Friday, June 14, 2019

Say “Je t’aime” to a Pomorel Bordeaux, a Loire Rosé and an Assortment of French Cheese #Winophiles

Cheese is a staple in my house. I usually keep Kerry Gold Dubliner Cheddar cheese handy as it’s versatile and affordable. On special occasions, when really good wines are poured, matching the wines with really good cheeses, ideally from the same country origin, is a no-brainer! Martin Redmond from ENOFYLZ Wine Blog has invited the #Winophiles blogger friends to drink French Wines and eat French cheeses. I can’t say “oui” fast enough! I’m also grateful to receive samples from VinConnexion via Lynn Gowdy from Savor the Harvest, contributing to the “wine” part of the successful marriage. 
The Château de Sales Pomerol 2010 is a red blend comprising of 82.5% Merlot, 12.5% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. It was aged mainly in old barrels for up to three years, with a tad of new barrels. On the nose, this Pomerol Bordeaux reveals pleasant light wood smell which resembles opening up a new cardboard box. The aroma of dark fruit follows, leading up to touches of spices and a trace of oak. The tannin is consistently forefront, and the frame is light, wrapping up with lengthy and memorable finishes. This Pomerol is an elegant, rounded and mature wine that is well-suited for pairing with a wide array of French cheeses.  
Chateau de Sales
Château de Sales is the largest estate in the Pomerol appellation. It is the only Bordeaux estate to be entirely transmitted from one generation to the next since the 15th century and is currently jointly owned by 14 cousins within the family. The family management enables consistency across quality controls, image and brand building as well as the reflection of the terroir.
The Le Cocagne Gris Rosé 2018 from Les Vignerons du Vendômois - Cave Coopérative du Vendômois is made from 100% Pineau d'Aunis, an indigenous red grape grown in Loire Valley. This Rosé has stone fruit on the nose and palate. Its minerality beams through and adds body to the wine. While it’s cool, dry and crispy, its acidity and texture help cut through the cream and fat of the French cheeses, and in some cases/cheeses, the Rosé plays a big role in taming the briny and intense flavors.  
I have tried French cheeses before. While I always focus on the taste, I’ve never really paid too much attention to what kind they are. For this post, I do a deeper dive on how the various popular French cheeses taste, what texture they have, and most importantly, and how well they pair with the Pomerol and the Rosé that inspire this pairing! As an easy reference, a scale denoted with five thumbs up (👍👍👍👍👍) is to determine the compatibility and synergy of the pairing – 5 being superb to 1 being less desirable.  Also check out my "cheesy" photo captions for the cheeses!
Roquefort is a vibrant, intense, tangy and salty blue cheese that is made of sheep milk (i.e., an adaptable breed of ewes, Lacaunes). The cheese is aged for a minimum of three months, achieving the well-balanced taste that’s a sought after worldwide. It gains its reputation as the King of Cheeses for its distinct taste and look. The ivory-colored paste with emerald-green veining and mold are iconic, and what makes this cheese so famous. Roquefort cheese is crafted with liquid Penicillium roqueforti found in the damp caves and is combined with the ewes' milk in the natural limestone caves of Roquefort and cellars.
Roquefort - King of Cheeses
In 1925, Roquefort was the first cheese granted the AO distinction, and later in 1996 was given the European distinction P.D.O. (Protected Designation of Origin). The stone fruit and acidity of the Rosé have the advantage to balance out the tangy and briny Roquefort, inviting more eating of the cheese along with the sips. The Pomerol is also a pleasant accompaniment to this delight.
  • Pomerol's Compatibility with the Cheese: 👍👍👍 
  • Rosé's Compatibility with the Cheese: 👍👍👍👍👍

Brie de Meaux is a French brie cheese of the Seine-et-Marne region and a designated AOC product since 1980 and a protected designation of origin (AOP) since 1996. Its name comes from the town of Meaux in the Brie region. 
Brie de Meaux - Prince of Cheeses
Its texture is soft-ripened, creamy and mild with the rich flavor of raw and whole cow’s milk. It is encased with a bloomy rind that is to be consumed with the soft cheese inside. This cheese has been declared the Prince of Cheeses! Both the Pomerol and Rosé work very well with the creamy Brie. 
  • Pomerol's Compatibility with the Cheese: 👍👍👍👍
  • Rosé's Compatibility with the Cheese: 👍👍👍👍👍

Camembert is a moist, soft, creamy, and surface-ripened cheese that’s made from cow’s milk. It was first made in the late 18th century at Camembert, Normandy, in northern France. The production of Camembert cheese has now transcended the AOC designation. 
Camembert - C-/D-reamy Talker
The fresh Camembert cheese is bland, hard, and crumbly in texture. Young Camembert has a milky and sweet taste. As the cheese matures, like the President Camembert, it forms a smooth, runny interior and a white bloomy rind outside. It has a rich, buttery flavor and a tad sweetness to it. The rind is bloomy white caused by a white fungus, called Penicillium candidum. The rind can be eaten as well. The Pomerol and Rosé work pretty well with the creamy and sweet Camembert. 
  • Pomerol's Compatibility with the Cheese: 👍👍👍👍 
  • Rosé's Compatibility with the Cheese: 👍👍👍👍👍 

Bûcheron is a goat's milk cheese native to the Loire Valley and is semi-aged, ripening for 5 to 10 weeks. Bûcheron has an ivory-colored pâte surrounded by a bloomy white rind. Soft, but semi-firm in texture, this cheese we have here has a strong taste of goat. The gaminess of this cheese interacts well with the Pomerol as well the Rose, but differently. The Pomerol makes the Bûcheron less “goat-like” and brings out the tangy taste of the cheese. The Rose enhances the creaminess of the cheese but cleanses the palate afterward.
Bucheron - Goaty Delight
  • Pomerol's Compatibility with the Cheese: 👍👍👍👍  
  • Rosé's Compatibility with the Cheese: 👍👍👍👍👍 

Fourme d'Ambert is one of France's oldest cheeses. It originated from Auvergne, dating back to Roman times. It is made from raw cow's milk from the Auvergne.  The semi-hard cheese is inoculated with Penicillium roqueforti spores and aged for 1 to 4 months. This cheese has been protected by its own AOC since 1972.  Although this cheese is most often produced with pasteurized milk by industry and Cooperatives, more recent artisanal production has begun using raw milk. 
Fourme d'ambert - Stinky Indulgence
The Fourme we have here has an animal and ammonia smell and flavor to it. I totally see why some people would be turned off by it. However, someone like me finds this cheese extremely wild and tasty. Biting into the spread of this cheese on plain crackers and sipping the Rosé, the combination of all these is an indulgence (for stinky food lovers)!
  • Pomerol's Compatibility with the Cheese: 👍👍👍 
  • Rosé's Compatibility with the Cheese: 👍👍👍👍 

Comté is a made from unpasteurized cow's milk in the Franche-Comté traditional province of eastern France. It has the highest production of all French AOC cheeses. The cheese is aged between 2 and 24 months. The cheese is made in discs with a diameter between 40 cm and 70 cm, and around 10 cm in height. This piece, which is from Jura, is earthy and nutty, working pretty well with the spice and dark fruit notes of the Pomerol.  
Comte - Nutty Happiness
  • Pomerol's Compatibility with the Cheese: 👍👍👍👍👍 
  • Rosé's Compatibility with the Cheese👍👍👍

Mimolette is a cheese traditionally produced around the city of Lille, France. It’s made of cow’s milk and is aged for 2 to 24 months. Looking like a cratered, dusty cannonball, Mimolette is infamously tricky to open for its super-hard, craggy outercrust. 
Mimolette - Tough Guy with a Soft Heart
The appearance and floral aroma of the rind is the work of tiny mites. Cheese mites are small little bugs that live on the surfaces of aged cheeses, munching the microscopic molds that grow there. The French call them tiny affineurs for their essential role in the aging process. Its electric-orange paste has sweet, caramelized depth and smooth, fudgy finish. I found both the Pomerol and Rose are equally pleasant with this cheese. The Pomerol seems to bring out more the salty flavor of the cheese.
  • Pomerol's Compatibility with the Cheese: 👍👍👍👍👍 
  • Rosé's Compatibility with the Cheese: 👍👍👍👍 

To me, French wines and French cheeses are an inherently good match that is meant for each other. The Château de Sales Pomerol and the Le Cocagne Gris Rosé validate their rooted bond with French cheeses!

Disclosure: The wines in this post are samples. All opinions are my own.

For more French wines and French cheeses, check out my blogger friends' posts below:

Friday, June 7, 2019

Spier Pinotage/Shiraz from South Africa Plus Sliced Lamb As Wrappers #WinePW

My first taste of Pinotage from South Africa came from one of the NYC Wine Riot tasting events where I was doing my pouring shifts a few years ago. Nearing the end of the shift, I was walking around to find unusual wines to taste, and Pinotages from South Africa were the few unfamiliar ones I had tasted. A lot of wine drinkers may agree Pinotage is a wine that could be controversial, odd and interesting - all at the same time. My recollection of Pinotage was that it was super jammy, petroleum-smell on the nose, medium-bodied and fruit-forward. I couldn’t tell on the spot whether I liked it or not, but I was definitely intrigued by it. Jennifer Gentile Martin from Vino Travels invited #WinePW bloggers to do some wine travels to South Africa. It’s a golden opportunity for me to revisit Pinotage and the land where it was originated. 
Pinotage - Photo Credit of
Pinotage is South Africa’s indigenous and flagship grape. It is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault that was discovered in 1925 and was first vinified in 1941. This grape is easy to grow but tends to develop isoamyl acetate during the winemaking process, which leads to a sweet pungency that resembles the smell of paint. In the last decade, Pinotage experienced a new revolution in South Africa with an increasing number of producers exploring a brighter and juicier expression of the variety that shows off the fruit rather than oak and manipulates less to showcase the characteristics of the grape.
Spier - Photo Credit:
Spier has been a wine farm in South Africa since 1692. Located near Stellenbosch, it is one of the oldest wine farms in the country. Spier is an all-encompassing farm that grows grapes, makes wines, grows produces, serves food, runs hotels and collects art, offering a wide range of activities/services from Segway in the vineyard to wedding banquets. 
South Africa Wine Map - Photo Credit: Wine Folly
The Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek valleys form the Cape Winelands, the larger of the two main wine growing regions in South Africa. South Africa is ranked 9th of the top wine producing countries in the world according to the 2018 International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV) statistics. Stellenbosch is the primary location for viticulture and viticulture research in South Africa. The Stellenbosch Wine Route, established in 1971 by Neil Joubert from Spier, Frans Malan from Simonsig and Spatz Sperling from Delheim, is a must-do for wine lovers when visiting the country. 

The Cape Winelands region has a Mediterranean climate with dry-heated summers and cool, wet winters. Stellenbosch lies at the foot of the Cape Fold mountain range, which provides soil suitable for viticulture. Grapes grown in this area are mainly used for wine production. The region has diverse soil types, ranging from light, sandy soils to decomposed granite. 
Spier Discovery Collection Pinotage (70%) / Shiraz (30%) 2017 has strong earthy notes and a hint of smokiness on the nose. It’s lightly oaky and a bit spicy on the palate. The dark fruit and peppery notes come out progressively through the sips. This medium-bodied wine is a perfect accompaniment with the lighter lamb dishes like the thinly sliced lamb that I’m going to use as wrappers. This thinly sliced lamb is readily available from the Asian grocery store and is used a lot in ramen noodle soups and hot pot. 
Sliced lamb is very thin and cooks very fast. 
I have the Korean brown sweet rice, okra and enoki mushroom to be wrapped in the lamb slice for two reasons. The seasoned cooked rice will absorb the flavor of the lamb as it sits inside it as well as is more fun to eat. When the okra and enoki are wrapped by the lamb slices, they can be entrée or even pass as hors d’Oeuvres - super presentable and delicious.
Use Korean brown sweet rice for sticky texture, nuttier flavor and healthier grain.
Making all these dishes are not hard, either. Cook the rice in a rice cooker in chicken stock and season well with salt and pepper or additional dried herb you like. While cooling off the rice, line a ramekin with plastic wrap and then the sliced lamb. Overlay the lamb slices onto the ramekin to avoid any gaps and cover the bottom of the ramekin completely. 
Once the rice is cooled, scoop it into the ramekin and firmly close the rice bowl with the hanging lamb slices. Refrigerate the rice bowl for at least two hours. 
With the okra and enoki wraps, before wrapping them in lamb slices, blanch the okras and a half an inch bundle of enoki mushroom in salty boiling water. Once the water boiled up again, use a strainer for taking the okra and enoki out and put them in ice water immediately. Pat dry the okra and enoki and wrap each okra/enoki with one or two lamb slices tightly over.
Pan-fry the rice/okra/enoki lamb wraps until the lamb is brown. For the rice wrap, sear the side as well. Viola! This lamb wrapped rice and vegetables not only look good, but taste oh so good. I combined some oyster sauce, soya sauce, sugar and a little bit water in a pot to reduce it to a sauce that’s thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. Drizzle the sauce over the rice and the vegetables to finish.  Looking good, tasting good!

Check out other bloggers’ wine travels in South Africa below: 

Friday, May 31, 2019

Picnicking with Scarpetta Frico Lambrusco #ItalianFWT

Stepping into June, it's time to line up some chilled wines for summer activities. Be it picnics in the park, outdoor concerts or BBQ gatherings by the beach, I sometimes struggle with what wine to bring. Cavas from Spain, Rosé from Provence and Proseccos from Italy are my safe go-to’s. As prompted by Jennifer Gentile Martin from Vino Travel Italy's invite for bloggers to share their experience with Lambrusco wines via #ItalianFWT, the fizzante Lambrusco wine is no doubt another brilliant summer wine option that most people forget. Thinking also a little bit outside the bottle, I planned to write this post with a picnic theme and wanted to find a canned wine
Effortlessly, I found Scarpetta Frico Lambrusco which may very well be the only canned Lambrusco in the US. Well as expected, I enjoyed the Frico Lambrusco as well as the convenience of a can in the picnic. Something unexpected did, however, result from the Instagram/Twitter I posted on this wine. Before I get into the little controversy, let's not be sidetracked and first focus on learning this wine region. 
Lambrusco wines come from the Emilia-Romagna region in north-central Italy. The region borders with Marche (at its east), Tuscany (south), Liguria (west), Lombardy (northwest), Veneto (northeast), and with the city of Modena in the center. The five most notable appellations that produce Lambrusco wines are:
•Lambrusco di Sobrara DOC
•Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro DOC
•Lambrusco Reggiano DOC
•Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce DOC
•Lambrusco Mantovano DOC

In addition to the DOCs, there is IGT Emilia where Lambrusco wines can also come from. Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) Emilia is a designation that was established officially in 1995. Under the Italian wine laws, wine producers in IGT Emilia have more freedom to innovate and can break loose from the tradition quite a bit to produce wines that particularly cater to international markets. Wine producers all over Emilia have joined the bandwagon and embraced IGT Emilia, which has provided an economically viable way for this region to develop beyond its traditional portfolio of wine styles. Having a bird’s eye view of IGTs - there are 118 IGTs all over Italy, forming an integral part of the wine domination system of the country. They bear significance in the wine industry especially in the context of exports to global markets and diversification in wine styles and help generate wine revenues to the Italian government. IGTs should not be generalized as areas for only inexpensive and mass-produced wines, as some of the wines like Super Tuscany from IGT Toscana are of superb quality and fetch top dollars from the customers.  The Frico Lambrusco is a wine that's from IGT Emilia. 
Lambrusco also refers to a collection of grape varieties indigenous to Emilia without any cloning. The most commonly found six Lambrusco varieties are Grasparossa, Maestri, Marani, Montericco, Salamino, and Sorbara. Most Lambrusco wines are made from a combination of these Lambrusco varieties with or without an additional blending as per the permission of applicable wine laws and the winemakers' styles. 

The Frico Lambrusco is made from three Lambrusco grapes: Grasparossa, Maestri, and Salamino. The color of the wine is a deep purplish ruby. It's frothy with tiny bubbles that doesn’t have a very lasting foaming effervescence. With an alc of 9.5%, it is light to medium body. While it has a butterfly touch of sweetness and a light hint of smokiness, this wine is dry like brut. The crushed red berry flavors are prominent as you sip, finishing with a long tart finish. It's lively, colorful, and refreshing, and after all, it dares you to take anything so seriously. In a 250ml can form, which retails for $3.99, this wine chills fast in the fridge and remains chilled in a thermal bag. 
To pair this wine, I grilled some home-made thick-cut pork belly/bacon on the BBQ, making a hearty BLT sandwich. I also added a bag of yuca chip and a huge slice watermelon to the picnic basket. It was a delicious and happy picnic basket that has the fizz and fun Frico Lambrusco and juicy bacon plus the warm sun and a picture-perfect scene that anyone wants to emulate!
Let's get to the controversial part of the story. I heard about the stigma associated with Lambrusco consumed in the US back in the '70s and '80s and stayed away from the brands that caused the bad rap. Having a thorough read-up on the tech sheet of the Scarpetta Frico Lambrusco, I decided this wine can reflect the fun spirit of a Lambrusco wine, especially in its casual yet effective form of a can for my picnic. Why not give it a try! 
@iLambrusco, probably a Lambrusco enthusiast/expert, saw my Twitter post of this wine and countered that a Lambrusco wine must be red, 10.5% alc or above, secco (bone dry or dry) with a maximum of 15 g/l sugar, and is never in a can. The Frico Lambrusco is what locals consider as an industrial grade wine as its alc is only 9.5%. I reached out to Scarpetta and got a reply from Bobby Stuckey M.S, one of the owners of the company, "Technically if you are one of the 8 DOC's of Lambrusco you must be a min of 10.5. With saying that there are many delicious Lambruscos that may be lighter and more refreshing and not looking for DOC status. As you noted, we are using a can and traditional varieties. I truly think a wine like Lambrusco does wonderful in a can and makes it perfect for Picnics, Hikes, or just using in a restaurant in a single serving size." Given the source of this wine is from the IGT Emilia where looser Italian wine rules apply, I think it is absolutely great that Scarpetta, a new brand of Lambrusco, taps into a new generation wine drinkers' needs by introducing a new wine packaging. Judging by the extensive distribution network this wine reaches in the US, Canada, and Mexico, it indicates that somehow something is working well for this wine. On the other hand, I also genuinely understand @iLambrusco's mission to safeguard the tradition of Lambrusco and appreciate the insight he or she presented that prompted me to research and learn more about IGTs and Lambrusco.

Let’s taste more Lambruscos from my blogger friends…

Friday, May 17, 2019

Exploring Languedoc-Roussillon with Chateau Millegrand Mourral Grand Reserve Minervois + Chinese Charcuterie Board #Winophiles

It’s an old bottle that has been tucked away at the back of the cellar. It’s long forgotten until I recently signed up to blog about wines from Languedoc-Roussillon in southern France, and checked my "inventory". The beat-up label of this 2010 Château Millegrand Mourral Grande Reserve Minervois brought back the memory...excitement and a sense of intimidation of not knowing what these wines were, when I received this wine as part of my first case of wines from the WSJ Wine Club many years ago. This month’s #winophiles blog was kindly coordinated by L.M.Archer whose invite has a focus on Gérard Bertrand, a legendary producer in Languedoc-Roussillon. I detour a bit and explore Languedoc-Roussillon via the lens of the its subregion, Minervois and a taste of my forgotten bottle.
Minervois is an appellation in northwestern Languedoc-Roussillon and is famous for its red wines. Its terroir is not particularly complex. As part of the gently sloped vineyards around the Montagne Noire’s southern edge, the Clamoux, Argent Double, Ognon and the Cesse rivers all run down the Montagne Noire to the Aude, forming an amphitheater. Over time, a series of terraces are made from stones, clays, schiste (i.e., medium-grade metamorphic rock that has visible minerals) and limestone. The clay/stony soils make it prone to producing deep and powerful reds. 
Photo Credit: Benoit France
With an area of 5,000 hectares, around 1,300 producers in Minervois have been producing approximately 94% red, 2% white, 4% rosé. Minervois’s reds (Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache, Lladoner Pelut, Carignan, Cinsault, Terret, Aspiran, Piquepoul) offer a variety of styles that make them excellent entry-level French wines, especially considering their relatively low retail price.

Looking at the larger picture, Languedoc-Roussillon is a large and diverse wine region in the south of France where the Mediterranean climate drives the long-standing heat and sun. It stretches from Nîmes and Montpellier in the east, around the Mediterranean to the Spanish border. Languedoc groups together various appellations including the all-encompassing Pays d’Oc, Languedoc AOPs (Appellation d'Origine Protégée) as well as the more geographically focused AOPs such as Corbières, Minervois, Coteaux du Languedoc and Côtes du Roussillon. 

With a continuous fame for reds, like Syrah, Carignan, Mourvèdre, Grenache and Cinsault, the region does produce white wines that vary considerably in quality and style. 

Château Millegrand-Mourral in Minervois is owned by the Bonfils family, who spearheaded the recent quality revolution that transformed the region. Jean-Michel and his three sons undertook the renovation of the vineyard and cellar at this historic property, then brought in Olivier Bayle, from Bordeaux's legendary First Growth Château Lafite, to make the wine. Olivier sourced the barrels for oak ageing from another famous cru classé Bordeaux estate, Château Gruaud Larose.

The 2010 Château Millegrand Mourral Grande Reserve Minervois is a blend of Grenache, Carignan and Syrah with an ABV of 13.0%. As it’s poured into the decanter, the color is deep violet. Given the age of the bottle, initially the notes and taste of the wine didn’t come through as much of anything other than tart cherries. Two hours into the decanter though, the wine seemed to be revived and started to release notes of cherry, bright acidity, light tannin and subtle oak. The finish is short and pleasing. Decanting also helps remove the visible sediment. Compared to the online tasting notes that were written a few years back, this wine was much more intense than the current version of it. Ageing does smooth out this wine! 
To pair with this lean wine, I did a Chinese-style charcuterie board that showcases lean protein like the Chinese cold-cuts that are available in larger Chinese grocery stores which have hot buffet table as well as the pre-made food stored in the open fridge section. Before we dive right into the cold-cuts, one thing I must mention is the concept of “master sauce”. This is the braising concoction (滷水)that is deeply flavored with soya sauce, 5 spices, Chinese licorice root, ginger, molasses, anise, Sichuan peppercorns…whatever that secret family recipe calls for, and is the broth base where all the meat (e.g., all parts of beef, pork and chicken) and shell-less hard boiled eggs are cooked and sit in there for hours to allow maximum flavor to develop. 

Before savoring, let’s take a look at what’s on the charcuterie board:

Shopping List: 
  • Beef shank cold cuts
  • Pork tongue cold cuts

  • Chicken liver pâté: home cooked chicken liver and gizzards in the braising concoction that are coarsely chopped and creamed up with a 1 tablespoonful of butter.

  • Spiced small dry tofu: slice, heat up in microwave and spoon some of the braising sauce or BBQ sauce over.
  • Pork salami: pan-fry like a hot dog and serve
  • BBQ flavored Tofu pieces 
  • Pop-Pan scallion crackers
  • Sweet Soya Sauce pickled cucumber
  • Muscat grapes
    A long-lost friend resurfaces and has a complete change of character, like this Château Millegrand Mourral Grande Reserve. No drama queen or king…it’s still a pleasing fellow that we can cling to.  

    Check out our blogger friends' related posts!