A good way to define Vin de Pays wine is to compare it to wine of the French appellation (AOC) system. But when you only discovered the French appellation system the moment that Wine Blogging Wednesday 33 was announced last month, the comparison may not be all that instructive.
That's why I think the best way to define a Vin de Pays wine is to taste it!
For WBW 33, try to pick a moderately priced bottle ($15-30) and assess its value. Your bottle could be a Languedoc-Roussillon Vin de Pays (VdP) or, of course, a Languedoc-Roussillon AOC wine (more about AOC in the original WBW 33 announcement which is linked above). Any mid-priced wine is allowed to participate, just as long as it comes from this southern French region sometimes known as the Midi. Things like colour, style of wine and alcohol content do not matter so focus on the fact that your bottle is mid-priced and features the right designation of origin on the label.
Since vin de pays is a new topic for those following along with WBW 33 preparations, I've created a complete listing of VdP classifications that indicate a Languedoc-Roussillon product. By consulting this list you can find out if the vin de pays you dig up will be eligible for the blogging event on May 16. Why not try out any vin de pays you find until then?
Here are a couple of bottles of vin de pays from Languedoc-Roussillon that I drank recently and what I thought of them.
Like taking a bite out of the most ripe and delicious fruit. Laroche Viognier Vin de pays d'Oc 2005 (click on image at left for more details) has citrus and a hint of spice, making it edgy and refreshing rather than heavy, as the often full-bodied Viognier grape can be. This wine is testament to the tremendous fruit of this grape variety. An outstanding example of the well-balanced and aromatic attack of a lovely transplated northern Rhone grape and it's one that comes with a very small price. Laroche sets the price so low (about $14) that it's not technically eligible for WBW 33.
Béziers, France. 13.5%.
I'm not going to pretend I love every wine from Languedoc-Roussillon that I've ever tasted. For the sake of impartiality, here is a not-so-good wine from Languedoc-Roussillon, another Viognier varietal. Domaine de Gourgazaud Viognier Vin de pays d'Oc 2005 (click on image at right for more details) delivers fat flavours without much refreshment value, and features a prominent apple profile with some white peach. Lacks the dazzle, if not the acidity, of the above, which is a natural for a great aperatif wine. This one's a bit flat.
La Livinière, France. 13.5%.
These wines are both of the frequently-cheap Vin de Pays d'Oc classification. The Oc designation embodies an area as big as all of Languedoc-Roussillon itself. This enables winemakers to use grapes from a vast geographical area. Since this means that partnerships among various producers across the land can be made, it is not surprising that the bottles often would be inexpensive.
A NOTE ABOUT THE TYPE ON THE LABEL
I often look at the location listed on a bottle of wine. (Maybe this is why I am so maniacal for WBW 33!) Usually the place on the label is where the wine producer vinified, cellared or bottled his product. It's not necessarily where the grapes come from (that why the designation of the wine is needed).
This is interesting to me, and not just in the context of VdP wines. But in the case of VdP wines, when you see where the producers are based, you can try to guess what the other possible designations the producer could've labeled his wines. Had Michel Laroche been more choosy and used only grapes from his immediate zone around Béziers, could he have made a wine with a more specific designation like Vin de Pays du Coteau du Libon? Or in the case of the Domaine de Gourgazaud based in La Livinière, which is the heart of the Minervois appellation, why not go for an AOC Minervois classification? Neither case may be an option (and this interpretive guide from France is one of the few online resources that may help explain why in English). Basically, neither case is an option because even VdP rules vary from one VdP classification to another (Libon restrictions are separate from D'Oc restrictions), and because Minervois doesn't permit the production of Viognier varietals. So multiple designation options are not always available to winemaker for the wine he or she wants to make. Hence the plethora of vin de pays.
Hey, regulations can't always seem sexy -- uncork a vin de pays today and let it speak for itself. And then maybe thank the great Gassac's Aimé Guibert for inventing the stuff.
A good way to define Vin de Pays wine is to compare it to wine of the French appellation (AOC) system. But when you only discovered the French appellation system the moment that Wine Blogging Wednesday 33 was announced last month, the comparison may not be all that instructive.
Anyone who has seen shaky-camera documentary Mondovino will remember the colourful French winemaker named Aimé Guibert. He was the white-haired owner of Mas de Daumas Gassac, and when he was not a blur on film, he was among those ferociously opposed to the enterprising Michel Rolland, the overtaking Mondavi family, and the force of globalization that is perceived to threaten the legacy of wine terroirs.
What the film didn't explicitly recount was (as explained by Jancis Robinson) the following salient tidbit of information: "Aimé Guibert was the first to prove that a French non-appellation wine, labelled merely Vin De Pays de l'Hérault, can be an extremely serious, long-living red which can fetch the same sort of prices as a Bordeaux classed growth."
For this, many consider Guibert a founding forefather of today's Languedoc-Roussillon. And though vignerons in almost every corner of France are now producing wine under the vin de pays classification, only Guibert successfully launched the idea that his vin de pays of the Languedoc could be among the most formidable values going. In effect, he served to give a nice push to the already long-existing Languedoc-Roussillon appellations, like Minervois and Fitou. In the years to come, innovative and experimental winemakers would flock to the area.
But about four decades ago, Guibert, who is now 80 years old, undertook important operations that ushered in a major wine movement in the south of France. Because of him and similar-minded vignerons, wine experts noted a renaissance in the region and across most of the Midi. Suddenly Langudoc-Roussillon was tapping its terroirs with renewed enthusiasm -- enthusiasm perhaps not seen since the days of kings and queens in France, who where known at times to pass up claret for Midi red wine.
Others see the movement south-ward as part of the birth of new value in today's wine world. Guibert was responsible for carrying Cabernet to lower latitudes, and in so doing, nurtured and promoted the budding Vin de Pays designation of wine, written VdP for short.
WHY DESIGNATE A WINE AS VIN DE PAYS?
The VdP designation was essential because Languedoc-Roussillon AOC appellations almost entirely forbade the vinification of nontraditional Midi grapes like Cabernet. It, Merlot and other more northern grape varieties forced Midi winemakers to produce under the label of Vin de Pays. This label distinguished it from the appellation system. While VdPs exist outside AOC regulation, they do mirror it somewhat, especially in the way that vin de pays meet quality standards. They should not be seen as a second-class wine. In fact, vin de pays are the creations of some of France's most passionate and leading winemakers.
Yet often the price of a wine classified as a VdP is much less than a top-drawer figure. And that is a win-win situation for wine lovers who like discovering new bottles and, who, increasingly, have an eye on sampling wine from ambitious new producers who align themselves in a commitment to fine wine-making that requires them to operate outside the strict limitations imposed by AOC regulations.
Outsiders to the wine world may have begun establishing their good names in the 1970s with vin de pays bargains, but these days those bargains are not necessarily cheap. Can $50 be called a bargain? Perhaps it can -- who can say until one has tried what's inside the bottle with the impressive price tag? A top Gassac wine from Guibert fetches at least that much these days. Same for Rothschild wines that sell under the Vin de Pays de l'Aude designation.
But then those are just two weighty VdP wines that have made wine history. Vin de pays are so much more than that.
Next: Vin de Pays, part two
Posted by Marcus | Sunday, April 29, 2007
Sometimes the stars align... sometimes government agencies do too. I thought this weekend was going to be boring and rainy. Not so!
I woke this morning to read news that today is the start of a three-day long $100 sale at the SAQ. Then I heard that the métro system is entirely free of all transit charges all weekend long. With WBW 33 coming up next month, these developments can mean only thing.
People of Montreal, this means we shop.
If you're like me you don't have a car. This can play against you at the SAQ, the province-wide supplier of wine in Quebec. The SAQ frequently rewards those who buy by the case-load (rather than those friendly folk like myself who pop in almost every day to say hi and buy bottle).
I can swing a case no problem when I've got a free pass on Montreal's transit system, the STM. Read about no-fare passage all day Saturday and Sunday on buses and subways in this story. Not to be outdone, the SAQ starts its special promotion today, making a long weekend out of its discount sale (check for details before you go).
THE STM AND SAQ COME TOGETHER FOR WBW!
Here's how I plan on getting a hundred dollars' worth of wine and pay no transit fare to cart it all the way home to my cave (note that all of these babies would be perfect candidates for Wine Blogging Wedensday 33: Languedoc-Roussillon value wines):
Château de Sauvanes Faugères 2001 $20.60
Château des Adouzes Faugères 2001 $19.30
Château de Pennautier Collection Privée Cabardès 2001 $17.70
Les Fiefs d'Aupenac (blanc) St-Chinian 2005 $17.90
Viognier Domaine Cazal Viel Vin de Pays d'Oc 2005 $17.45
Posted by Marcus | Friday, April 27, 2007
When you've posted on WBW 33, tell everyone about your entry by clicking on the Comments link below [note: the link will display later on when the date of WBW 33 is more close at hand].
Full details on how to play.
Posted by Marcus | Wednesday, April 25, 2007
WBW 33 is Languedoc-Roussillon value wines, aka mid-priced wines from the Midi. I'm quite familiar with wines of this region (which is why I am enthusiastic about this theme); I'm not sure how new the topic is to potential participants.
For starters then, I offer any reticent L-R drinkers to take a look at the lay of the land. Google Maps shows how Languedoc-Roussillon has a natural gift -- a semi-circle of mountains and ridges aligning vineyards at a more direct angle with the rays of the summer sun. This clever arrangement maximizes budding and fruit production. To this, the neighbouring Mediterranean Sea moderates the temperature so grapes don't get scorched. In other words, nice digs for a wino!
Go ahead an click on the map and take a closer look around the area. It's no wonder genius winemakers by the dozen have set up shop in this region of southern France.
Languedoc and, especially, Roussillon ... have attracted investors such as the owner of Le Pin in Pomerol, the director of Ch Latour in Pauillac, the owner of Ch Valandraud in St-Emilion, Chapoutier, Tom Lubbe of South Africa and several Masters of Wine.
This excerpt was taken from another famous Master of Wine, Jancis Robinson. I credit her not only for inspiring the theme for WBW 33, but also for sending me the bulk of recommended producer names posted during the announcement last week to get bloggers interested. (Jancis Robinson's online forum of subscribers as well as Le Guide du Vin author Michel Phaneuf supplied a handful of other names).
Last fall I met Jancis while in New York, where she spoke about how wine lovers can get the most bang for their buck. In effect, she said to seek out Languedoc-Roussillon bottle priced between $15 and $30:
My reasoning is that the best Midi wines are hand-crafted wines from small domaines run by people with real commitment yet they generally lack sufficient reputation to charge very high prices.
I cannot stress enough what value is to be found in the south of France in the following appellations – none of them super-famous and all of them extremely variable.
These main appellations she's talking about can be found as part of that recommended producers list, which is now a permanent reference on Doktor Weingolb's appendix.
The wine appellations of Languedoc-Roussillon are special, to say the least. I will focus on them some more in upcoming posts. By their very definition, they disallow varietal wines. So that means international varietals like Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon will not likely be seen for WBW 33 (yet WBW participants are sure to taste them as a great many L-R wines will feature some of these grapes in the mix, often alongside Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carignan).
I realize a move away from the labeling of grape varieties in the wine we drink can be a significant change for drinkers. Grape profiles often determine whether a wine is suitable for serving with dinner, whether it goes with a particular dish or food. I hope to provide some tips on this.
Besides that, in general a lot of wine buyers act on recognizable grapes on the label. For WBW 33, that impulse will be denied in part. This might be different, but change is good! After all, I'm sure most winebloggers (and other potential participants) are intrepid types who will be unfazed by this. So be sure to participate on May 16.
Wines await to be discovered! And with the promise of wine values too!
Next: Vin de Pays
Posted by Marcus | Monday, April 23, 2007
Mid-priced wines from the Midi
The theme for the 33rd edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday is Languedoc-Roussillon value wines or what I like to call "Mid-priced wines from the Midi".
In May, WBW participants can choose any type of wine from the southern French region of Languedoc-Roussillon (which is often referred to as the Midi).
One catch: the price. Since it has been argued by many wine experts that specifically the mid-priced wines coming out of this region are the greatest values, only bottles in the $15-$30 range will be part of the event. The idea is to analyze the "value for the money" claim. Then on Wednesday, May 16, post your review. When you do so, please let everyone know where you've posted it by entering a comment now. (Those without a place to post their entry can enter it directly in a comment field.) Then comes my round-up, which I hope won't be too far behind that.
In an effort to be as inclusive as possible I've already converted the price range into different currencies. $15-30 in American funds is roughly equal to $17-34 Canadian; $18-36 Australian; £7.50-£15; €11-22.
Now that you've got your budget, you may ask yourself how you can be sure your bottle is from Languedoc-Roussillon. The best way to know for sure is to look for one of the region's appellation names on the bottle label. Languedoc-Roussillon appellations, as well as some key producers to look for, are broken down in this useful listing.
Hope you find a great Midi bottle and post about it on the third Wednesday in May.
In the meantime, please stay tuned to this site for many more posts full of interesting background information on Languedoc-Roussillon.
Posted by Marcus | Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Mixed-Bag Blogging Monday: Domaine de Montcy Cuvée Clos des Cèdres, Domaine Claude Lafond "La Raie" & Joseph Balland-Chapuis Coteaux du Giennois 2004
Like the mixed bag of inclement weather hitting the Atlantic Coast and Northeast, today's post presents a bit of a mixed bag. (By the way, news on the next Wine Blogging Wednesday, which is happening on this site, is just around the corner -- for now, see the final round-up entries as Billy wraps up WBW #32.)
Before the greatness that is Wine Blogging Wednesday, there is always a Mixed-Bag Blogging Monday to get through. But as far as today's MBM goes, things could be worse. (None of the wines in this mix came close to being as unforgiving as today's soggy and awful forecast.)
Back in early March, I set out on a bit of Sauvignon Blanc spree, focusing in on what France's Loire Valley has on offer. I think a similar pursuit with New Zealand Sauvignon inspired me to do this. So over a couple of weeks, my friends and I sampled three of the region's Sauvignons, some with Chardonnay blended in, some without.
We were surprised that the bottle which got the least praise (three stars in Michel Phaneuf's Le Guide du Vin) outshone by far the other two bottles (which had garnered four stars apiece). This was even more surprising considering that we all were in agreement and that we drank the exact vintages that were rated. They were all 2004s, a lovely and auspicious year for this refreshing, compelling style of wine.
At the top of the pack was the Domaine de Montcy Cuvée Clos des Cèdres Cheverny 2004. It was the bottle we described as "perfect" -- it perfectly delivered all we were looking for in a nice appetizing Sauvignon. I've already bought three more bottles of Montcy's Clos des Cèdres since last month's uncorking. And I intend to get more while supplies last.
The first time I tasted this I got bright citrus flavours. The second time, weeks later, which obviously was influenced by memory and expectation, I was more immediately struck by reediness and minerality that had a touch of wood. The burst of citrus I was prepared for was still there. (But you know what they say about first impressions -- or rather is it something about never being as good as the first time?) In any case those delicious grapefruit edges provided some interesting character and this wine scores, every time.
Montcy's Loire winemaker displays a descriptive profile which indicates linden and I guess I'll buy that tasting note -- it's definitely more than just zest because there are some vegetal and herbal components that are well integrated too. It's a winning package that serves up the refreshment and nice raspy edge you expect from a Sauvignon out of the Loire (Cheverny is just northwest of Sancerre, by the way).
Perhaps this winner of a cuvée has a secret in the form of its 30% Chardonnay in the mix.
Domaine Claude Lafond "La Raie" Reuilly 2004 was the one we called the "appley" one. (Click on the image at right for more details on this wine.) Raie, which is the French word for skate, as in the funny-looking plate-like fish, was much flatter than the other wines. Hey, this cuvée is well named! This Sauvignon actually verges on pear and that was quite unexpected. This was my first experience with a Reuilly wine and my first experience with this producer (Claude Lafond) so maybe lush fruit is a characteristic I should've been expecting. In any case, we were all surprised as it is, after all, Sauvignon Blanc. Definitely a subject for further research.
It came off like heavy wet snow, didn't tingle or brace our palates much as we ramped up to dinner. Not bad overall, but not the Sauvignon that we seek out. (That would be the bottle you see at the very top of the page -- click on it for more details.)
Joseph Balland-Chapuis Coteaux du Giennois 2004 was the final of the three we tasted and we labeled it the "grassy" one. (Click on the image at left for more details on this wine.) More similar to the first bottle than the second -- ain't nothing wrong with grass, especially when it comes to Sauvignon, but this was just not quite as good at the first bottle. It was a touch on the tart and unforgiving side.
Just like today's sleet and snow, it could sting in just the slightest way and it could definitely make you make faces.
R. et S. Simon, La Porte Dorée, Cheverny, France. 12%.
Posted by Marcus | Monday, April 16, 2007
After missing the last installment of WBW because of technical difficulties, I found myself on vacation for WBW 32 (Guess what readers? WBW 33 is going to be on MY schedule since I'm hosting -- hope you'll perticipate with me in May).
Anyhow, despite being on vacation for the last 12 days, I managed to get an entry ready for WBW 32. At the time I prepared it I thought did some good scrambling and interesting blogging. But there is a but. I will wait to broach it at the end of this post.
The folks at the Wine Cask came up with a keen idea for today's event. It took a little extra time and effort: open two wines that in some way have a regular/reserve relationship with each other. The big brother and the baby brother, as I like to call them.
I found two Niagara Peninsula wines that suited this challenge. (After all, I was in Niagara for part of my vacation.) Rather than regular/reserve, they were basic brand/higher-end brand. An entry-level Bordeaux-style wine from Hillebrand Estates Winery and a fairly similarly styled effort issued under the winery's more prestigious label called Trius. (Trius is a name developed and owned by Hillebrand, so these sibling bottles go out of their way to look strikingly different. Happens in almost every family these days.)
But it doesn't matter how they look. These two are the same vintage, made of the same grapes, and produced by the same winemaking team. The only significant difference we got here is price. Or roughly $10-15 for the Harvest (depending on where you buy it), compared to $20.15 for the Trius.
Or least that's the only significant difference until they are tasted.
Hillebrand Estates Harvest Cabernet-Merlot 2004: quite woody, deserves some mellowing to bring forward its nice Cabernet Sauvignon imprint. Overall is thin but just fine with a Sunday dinner of roast beef, with roasted potatoes and carrots and mashed acorn squash.
Hillebrand Estates Trius Red 2004: fruitier with loads of red berries and a pinch of vanilla, immediately convinces as a more integrated Cabernet-Merlot blend. Fine tannins, nice length and structure. Like the Harvest it is drink now. Spicy notes and cedar contribute to its profile too, making it perfect for barbecue fare. We had seared strip loin in mushrooms and shallots, with caramelized zucchini coins and buttered potatoes with chives.
I preferred the upscale version, and furthermore, its more expensive combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot was to me a better value. For as little as $5 more, you are getting a lot more elegance.
A successful and worthwhile exercise! But I warned you that there was a but. I found a photo of Trius readily available online so I went back to the Harvest bottle to take my own photographs of it. Suddenly I see the fine print on the label, which says the wine was cellared in Canada. Beware all you Ontario wine drinkers of the dreaded "Cellared in Canada" line. (Click on the photo at top left to enlarge the label). This cellaring business means that the grapes are partially or almost all imported!
I can't believe I played by the rules all the way for WBW 32 only to now find that I've basically been comparing cheap Chilean grapes to "VQA" Niagara harvests. VQA is a seal of quality that guarantees the origin of the grapes as Canadian. I should've been more careful to look for the VQA seal but I guess I was too preoccupied with all the other WBW criteria to notice. What a mistake! Hopefully, this post can serve some purpose to others (and maybe help convince Niagara wineries that imported grapes aren't measuring up to the real thing anyway!)
Posted by Marcus | Wednesday, April 11, 2007
I took a week off work, but now it is over.
My vacation was one big week-long wintry cloud and I'm more than eager that things get cleared up.
Blog absence and travel have created a messy backlog. Here's one outstanding piece of correspondence I failed to respond to last week. I hope an answer to this reader's query is not too late.
An emailer writes:
I was wondering if you could help me. I have a friend who is planning on visiting Niagara with a view towards picking a few bottles of icewine.My response:
Can you recommend some labels? Nothing too expensive but maybe in something in the $25 to $50 range.
Also, my friend is curious about those flavoured icewines (hot peppers, berries etc.) What are your thoughts?
Any advice would be appreciated.
I was actually in Niagara for Good Friday so it seems appropriate that your "friend" poses this question now.
First of all, you can tell your friend not to worry. We all know that icewine is expensive. None of us can afford to live off this kind of wine. It's what I would classify as a true luxury item.
Icewine costs a lot because its production is a tall order that involves arduous work, nighttime cultivation, and tiny yields of heavily concentrated juice. Poor conditions can play havoc with the harvest and global warming is frequently mentioned as a major threat. Since we find ourselves in April and under a thin blanket of snow, this can be hard to believe. But in some years there is no icewine vintage. In fact it was only last year the harvest came perilously close to not even happening in Niagara. All of this goes to show you how rare and sought-after this stuff can be.
With that in mind, I can absolutely respect your friend's budget. Although it is a delicacy, there's no reason why icewine should be prohibitive. Knowing all that, do you still really want to meddle with hot peppers? In my mind, even so much as a single blueberry denigrates the final product, like smacking the end of a big glass bottle of Heinz while it is pointed at your filet mignon.
But that's just my impression of these products which -- if Google supplies any accurate indication -- are finding a bit of a niche in Niagara. I admit to never having tried flavoured icewines. I'm willing to be honest. But after sampling beer flavoured with grenadine last week I don't think I would want to. Little good that does to help you though.
LCBO INVESTIGATION ON ONTARIO'S FLAVOURED ICEWINES
So on my way out of the region, I stopped at the LCBO's large warehouse outlet at Yonge and Queen's Quay in Toronto. I enquired about flavoured icewines with one of the employees stocking shelves. She, like myself, had never heard of it. She directed me to LCBO VQA Expert Steve MacDougall (Vintners Quality Alliance is an Ontario regulatory designation for wine). If anyone at the Ontario liquor monopoly knew about flavoured icewines, it would be Steve.
Steve also had never heard of flavoured icewines, and asked me whether the blueberry version, for instance, was blueberry wine and not real icewine with blueberries added to it. I told him that was apparently not the case, or least it wasn't what was presented by the web sites of a few little-known wineries.
For example, Crown Beach Estates (clickable image above) explains how their flavoured icewines are made from real wine grapes and then flavoured. Steve recalled carrying Crown Bench icewines in the past though they were definitely not with added flavour. (At $90 a bottle, they were also definitely not cheap.)
Seeing that the Crown Bench flavoured icewines were not listed as VQA, I asked Steve whether VQA limitations could be part of the reason why they were not "mainstream" and not appearing on LCBO shelves. He wagered that if they used Ontario grapes there shouldn't be any reason why a VQA seal would be denied. He suggested that these flavoured icewines might be just the thing that is bubbling under the surface and that the right regional sales rep for the LCBO could know more. They could be coming in and be big at Christmas, he said.
HAS ANYBODY TRIED THESE WINES?
Once again, little good that does to help you. Since no one seems to have tried the stuff I'm going to stick my neck out and give you my own personal recommendation. [Ed. note: Someone very knowledgeable in this department has just left a comprehensive comment at the link below.]
Riesling-flavoured icewine is where my money's at. Icewine made from Riesling grapes typically is pricier than the more commonly found Vidal icewine, but you can find some that fits your price range to be sure.
Reif Estate Winery in particular makes one I'd recommend. Unfortunately for you, I'm not the only one singing its praises. This award-winning icewine is currently sold out.
Well I can't say that I haven't tried. Perhaps consulting this flight of Vineland Estates icewines could help inform your purchasing decisions in the meantime?
Posted by Marcus | Monday, April 09, 2007
The volumes found in a winery's library are bottles, not books. That's just how it is. This makes me want to bone up.
They are measured by alcohol content, not by number of pages or by chapters. And, if you know the right librarian, the volumes are awarded rather than loaned. This sounds like my type of thing!
Sure I like to study in the library. And yes, for me this is definitely turning over a new leaf.
But like a too-good-to-be-true dream, the fantasy sputters to a full stop. The bubble bursts and you are no longer a kid in a candy store.
All these bottles, plus a couple of others not shown in this photo, went straight down the drain. Totally undrinkable. I wanted to contact the librarian to ask why anyone even bothers to catalog these things. I was even ready to accept an apology. They are way, way beyond serving.
So it's back to where I was when I put down Dickens. Beware the library!
Posted by Marcus | Thursday, April 05, 2007