Challenge Part 1- Gewurztraminer and Thai Food

Grocery Store vs. Small Producers

Challenge 1- Gewurztraminer

Challenge Part 1- Gewurztraminer and Thai Food

So, I have decided to put my grocery store wines and my small producer wines to the test.  While simultaneously, increasing my blind tastings and food pairing abilities and breakdowns.  People have been talking a lot about the cost of wines, quality of wines and pairing of food and wine… So I have decided to put it all to the test in the best way I know how- blind tastings with different dishes.  Also, I live on a budget, so the concept of store bought cheaper wines against the more pricey small producers sounded like a great idea to me.

So, today I began with my dinner.  Spicy thai shrimp salad paired with two different Gewurztraminer from the Alsace region; one from the local Franprix and the other from the small producer Gerard Metz (if you remember I have already talked about his Pinot Gris an earlier post).

My husband opened and poured the wines for me blindly so I could assess and give my initial reaction without any interaction with the food.  Now, I have mentioned before that sweet wines are not my favorite, so in retrospect this might not have been the best wine to start with, but still I will take everything as a learning experience.  Here is what I found…

Wine Number One:

Tasting Profile:

Sight– Bright, transparent yellow

Nose– Sweet of apricots, wild flowers, and honey

Taste– Initially it had a drier mouth-feel with less sugar.  As it warmed up more, the residual sugar became heavier and less agreeable, sugar exploded in the front of my palate and stayed on my cheeks by the end of the meal.

Finish– Again at the beginning when it was colder there was a freshness to it I found agreeable and thought would go really well with the food, but by the end the sugar settled and it was harder to drink, almost chewy.

Food Pairing– The thai salad I make has varying degrees of spicy.  Mine tends to be mild rather than hot and I think because of that this wine had too much sugar, too much contradiction with the thai, almost overtook the meal.

Result– Vin d’Alsace Michel Frantz Gewurztraminer, found at Franprix grocery store for 8€ and the only reason I chose it was because it was the only Gewurztraminer for under 10€ with an award on it… seriously.

Michel Frantz Gewurztraminer

Wine Number Two:

Tasting Profile:

Sight– Brighter yellow, gold and clear

Nose– At the beginning the nose was very closed compared to the first, also colder than the first; then more pear, honeydew melon and floral notes arose.

Taste– Initially not my favorite, the sugar was far more pronounced than anything else, but as the wine opened and warmed up a bit it became better rounded in my mouth and fresher, definitely lighter on my palate.  The opposite of what I expected.

Finish– I don’t know how to put the finish of this wine into words… it was a ‘cooler’ finish than the first.  I mean really, that is all I can say about it.  If anyone knows what that would be please let me know!  It lingered, but didn’t rest on my cheeks in a way I’m used too…

Food Pairing– By far the better choice, the lighter palate and less residual sugar contradicted the thai, but didn’t overpower and defeat the thai.

Result– Vin d’Alsace Domaine Gerard Metz Vielles Vignes Gewurztraminer, small producer, for 9€ a bottle (normally more, but we bought 6 bottles)… I really enjoy this producers wines.

Gerard Metz Gewurztraminer

So what did I learn?

Personally, I learned that I can blind taste and describe wines in French and English, but have trouble just doing one language… seriously, my tasting book is all a mix of the two languages.  I also missed when choosing which wine was which.  It hurts the pride a LOT, and moreso to share it on a blog… but how else will I learn…?  Hopefully tomorrow I will get it right.

Professionally, I learned that while I do not prefer sweet wines for my personal palate, they do have a place when paired with ethnic, slightly spicy foods.  The more spice you have to a dish I believe a sweeter wine is better suited and a mild sweetness for a mildly spicy dish.  Also, in tasting the temperature does play a factor in how the wines express themselves.

Pour quoi pas?  Tomorrow is Taco Tuesday at my house- I still have wine left from both these bottles.  I think challenge part 2 will be gewürztraminer and tacos…  Hey- I am still trying to breakdown this food and wine pairing every once in a while… Should be interesting!  at least I hope…




world wine map

You know what I am dying for… anything non French.  I know this might be a contradiction considering they make some of the best wines in the world, but just hear me out…

This is the kicker with living in France.  They are so great at their wine that they don’t import- and this girl is CRAVING imports!!!  I mean on one hand, when you are know for making the world’s best wine, why bother importing?  But at the same time, why not import?

France is history and history has shown them to be the greatest wine region in the world- no one can really argue with that.  They have never needed to import, everything anyone could possibly want is right here.  Now- while I did move here for the wine and am very happy with that… there are some days I would like to explore the differences in a Australian Shiraz, a Californian Paso Robles Syrah, and a French Crozes-Hermitage.  I know what my palate will enjoy, but still.  It is a great exercise to understand world wines.

This might be a pointless rant, but I would love to teach about not only French but other wine regions, other grape varietals that maybe are new to the French.  For the moment I am limited to what I can get in my suitcase from the states or maybe a bottle here and there as a gift from someone who has travelled.  But I would love a steady stream of imports.  The ability to taste the world’s wines- I miss it.

I have been feeling rather pathetic in my blind tastings abilities because I am starting to have a singular French palate.  I know I have been out of practice, learning my new life in a foreign language can be blamed for that… but I want to start doing blind tastings and international blind tastings and not in a pretentious way.  Tasting groups.  Wine dinners. English, French it doesn’t matter.  Just tastings as much as possible, as blind as possible, as often as possible.

Anjou Gruner Veltliner Morgon Oregon Pinot Noir

What do you think France… can we work on a more world rounded wine experience?  Anyone want to drink?


So, last night my husband and I, with another couple went out to dinner at our favorite restaurant in the second district of Lyon called Ponts et Passerelles.  We love this place for lots of reasons; they do some of the most amazing varieties of traditional French dishes- and the desserts are AMAZING!  We also have fun with the owner talking about wines and different regions in France, most of which I have not heard of because they are so small.  Last night turned into another fun tasting night of sorts and, fortunately for me, I knew all the regions this time!  I feel like I’m getting somewhere with my small French wine regions.

So, stay with me a while and we will go through the three bottles in order…

Aperitif wine:

Eric Louis 2011 Menetou-Salon


To start we had the Menetou Salon- well, I choose this one for my aperitif wine.  I always choose this for a starter.  Menetou Salon is the closest wine I can find to being like a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, or maybe it’s the other way around.  But it had aromas of citrus and grapefruit all mixed together on the nose, then a cool, crisp, refreshing taste on the palate.  It doesn’t stay very long and won’t age forever, but it is nice and fresh on a hot day.  I think it’s gorgeous!

Menetou-Salon itself is located in the eastern most part of the Loire Valley near Sancerre and Pouilly Fume.  It is actually closer to Burgundy than most of the Loire Valley wines, therefore giving it unique soil and climate characteristics.  It reminds me of New Zealand because it has so much citrus and grapefruit on the nose- however, for myself, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc must also have the smell of fresh cut grass in it.  The soil near Menetou-Salon itself is mainly limestone and considered to be ‘lesser’ than the Sancerre just next door, but I find it more crisp and explosive than some Sancerre…  You will have to find a bottle and see for yourself!

Dinner wine:

Domaine Jaffelin 2007 Pernand-Vergelesses ‘Clos de Bully’


Moving on we had wonderful bottle of 2007 Pernand-Vergelesses with our main dish.  Ironically we all had a chicken stuffed foie gras dish- not something you would normally pair with chicken stuffed with foie gras- but, since I am trying to break down this idea of ‘pairing’ , we decided to try it.  Again, a little disappointed with the pairing.  A great dish with a great wine, but when put together it wasn’t horrible, but definitely did not enhance anything.

The wine itself is from the most northern part of the Cote de Beaune, as far north as you can get before it becomes the Cote de Nuits.  Meaning it has some similar terroir to the great red pinot noirs of the Cote de Nuits (while not the same price tag).  The things I love about Pernand-Vergelesses is that it is rather round and fruit without being alcoholic- normally.  The bottle we shared was a little more on the dried fruit side (because of the age of the bottle) rather than bright fruits and also was a little hot on the back of the throat (which I would contribute to the vintage).  A bummer for me, mainly because I had a preconceived notion of what the bottle should taste like, but not entirely a bad bottle.  Again, not helped however by the chicken stuffed foie gras.

Dessert wine:

Domaine Bernhard & Reibel 2011 Muscat Vin d’Alsace

Alsace Muscat

And to the surprise of the night- Alsace.  You know how every once in a while someone will pull out a bottle of wine and your heart just moans because you know you aren’t going to like it… then you taste it… and BAM!  Not at all what you thought, could have ever imagined, and to your surprise, you loved it!  I just got off the phone with the ladies at Domiane Bernhard & Reibel because I wanted to order a case of this wine.  One hundred percent Muscat- dry, and refreshing with just trace amounts of residual sugar on the tongue.  Man it was good!

I have found in France that there is a tendency to start the night off with sweet wines in the aperitif and finish with sparkling wines at the dessert.  In the states, we seem to do the opposite.  Therefore, when the owner came out with a sweet wine my heart moaned a little bit, because while I have a large sweet tooth, I do not have a huge palate for sweet wines.  This Muscat was so balanced and fresh with just the right hit of residual sugar it was very pleasant for the end of the meal.  I can’t wait to get my case ordered!  Maybe even plan a trip up to Alsace soon…

Otonis 2011 Minervois


Otonis 2011 Minervois

Well, in keeping with the breaking down of food and wine pairing- last night I tried a wine I really enjoy with a meal I really enjoy, but would never pair together.

The result = disaster.

The Otonis is from the Minervois region in Languedoc.  It is made of 75% syrah, 15% grenache noir, and 5% mourvedre- now I know that doesn’t add up to 100%, but that is what the website says.  It is also grown by my father-in-law, don’t worry, I left him a message letting him know.  Thankfully for my marriage, I really love this wine!  The vines are the ones you see throughout my blog.  My father-in-law and grandfather-in-law work the vines everyday!  It is really amazing to go and see everything they do… for those of you trying to figure out what ‘terroir’ means, I suggest you walk through the vines with someone who actually works them.  It will give you an indication of just why terroir is so important here.

Anyway, this wine is rather smooth for being a syrah from the south.  It reminds a little bit of the American style wines- oak.  The wines are aged for 12 months in French oak barrels, some new, some neutral- but I think the reason the structure is so smooth and rounded has largely to do with the oak.  Often times oak can overpower delicate grapes giving it a taste of oak rather than wine- chardonnay for example will often times taste like oak and nothing like chardonnay.  However, when you have an already strong grape, putting it in oak has a tendency to mellow it out.  I mean, soften it a bit and relax the tannin explosion.   We could talk about oak in wines for hours… so I will just stop here and we will bring back the topic later.

So- the pairing…  I tried this wonderful Otonis with a not so spicy, yet equally wonderful, chicken pad thai.

What a bummer.

I am conflicted with this desire to ‘de-pair’ food and wine.  I really do believe there is a place for the two together.  Now- I agree that forcing someone to drink wine they don’t like is stupid and if someone wants white zinfandel with steak, God bless them.  But, I think there is something to food and wine pairing.  I believe a good wine with the right food can enhance the experience.

But I am open to new ideas and I will keep experimenting…

Marsanne 2011 Pierre Gaillard


Marsanne 2011 Pierre Gaillard

  Marsanne.  Not usually a grape varietal I am into- too creamy, too thick, not enough structure.  Marsanne reminds me a little too much of Chardonnay- a grape with no distinct features, no consistency.  Now, I am talking about my personal taste here- please don’t take it personally.

  Tonight, however, we had this creamy, little bit nutty wine with an asparagus risotto.  I have been reading a book about the food and wine pairing, and how we overdo this concept.  Therefore, I have been a little conflicted about pairing wine and food.  However, tonight I had a wine I didn’t like, with food I did like and the wine changed.  The pairing made the wine better.

   The creamy risotto and the creamy Marsanne complimented each other.  I was rather surprised!  Thankfully surprised!!  I am thinking next time to do it with a different risotto, maybe something scallop or fish based.

Holy snap.

Snarled wine

Holy snap.

Do you ever get those feeling that you are overwhelmed and nothing is working to bring everything down… ??

I have to admit that the past couple of weeks have been incredibly overwhelming.  It seems like with every fix of a problem- three more are created.  Now, I have to admit that my general disposition is to panic, cry, scream, and then open a bottle of wine.  I think I need to figure out a way to actually get flip out without going through all these stages (enter suggestions here)… (no seriously… suggestions please.)

Living in France, trying to speak French everyday is always an adventure… but sometimes I really do wish there was less adventure and more normal.

Just keep breathing…

Peace in the vines


Val des Rois 2010 Valréas


Val de Rois 2010 Valréas

Côte du Rhône Village

Out with a friend Friday night for a little dinner and wine- nothing fancy and we didn’t want to think to much, but it was Friday, both are other half’s where out, and we weren’t about to cook, we also weren’t about to pay an arm and a leg to eat out. So we settled at a little place at the bottom of Croix Rousse, near the Rhone River. Nothing to write home about, but we did have a really simple, easy drinking bottle of red. And can you guess what it was?!? Yep- Côte du Rhône, shocking I know.

Quick notes-

This wine comes from a small village in the Southern Côte du Rhône near Vinsobres, called Valréas. It is made with 75% grenache noir and 25% syrah. It started out pretty spicy on the tongue… really bright with dark fruits. Not at all was I was expecting from this little region. There was not a lot of finish, that was something I was expecting, but was happily surprised by the linger on the tongue. It was chalky… made me want food.

Fortunately, I had choosen ad chorizo pasta and the spicy chorizo with the wine worked wonderfully! My friend however chose salmon pasta and the wine pairing was (and I quote her) ‘well, the wine takes over completely’. Hahaha- an example of the food being good, the wine being good, but when put together- I think it killed her meal.

Ok, lets talk tastings…

   I LOVE giving tastings. I really want to spend my days teaching people about the magic of wine.  How every glass is different, every sip proves something new, every person a different palate.  I mean really, what more could you ask for?

   Personally, I love the finish.  I talked about it in my last post, but the finish is my thing.  I think this is the reason I am so drawn to French wines.  In my humble opinion, terroir = finish and finish = terroir.  The two go together like peanut butter and jelly.

   In France, because of the notion of terroir, they say that any idiot can make wine in a good year, but it takes a real winemaker to make good wine in a bad year.

   I love that.  It makes the wine something other than the person that makes it.  It is a labor of love.  You really have to know your vines in order to get the wine.

   There is a new book about called Why You Like the Wines You Like, but Tim Hanni, MW.  I started reading it the other week and have found it interesting for an American palate, but am wondering for the French palate and moreover, French history.  I LOVE the idea that to start understanding wine, we first have to find the wine style we like.

   With French wines, I encourage people to try and figure out their own palate before critiquing anything about the wine (especially in front of the French).  You are more than welcome to not like a wine, but you better be able to explain if you chose to say that.  Personally, sweet wines are hard for me.  They leave too much sugar on my tongue, too much residue and not enough freshness.  I can say that, because I have tried a variety and learned my won palate.  I have worked to understand what I like and don’t like, what I prefer in a wine and what I don’t.  This is the goal of tastings.  If I can have it my way… starting May 1 this will be what I get to do all the time.  Help people find their personal palate for wine!  Woot woot!


Syrah, Syrah, Syrah… Grenache.

So, I do live in the Rhône Alpes region of France.  Therefore, I drink every form of syrah and blends of syrah ALL THE TIME!  Now, my husband LOVES it.  He could not be happier- coming from the south where syrah is the main grape varietal.  Don’t get me wrong, it is interesting to drink all these different types of syrah and blends of syrah and blah, blah, blah…  but there is such a thing as overload, oh my goodness!  Fortunately, when there is a syrah overload we can move south to find grenache as the main varietal and syrah as support.  Therefore, entering into a grenache overload… here we go.

Anyway, my husband’s family was here the other week and we went to a small restaurant at Les Halles Paul Bocuse called AOC.  Excellent restaurant, by the way.  The AOC specializes in different cuts of beef with a well-rounded wine list- something you don’t always find in Lyon.  It was an excellent meal!  If you come to Lyon anytime soon- I highly recommend it!

For dinner we had two different bottles of wine from the Southern Rhône region, very small regions that you normally don’t find very far away from France.  Originally, we wanted to start off with a bottle of Vinsobres.  Vinsobres is a small appellation in the northern part of the Southern Rhône region.  I, personally, have found mostly organic and biodynamic wines from this area, giving it a more ‘dirty’ taste than others in the region.  Unfortunately for us, the restaurant was out of the wine.  So, we decided to stay within the same area, but move a little more south to Rasteau.

RasteauRasteau is again a small village in the southern part of the Rhône region.  In general, it is considered under the larger umbrella of Côtes du Rhône-Villages.  That is, (at the very basic of meanings) means that the wine has to comply with certain rules and regulations of the Côtes du Rhône-Village.  And just as a side note, all Côtes du Rhône-Village and Côtes du Rhône AOC are found in the Southern Rhone region, other than that the difference in the two names is the quality, Côtes du Rhône-Village is of a superior quality to the Côtes du Rhône.  Now, on taste, it was a little too soon to be drunk.  Unfortuantely.  The Grenache Noir (at 70%) was still maturing, still a little too high in alcohol.  I like to call it HOT.  I don’t know where your palate is or what you like for your personal taste, but I like the finish of a wine.  The longer it stays on my tongue the better and this wine, unfortunately, didn’t appease that part of my palate.

But not to fear… there was a second bottle.  A Sablet. Sablet

Do you know Sablet?  Me either at the time I drank it.  I could figure out the basics by the appellation, the AOC, and general taste… but had NEVER heard of the region Sablet before.  Now, normally I would feel pretty bad about myself for not knowing this and having claimed to specialize in French wines once upon a time…. but at the same time- EVERY region in France is a wine-growing region and so I have chosen to take the approach where I learn the most I can from the person who serves me.  In this case the waiter was very knowledgeable and easily understood.

Sablet is like the little sister of Rasteau, with characteristics that all little sisters can embody sometimes.  In this case, the Sablet was ready to be drunk at that moment.  It was spicy like a grenache should be with a finish of dried fruit and dirt.  The nose was a little less expressive, although the hints of bright fruits expressed stronger than what I found on the palate.  However, the end was what interested me.  It tickled the back of my throat and lingered for a while, with the cut of meat (called poire de boeuf) it was a nice mix.

AOC Lunch

 Often with the Côtes du Rhône, there is a difficulty in understanding the subtleties of different regions because they are so close together and will often times give a similar taste.  For myself, when I focus on the finish of the wine I can usually tell more about the region.  What do I mean?  Well, for the Southern Côtes du Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the king, Gigondas the queen, Vacqueyras the prince and then the court is everything around it- Vinsobres, Rasteau, Sablet, Tavel, Lirac, Ventoux, and the list goes on.  If you do a tasting of five of these regions for example… you will find that the finish changes on each (along with other things, but I am focusing on the finish).  The finish goes from more mature, rounded and deep in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape to lighter and shorter in the Rasteau, for example.  It is a fun exercise to do if you can find it (and afford it).

I will try and find it and maybe display if for you later…  I’ll start saving 😉

Raclette and Riesling

photo (4)

Raclette and Riesling

So, it is Easter weekend.  Where I come from the traditions of Easter are quite different from those in France… now keeping with the theme of my life, I am trying to ‘go with the flow’.  Some days, easier said then done.  Last night, we decided to have a raclette– for those of you who are unfamiliar with a raclette, it is traditionally a mountain meal.  The kind of thing you eat after a full day of skiing or being outside in the cold.  Aka. cheese and meat.  In a traditional raclette you have a large piece of raclette cheese melting and you scrape, or rack, it off onto your plate over pieces of charcurterie, potatoes, anything really with pickles and onions… seriously, so good!  It comes from the Haut Savoie, Savoie region of France where cheese is a basic staple of everyone’s diet- and no one can blame them.

In general you would have a raclette with a white wine from the Savoie region, but since we did not have a bottle handy in our apartment we decided to try a raclette with a wine from Alsace, a Riesling.  Now, the thing I have heard about raclette is that you are not allowed to drink cold water with it.  Apparently, because of all the cheese in it, if you drink cold water the cheese will become like a hard ball in your stomach.  Therefore, kids have to drink apple juice and parents have to drink white wine… personally, I have no problem with the white wine ;).  But I don’t think I will experiment to find out if cold water really does anything.

So, the Riesling.  Now, I have to mention up front that sweet wine and I are not the best of friends, however I will try to keep my personal palate out of what I write… no promises.  And if you have any bottle suggestions to open my mind to Alsace I will be happy to take a tour…

A little background:  Rieslings are the most planted grape varietal in the Alsace region.  It is also rather complicated to understand because when we talk about Alsatian wines we have to talk about sugar content.  For example, the wine we drank was Lorentz Grand Cru Riesling 2004, which means it is from one of the ‘noble’ grape varieties in Alsace, has restricted yield levels, and restricted sugar content.  Alsace Grand Cru was created in the 1950’s, representing about 4% of the total wine production in Alsace.  The restrictions surrounding the Grand Cru classification are very strict, right down to the buds per vine…

Lorentz Riesling Grand Cru 2004In our case, the wine was nine years old- leaving what was potentially a fresh, mildly sweet wine to age and become more creamy, longer lasting, less fresh sugar (by that I mean sugars in fresh fruits).  It had some apricot on the nose, more dried apricots then fresh and some honey, almost beeswax.  When we took a sip it was nothing like I was expecting.  The length on the palate for starters lasted way longer than I would have imagined.  I mean wow!  The sugars on the palate were muted enough with age that a rounder formed and the wine touched all areas of my mouth with pleasure.  I was thoroughly impressed!  Now, on a downside, it was a bit of a bummer with a raclette, I found the tastes to be in competition with each other, but in terms of taste all around- the two were so great individually that we did not mind so much.

However, the second bottle I think we will try to cook something a little more exotic… any suggestions?