An Incredible Evening of Burgundy at 2941

Each year, we organize a pull-out-all-the-stops Burgundy dinner to celebrate one or more of the very special producers we work with.  This year, for the first time, we had it at 2941 to feature the wines of Domaine Thibert and Lamy Pillot, and a memorable night it was!

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Wines from one of the Macon’s best, Domaine Thibert, kicked off the evening.  With a series of delectable passed hors d’oeuvres, we enjoyed the 2011 Vielles Vignes.  It struck just the right balance between richness and freshness – the perfect aperitif wine.  It was tough to pick a favorite pre-dinner snack, but the zucchini fritters won out by a narrow margin.  Zucchini and mint are both excellent partners to this wine – something to keep in mind at the farmers’ market this weekend!

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With a beautiful piece of poached salmon, we had two different vintages of Dom Thibert Pouilly Fuisse Les Champs: 2007 and 2010.  The 2007 was all unctuous richness, while the 2010 was showing only a fraction of its true potential.  While the 2010 was great against the dense salmon, the 2007 was what really had everyone talking.  One to drink now, and one to cellar – a perfect pair!

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With crispy crab wrapped in pastry and delicately scented with vanilla, we moved onto the wines of Lamy-Pillot.  Dueling Chassagne-Montrachets complemented this course: the 2011 Pot Bois, and the 2010 1er Cru Caillerets.  Both wines had the richness and power to stand up to the crab and vanilla flavors, where many wines would have turned thin and acrid.

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Squab with some delicious gnocchi, perfectly crisped, was served with the final two wines, a pair of reds from Lamy-Pillot.  The 2009 St. Aubin Rouge had the chalky minerality and toothsome tannins that remind you that some Pinot Noirs really can pair with steak!  The Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge Clos St. Jean 2009 showed off the fleshy ripeness of the 2009 vintage in a flattering, elegant way.  Full of dark, sappy fruit, this wine defied the reputation that Chassagne rouge has for sometimes being a bit thin or lacking in fruit.

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A light  (mercifully!) goat cheese panna cotta finished the evening, but we couldn’t leave before Olivier and Daniel Cadot of Lamy-Pillot led us all in a traditional Burgundian song.

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Thanks to the hard work of sommelier Jonathan Schuyler and chef Bertrand Chemel of 2941 for their impeccable food and service, to Olivier Daubresse for bringing Christophe Thibert of Domaine Thibert and Daniel Cadot of Lamy-Pillot to us for this special evening, and to Lauren Rittermann for her gorgeous photos.

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Digging Deeper: Rosé

This weekend’s rosé festival got us thinking about the history of our favorite seasonal wine.  It’s such a fun style that it’s easy to just gulp away without much thought (not that we discourage this, by the way), but the story of rosé is actually pretty interesting!

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One of our favorite things about the beginning of rosé season is admiring its many different shades of pink.  Grape varietal accounts for some of this, but a lot of the color variation comes from the winemaking method used.  There are three main methods.  In the Skin contact method, the juice sits with the skins of the red grapes for 1-3 days before it’s pressed and the skins are removed, is usually used when the grapes are only being used for rosé.  In the saignée method (From the French “to bleed”), pale pink juice is ‘bled’ from the grapes before they go into tanks.  This method produces both rosé, and makes a more concentrated, darker red wine from the remaining juice.  The third method is blending, which is pretty self-explanatory: a small amount of red wine is blended into white wine to give it a pink color.  Most wine regions don’t allow this practice, but it is allowed in Champagne.  Here are a few other fun facts to help you think pink!

Ancient Roots.  Though rosé, especially dry rosé, is relatively new in terms of popularity here in the US, it’s actually one of the more ancient styles of wine.  Back before more powerful presses were created and grapes were stomped by foot (or hand), the resulting wines were pretty light, and looked more like what we think of as a rosé color.  Even after better presses were invented, in Ancient Greece and Rome, lighter wines were considered more desirable.  Bordeaux’s wines done in this style were especially prized, while darker, more robust wines were considered coarse and inferior.

A Happy Accident.  We all know about the White Zinfandel craze – but whose bright idea was it?  Like chocolate chip cookies, White Zin was invented by accident.  In 1975 Sutter Home’s Bob Trinchero had been making a White Zinfandel that really did look and taste almost like a white wine.  One year, while making this still “blanc de noirs,” if you will, he had a stuck fermentation that he just couldn’t fix.  He set the wine aside, and upon tasting it later, decided to sell it, even though it was sweeter and pinker than he intended.

This cellar disaster took off in a big way, and White Zinfandel and the various off-dry ‘blush’ styles it inspired are still popular, although not as popular as they once were.  As much as we like to roll our eyes at White Zinfandel, its popularity did get a lot of people drinking wine who might not have otherwise tried it, and at least some of those people probably ended up being wine lovers and graduating to more classic styles.  The White Zinfandel craze also preserved old, bush-trained Zinfandel vines that date back to the 19th century and would have otherwise been ripped up to plant Cabernet or Merlot.

The Classic.  Ah, Provence.  Just the name makes you want to hop on a plane and turn your life into a passage from a Peter Mayle novel in which the most strenuous part of your day is throwing on a linen blazer to head down to the local cafe on your scooter and enjoy a glass of pale pink, crisp, refreshing Provençal rosé.  These fantasies always involve linen and designer sunglasses in my mind…

Wine was first made in France in Provence, and today over 75 percent of its output is rosé.  Most is made under the Cotes de Provence AOC, and the approved grapes for making this classic style are Cinsault, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, and a local variety called Tibouren.  Rosé can be made either in the saignée method or by merely pressing whole grapes to make an extremely light, salmon-colored wine.  Provençal roses tend to be very light pink compared to roses from other regions, and have a wonderful combination of fairly full body and crisp, refreshing acids.  Sometime it’s best not to mess with the classics!

What’s Your Style?  Whether you’re a fan of a classic Provençal style rose, a fuller, fruitier Spanish, or something in between, rosé goes with just about anything.  Lighter styles will taste almost like a white wine at first, but can be deceptively full-bodied, making them a great partner to a wide variety of foods.  Darker rosés, like the ones often made from Garnacha in Spain, will have more red fruit flavors, and can be very ripe, so that they almost taste sweet for a moment before they finish crisp and dry.  Wines like this are great with barbecue and other pork dishes.  Most importantly, rose is almost always good by itself on a sunny day, making it the perfect partner to spring and summer!

An Evening With Shane Finley

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“It takes a lot of beer to make great wine”

When I moved to Napa Valley in 2010 to learn about wine, I stumbled into a great part-time job at a St. Helena wine shop. Just as we do here at Chain Bridge Cellars, we gave free tastings Friday afternoons, but they were a little different. Because we had winemakers for neighbors, they poured for us, and as the newest and least experienced employee, I usually got the glassware and wine ready for the tasting.

Early on, a coworker asked me to run to the nearby Safeway to pick up beer. “For the winemaker – he likes Trumer or another nice, crisp Pilsner,” he said. Now, Jeff had a good sense of humor, so at first I thought he was having a little fun with me.  “Really?” I asked. “For the … winemaker?”

“Of course!” he said, looking at me as though I was even more clueless than he had originally thought. Turns out the saying “it takes a lot of beer to make great wine” exists for a reason, and I always kept the fridge stocked for tasting days. Every winemaker had their favorites, but they all wanted something crisp and unpretentious to sip while pouring and schmoozing, even (especially, actually) the ones making $100+ Cabernet.

Shane Finley is no different. When he almost sheepishly asked if he could have a beer as we were cleaning up from the tasting at the end of the night, it took me right back to those Friday night tastings in St. Helena.

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A name like Kosta Browne usually gets everyone’s attention, but there is more to Shane Finley than a few famous names on his resume (or his love of beer!). Like many of us in the wine industry, he is a refugee from a much more mainstream career – in his case as an insurance agent. In his mid-20s, having caught the wine bug, he quit his job in Manhattan to be a harvest intern and learn how to make wine. That he did, working harvests in California with Copain winery as well as at Domaine Pierre Gaillard in the Northern Rhone. When he agreed to come to our store to lead a tasting for the second year in a row, we were thrilled, and we were even more thrilled with how beautifully the wines showed.

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We started the evening with a splash of his Grenache Blanc, an unusual grape for California, but part of a growing movement we’re seeing there towards alternatives to the usual Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs. From Vermentino to Trousseau Gris, we’re thrilled with all this variety, and are excited that wines like this are finally making it out of the state! Shane’s Grenache Blanc has the high-toned, lemony snap of a great Picpoul de Pinet, but with much more ripeness and sophistication.

Then it was on to the Ma Fille Rose, named for Shane’s daughter. Refreshing and fun to drink, this is the kind of wine that gets guzzled first at parties, no matter what other impressive bottles are available.

Though his current day job at Lynmar has him making lots of Pinot Noir, he only makes one, The Charm, under his own label. The name is a nod to his Irish heritage, and a charming, ripe, unctuous Pinot it is.

Dueling Syrahs ended our tasting, both showing a different side of Shane’s approach to this classic and sometimes unappreciated grape.  His time in the Rhone inspired him to work with it, and his “The Villain” and Jemrose Syrahs were remarkably different.

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The differences between the two inspired quite a bit of discussion! The Villain showed the dark-fruited side of Syrah, and the delicious, liquorice-like flavors it can develop when fully ripe. The Jemrose Syrah showed a much earthier, grippier profile, and for many was the wine of the night. Grown in a cool area of Sonoma County, this Syrah was made with 100% whole-cluster fermentation, while the Villain only saw a portion. The additional contact with stems gave the wine fine, mouthwatering tannins that cried out for a piece of grilled lamb or steak. The cheese and charcuterie we had was delicious as usual, but for this wine, it didn’t cut it!

Thanks to Shane and the folks at Nice Legs for a wonderful, relaxed evening. We hope he decides to come back next year!

–Diane

Picnic Season

In honor of our upcoming picnic festival this weekend, we thought we’d share a few tips on eating in the great outdoors.  While picnics always sound wonderful in theory, in practice they can end in disappointment, with soggy food and forgotten items.

Be prepared.  Even if you’re just eating outside in your own backyard, take the time to pack everything you need.  If the wine you’re bringing needs a corkscrew, be sure and bring one!  Things like dressing for salad and a place to put any trash are also things that are often forgotten.  If you’d like something a little nicer than plastic glasses and don’t want to risk breaking your nice stemware in the wild, try our GoVino glasses.  Plastic, stemless wine glasses that even have a convenient indentation for your thumb!  They come in flutes, too, and are perfect for picnics or evenings at Wolf Trap.

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Think pink.  Rose is a natural for picnics, and this Saturday we’ll be featuring a big part of our lineup of roses for this season.  Refreshing, but with just a bit more oomph than a white, they are the ‘little black dress’ of the wine world, and will go with everything from roast beef to fried chicken to pasta salad.  Beaujolais is another great choice, and is even more wonderful with a light chill.  If you’d like a little fizz with your picnic, an Italian red sparkler like Lambrusco or a lightly sweet Brachetto is a great match with salty cheeses and charcuterie.

More tips.  We loved this handy list from Bon Appetit, and food52 has a great recipe for a pressed sandwich whose punchy flavors and portability make it perfect for a picnic.

What are your favorite ways to enjoy food and wine outside?

 

Spring and Summer Party Tips

It’s that time of year when we throw open the windows and our social calendars start filling up again.  Only this time, party season isn’t about glitter and gifts the way it is in December, but about enjoying the outdoors, and maybe a little vacation time.  Weddings, graduations, barbecues, picnics, pool parties, and just hanging out on the front porch with friends are what Spring and Summer are all about.  But just because events are more casual doesn’t  mean that you don’t want to go down in neighborhood history as being the best host on the block.  We have a few tips and tricks to help you get there.

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How much?  For large events like weddings, one of the biggest concerns hosts have is quantity.  Nothing feels worse than running out, but you don’t want to end up with a basement full of leftovers, either (not that this is usually a problem for us…).  Here is a handy formula for calculating how much you’ll need:

Number of adult guests  x  .75  x  (Number of hours + 1) = Drinks to pour
Drinks to pour ÷ 7 = Bottles of wine or beer needed

So, for 50 people at a four-hour cocktail party you’d need about 26 bottles, but might want to buy 36 to have some extra (and reduce worry that you’ll run out!)

Increase the number of bottles if:

You use bigger wine glasses
Waiters do pouring
You are serving cocktail wines followed by dinner wines for a seated meal
You’re really sure this is a crowd of serious drinkers!

Other potables.  When it comes to spirits, you usually end up needing way, way less than you think.  Our anecdotal experience is that people are drinking less hard alcohol and more wine and beer, and this is especially true in the summer, when a high-octane martini or Manhattan can just seem like too much.  A great option for serving an alternative to plain wine or beer is a signature cocktail that you can make ahead of time like punch or sangria.  These are great because if you’re hosting, you won’t be playing bartender all night, and if you’re hiring a catering staff, it can cut down on the amount of liquor they use and save you money.

Which Wines?  When choosing wine for spring and summer parties, the most important thing to remember is to keep it simple.  Especially for big events, fewer choices are better.  Think crisp, fruity and refreshing.  So, a nice Sauvignon Blanc or Gruner Veltliner rather than a full-bodied Chardonnay, or a fresh, unoaked red or Pinot Noir rather than a big, brooding Cabernet.  People also tend to drink more white than red in warmer weather, so that’s something to keep in mind when thinking about how much of each type of wine to buy.  And don’t dismiss rose!  It’s hands-down our favorite warm-weather wine.

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Other tips:

  • Printed menus are always a festive touch.
  • Be sure to have plenty of non-alcoholic beverages on hand – ‘spa water,’ a pitcher of water flavored with herbs or fresh fruit slices is refreshing and easy to put together.
  • Screwcaps make life easy!
  • Consider an alternative to traditional wine glasses like the plastic GoVino glasses we sell in our accessories department – they’re also perfect for Wolf Trap!

This is a great time to enjoy the sunshine with friends and family, whether it’s at a wedding or just on your back porch.  What are your favorite party tips?

Sublime Sancerre From Henri Bourgeois

Though lately we’ve been doing a class or special event here almost every week, each one is a little different.  Tastings of Burgundy or Barolo tend toward the serious and reverential.  Our One Sip At A Time classes tend to be a little more boisterous, with lots of question-and-answer time.

This past Thursday, we were treated to a wonderful lineup of wines from Loire Valley producer Henri Bourgeois that was just plain old fun.  These are Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs to drink and enjoy, not analyze.

We started the tasting by comparing our perennial staff and customer favorite, the Petit Bourgeois, with Henri Bourgeois’ New Zealand project, Petit Clos, while Laurent Noblet, the winery’s representative in the US, gave us some background on the terroir of the Loire Valley.  Though both are balanced, refreshing, Sauvignon Blancs priced for weeknight consumption, tasting them side by side showed just how aromatic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is, even when done in a more restrained manner, Henri Bourgeios’ house style.

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Then it was onto Pouilly-Fume and Sancerre.  Again, tasting them side by side really highlighted the differences between these very small regions that aren’t at all far apart.  The Pouilly-Fume was subtle and mineral, but the wine of the night for most was the Port du Caillou Sancerre.  Bright, clean, and packed with juicy citrus flavor and just the right hint of herbaceousness, it’s delicious and underpriced.

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As a special treat, Mr. Noblet brought a few bottles of a special bottling raised almost entirely in new oak, the Etienne Henri Sancerre, named for the patriarch of the estate who transitioned Henri Bourgeois from growers to real wine producers.  Never able to afford to age any of his wines in oak during his time as winemaker, the Etienne Henri is a tribute to him and his hard work.  A powerful Sancerre meant for lobster or a serious cream sauce, this deserved to be tasted and contemplated alone.

After that it was back to the fun stuff, as we compared two different expressions of Pinot Noir.  Though we think of Sancerre as white wine country, Pinot Noir is also made there.  The Sancerre rose was absolutely delicious, and as soon as that pink wine went into glasses, it was basically a party.  There’s just something about rose that makes it impossible to take life too seriously.  The Sancerre Rouge was a crunchy-fruited, wonderfully aromatic take on Pinot Noir and a great example of what a value Loire Valley reds can be – many have the elegance and restraint of Burgundy, but without the price tag!

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Thanks so Steve Schattman of Monsieur Touton and Laurent Noblet for a festive kickoff to our spring season of classes and events!

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Our Latest Obsession

Pinot Blanc is having a bit of a moment at our tasting table.  It seems like every time we turn around we’re oohing and ahing over another pale member of the Pinot family.

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It started last year with Kellerei Kaltern Pinot Grigio’s slightly more sophisticated older sister.  At just a few dollars more than the crowd-pleasing Pinot Grigio, it became a go-to   suggestion for us to put in your hands for special seafood dishes or a classy aperitif.

Then we flipped for the richer, more unctuous and toasty Pinot Gris/Pinot Blanc blend from Au Bon Climat.  Move over, Chardonnay, and bring on the scallops or lobster!

Yesterday, yet another tall, skinny bottle stole our hearts, this one from Alsace and the young winemaking family at Domaine Leon Boesch.  This might just be our favorite one yet!

So, what is it about Pinot Blanc?  While tasting our latest favorite yesterday, we decided that it’s the texture that’s really making us flip.  Pinot Blanc manages to combine that little bit of that mouthfilling quality that riper Pinot Grigio/Gris has, but with brighter fruit flavors and racier acidity.  This combination makes it appealing both as a standalone glass and for pairing with a wide variety of foods – pretty irresistible!

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A teacher of mine once told us that one of the best ways to study wine was to harness our natural tendency to go on ‘kicks’ for a certain grape or region.  Just go down the rabbit hole completely, he advised, and plan a trip to wherever your latest favorite hails from.  Read about restaurants and look at their lists, research hotels, look at maps and decide what vineyards you’d want to visit.  Google Earth is a great tool to use for this purpose – I spent a good hour last week ‘visiting’ Puligny-Montrachet.  It was a gray, cloudy day when Google’s photographers were there, but it brought me back just the same.  Filling your brain with ‘fun’ facts about a wine region like where the best restaurants and hotels are makes it easier to remember the more serious stuff.

So, what’s your latest obsession?  Daydreaming about visiting Priorat?  Stuck on Sauvignon Blanc?  Let us know!

–Diane