cros at 8:30 am.  


Calling himself a "vigneron militant",  Pierre Cros not only creates wines with the traditional Minervois grape varieties (Mourvèdre, syrah, grenache, carignan), he also likes experimenting with varieties like pinot noir and nebbiolo from Italy.   He was a generous host, opening whatever wines we wanted to taste and they were impressive.

 I particularly liked his spicy  2011 Vieilles Vignes Carignan, the long finish on his Nebbiolo, and a nice floral white "Les Costes".

Our next stop was Domaine Borie de Maurel which seemed a bit more polished in terms of decor, pamphlets, and reception.  The wines were accordingly a bit pricier as we moved from their traditional blend to the 100% carignan, grenache, and syrah wines.  I preferred the unoaked 100% grenache Belle de Nuit which was both spicy and elegant while others were taken by the powerful unoaked 100% syrah Cuvee Sylla.

We had one more domaine to visit, and while it was the least fussy, it was also the most satisfying.  We stood in his chai amid boxes of wine while Gilles Chabbert, owner of the Domaine Aires Hautes, casually introduced his wines from the tasty whites made from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc to his impressive range of reds that kept getting better.  Both the Tradition and the Reserve were wonderful examples of Minervois reds, but his oak-aged 2007 Clos de l'Escandil (grenache, syrah, and mourvedre) was absolutely stunning.

After lunch we had another tasting, this time at a domaine that specializes in muscat.  The group was impressed by the dry muscat as well as the finesse in the sweeter ones they produced, and another buying frenzy ensued.

We arrived home at 8 pm, and while it was a long day, it was a very,very good day.  We were introduced to some superlative wines that we were able to both taste and buy (in large enough quantities for the domaines to ship all our wines free to Lauzerte).  Oh yes, and we had a great lunch in the charming village of Minerva.  Good wine, good food, and good company...everything a road trip should be.