When we think of French wine-growing we regions, our minds go quickly to the idyllic Loire Valley or to the chateau dotted landscape of Bordeaux. This is, of course, for good reason. Places like Bordeaux and Burgundy have become known the world over for producing high-quality wines, but they’re not the only regions in France that make delicious wines. Often, by exploring some of France’s lesser known wine regions, you’ll be rewarded with new and unusual wines of excellent quality.

One such region is the Savoie (sav-WAH), a mountainous region in Southeastern France that borders Italy and Switzerland, and one of our favorite Savoie producers is André & Michel Quenard. The father and son team are continuing a legacy started by Michel’s grandfather in the early 1900’s when he first planted vines in the area. The Quenards’ wines are all marked by a remarkably “fresh” quality, like the clean mountain air and cool glacial streams have imparted a crispness into each of their wines.

The high, Alpine vineyards aren’t ideal for growing many of the grapes that flourish elsewhere in France. In the Savoie, white wines are dominant, with a few excellent red wines being produced as well. Three of our favorite of these grape varieties are Jacquère, Rousanne, and Mondeuse.

Jacquère

Jacquère (zha-KAIR) makes a lovely, light-bodied wine that we’re absolutely in love with. Though it is often made in an off-dry style, we prefer the Quenards’ dry version or as they called it, their “Vieilles Vignes” Jacquère. “Vieille Vignes” is French for “old vines” and it’s an apt name for this wine as the vines from which it was made were planted in the 1930’s by Michel Quenard’s grandfather. Today Michel farms these old vines with the help of this two sons Guillaume and Roman. Tasting this wine is like a transatlantic trip to the French Alps. The wine has that fresh crispness of mountain air combined with a surprising richness from a wine grown so high in the mountains. You’ll also be greeted by notes of fresh white flowers and the faintest hint of honeyed apricots. This is a delicate wine and it will show best with simple dishes and cheese.

Roussanne

Roussanne (ROO-sahn) is known for its thick and almost oily texture, and here, in the hands of the Quenard family, it really shines. The grapes for this wine are hand pruned by André Quenard himself, ensuring that each cluster of fruits reaches optimum ripenesses. The wine is called “Les Terrasses” after the steep mountain terraces that the vineyards grow on. This is a white wine that is best decanted to open up a decadently floral bouquet that seems sprinkled with lemon zest. For many, this will be their first introduction to Roussanne and what a wonderful introduction that will be!

Mondeuse

The Mondeuse (mon-DUZE) grape has been growing in the Savoie region of France since before the Romans brought their winemaking techniques to the region thousands of years ago. Known for its striking pepper note, it is one of the parent grapes of Syrah. It’s deep purple in the glass, with strong tannins that are held in balance by a tight acidity. It has aromas of raspberry and strawberry that cushion the soft scent of autumn flowers that develops after decanting. This wine is delicious now, but could easily be aged for over 10 years in the right conditions. It’s an excellent pairing with duck, quail, or other fowl, as well as cheeses such as Reblochon and Chevrotin.


In our last post, we talked a bit about the grapes that make up Bordeaux’s red and white wines. This week, we’re going to dive deeper into the ways in which Bordeaux’s unique geography influences its wine.

Choose a Side

The Bordeaux region is bisected by the massive Gironde Estuary which splits at its base into the Garonne and Dordogne rivers. The estuary serves as the dividing line between what wine drinkers have come to call Bordeaux’s Left Bank and Right Bank.

Though the banks themselves are only separated by a few hundred meters, the soil composition of each side is quite different and can have a dramatic effect on which kind of grapes grow best and, in turn, can drastically affect the way wines from each bank taste.

Wines from Bordeaux’s Left Bank (much of which is actually south of the city of Bordeaux), are predominantly made up of cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Here, the soil is quite gravelly with a layer of limestone bedrock far below. The gravel forces the vines to stretch their roots deep into the soil in search of nutrients. The results in wines that exceptionally long-lived and incredibly valuable.

Across the river on the Right Bank, cabernet franc replaces cabernet sauvignon as the most planted grape behind merlot. The Right Bank’s soil is much less gravely than the Left Bank, and the limestone bedrock is buried just under the surface. Wines from the Right Bank are often said to be more aromatic with smoother tannins than their Left Bank cousins.

White Wines

Of course, not all wines from Bordeaux are red. Bordeaux’s white wines are blends of sauvignon blanc, semillon, and sometimes muscadelle. White Bordeaux can come two forms: dry and sweet.

Bordeaux’s best white wines come from the Left Bank region called Pessac-Leognan, just south of Bordeaux city. These are delicious blends that, depending upon the winemaking technique, can be either light or crisp or lush and full bodied.

Perhaps the most famous white wine made in Bordeaux is Sauternes, a semillon-heavy blend that, in some cases, can age in a cellar for decades. Sauternes is made near the small village that shares its name on the banks of the Garrone River. The unique topography of the area causes the ground to be frequently covered with fog. The moisture in the morning fog, combined with the heat of the afternoon sun often results in a special kind of fungus called botrytis (also known as the noble rot) to grow on the grapes. The botrytis concentrates the sugars in the grapes and makes an incredibly sweet wine with complex notes honey, beeswax, and candied citrus peel.

Entre Deux Mers

Between the Left and Right Banks, at the bottom of Gironde Estuary is an area known as Entre Deux Mers or, literally translated as “Between Two Seas.” This is Bordeaux’s least famous region, and most of the wine grown here is made into what is known as Vin de Pays, or a inexpensive, bulk wine that is very rarely imported out of France.


It seems almost too appropriate for us to start our exploration of French wine with Bordeaux. The name is synonymous with rolling green vineyards, majestic chateaux, and high quality, ageable wines.

History

As Bordeaux lies on France’s Atlantic coast, it naturally became a bustling port city, with ships regularly stopping on their way to and from other European ports. This ease of trade is one of the major reasons why Bordeaux wines are known the world over. In the earliest days of the wine trade, barrels labeled Bordeaux were already being singled out as being of above average quality.

The Bordeaux region was first loved for its sweet white wines from the area Sauternes. In the 1700’s, Thomas Jefferson was a huge fan of these wines, and as a whole, sweet wine was more popular than dry wines. Bordeaux’s red wines didn’t begin to become the superstars they are today until this 1800’s. Their popularity was bolstered by a set of laws and decrees that codified the best producers of the region, by ranking them into groups of 1 through 5.

This is now called the “1855 Classification,” and it’s still extremely important today. We’ll talk a little more about this in next week’s “Part 2” post.

The Major Grapes

Reds:

Cabernet Sauvignon – This intensely flavored and complex grape is the second most widely planted in Bordeaux. It provides structures to wines, especially those of Bordeaux’s Left Bank.

Merlot – The most widely planted grape in Bordeaux, merlot features prominently in all red Bordeaux wines where it adds depth and roundness to the blend.

Cabernet Franc – A wonderful grapes that can add aromas of spice and flowers to blends. It plays an important part in the wines from Bordeaux’s Right Bank.

Malbec – Sometimes called côt, this grape is often added in tiny amounts to blends to add depth and nuance.

Petit Verdot – Very little petit verdot is planted and used in the wines of Bordeaux, but even a small amount can add a rich color and intensity to the blend.

Whites:

Sauvignon Blanc – A light and crisp wine with notes of green herbs and citrus. This is almost always blended with semillon.

Semillon – Sometimes known for its strong notes of lanolin, this is blended with sauvignon blanc to add structure to long aging white blends. It’s also the main grape in the sweet wine called Sauternes.


This is the first part in a series of posts on, obviously, French wine. How many posts will there be? Well, . . . we’ll let you know when we find out! The truth is that we could probably go on for years about all that is French wine, but we’re trying to be concise here, so we’ll bring you one blog post a week about a different area in France. Our goal is a simple one: to educate you on the beauty of French wines. Anyone that’s ever been to our shop can attest to the fact that we love these wines and we want you to love them too!
This week, we’ll start by covering a few of the basics about the French wine industry and all of the info you need to know to get started.

Law of the Land

You have to remember that people have been making wine in France for thousands of years. Even before the Romans invaded, the first grapevines had been planted by Greek explorers and wine was a common drink among the locals.

This has given the French plenty of time to come up with complex series of laws regarding wine production and labeling, and understanding these laws is key to understanding French wine.

Here are the key things to remember:

  • Unlike wines in America, French wines are typically named after the place in which they’re made. For example, when you see a wine labeled Chablis, you automatically know two things about the wine: 1) That is was produced in the town of Chabli and 2) that it’s made of chardonnay, the only grape legally allowed to grow there.
  • The villages where wines are produced are legally defined geographic areas called, in French, an appellation. You’ll see this labeled on a bottle as either AOC (Appellation Controlee) or, more often, AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protegee).
  • Even within a single AOP, there can still be further delineation. For example, a wine from the AOP of Bordeaux could then be listed as being from the district of Margeaux or St. Emillion, and even then, it could be again listed as being from a specific village in that district, such as Soussnns in Margaux.
  • Wine in France is classified into a tiered structure, in which (generally) the more specific the classification, the better the wine should be. Often, these classes are referred to as “crus” which literally translates to “growth” in English. The top most of these is “Grand Cru” with “Premier Cru (sometimes written as 1er Cru).”

So, what do all of these laws mean for you? Well, unless you’ve been brushing up on your French geography, not much. However, this is exactly why we’re breaking down our future blog posts based on geography. We’re visiting each wine region individually so that, even if you don’t remember exactly where Vouvray is in the Tourinne region of the Loire Valley, you’ll still know that it makes some of world’s most amazing chenin blanc.

So, sit back, pour yourself a glass and enjoy!


My first ever wine-buying experience wasn’t a great one. In fact, it wasn’t even a good one. Shortly after I turned 21, I went to my local liquor store and began browsing the shelves of wine waiting for something to catch my eye. I was very new to wine, so much so that I still didn’t know how to tell the differences between the grapes aside from the fact that they were either red or white. In the end, I settled on a chilled bottle of white wine that had a map of New Zealand on it. I chose it based solely on the fact that I had liked the Lord of the Rings movies and thought I might like a wine from the same country in which they were filmed.

Once I tried the wine I was almost instantly disgusted.  It smelled and tasted like cat urine, and it made my mouth feel strange and tingly. It was even worse than the anything-but-the-kitchen-sink punch that I was used to drinking at parties. Needless to say, I poured the bottle out and decided to stay away from anything called sauvignon blanc again.

Flash forward almost nine years and my opinions have certainly changed. I’m now at a better place to understand what sauvignon blanc is all about. Granted, there are still a few bottles that have that “cat pee” smell, but I’m now at a better place to know what other aromas and flavors are in the wine. Likewise, I now know that tingly feeling that first bothered me was actually the wine’s natural acidity, and it’s become one of the aspects of the wine that I like most.

So for those of you who have had a problem with sauvignon blanc in the past, or if you’re familiar with the grape, but haven’t tried many styles yet, this post is for you!

A sauvignon blanc vineyard in New Zealand

Whats in a name?

Well, a lot, actually. Literally translated, sauvignon blanc means “savage white,” which, given the wine’s unabashed acidity, is a fitting name. Interestingly enough, sauvignon blanc once crossed with cabernet franc to produce cabernet sauvignon, hence the shared name combination.

Following the French naming tradition, a sauvignon blanc wine from France will be named from the place where it was grown. Sancerre, a village in the Loire valley is probably the most famous French sauvignon blanc, but you’ll also find them labeled as Quincy, Puilly-Fume, or Bordeaux.

In the United States, you might find sauvignon blanc labeled as “Fume Blanc” which became typical in the 1970’s and 80’s when California winemakers were trying to make the grape more attractive to American consumers.

The many faces of sauvignon blanc

More than almost any other grape variety, sauvignon blanc can take on wildly different styles based on where it’s made and grown. Here, we’ll go through the primary growing regions of sauvignon blanc and point out the biggest differences between styles.

France

Sauvignon blanc in France comes from two primary areas: the Loire Valley and Bordeaux. The Loire Valley cuts through central France and is known for its lush white wines. Sauvignon blanc grown here is known for its strong acidity, green apple notes, and minerality. Loire Valley sauvignon blanc is almost always fermented in steel tanks. Sometimes you’ll find a Loire Valley wine that has undergone what’s referred to as “lees aging.” This gives the wine a slightly creamy texture and can add a subtle note of bread or yeast to the wine.

Loire Valley vineyards

Loire Valley vineyards

 

South of the Loire Valley is Bordeaux, where the grape is blended with semillon to produce Bordeaux Blanc, or white Bordeaux. These wines are generally softer than their Loire cousins. This is achieved both through barrel fermentation and the addition of the less acidic semillon. These two factors combine to give the wines a depth and character that sets it apart from the steel tank-fermented Loire wines.

New Zealand

In the 1980’s, sauvignon blanc decided to go on vacation and never really came back. It found a home in New Zealand that allowed it to show its true colors, and the world has been eating it up ever since. These wines retain the classic high levels of acidity but combine it were an array of tropical flavors like grapefruit or kiwi. Like in the  Loire Valley, these wines are fermented in steel tanks and have a unique vegetal note (think asparagus or green beans).

California

Sauvignon blanc in California has historically had to play second fiddle to the wines in France and New Zealand. In large part, this can be traced back to the popularity of California chardonnay, which caused growers to be reluctant to plant the less lucrative sauvignon blanc in their vineyards. A second reason is the lack of a definitive style for sauvignon blanc in California. California winemakers have chosen different paths in their winemaking, using both steel tank and barrel fermentation, barrel aging, blending with semillon, and a number of other tricks to produce markedly different wines.

Pairing sauvignon blanc

Sauvignon blanc’s natural acidity makes it an easy wine to pair with food. It’s ideal for any dish that contains herbs like rosemary, thyme, tarragon, basil, mint, or parsley. It’s also great for foods that are a little bit more rich in fat, such as quiche, a white sauce pizza, or hummus. It’s also great for almost any salad you could make!

From now through the end of July, we’ve got select California sauvignon blancs 25% off! Stop by today and let us find the perfect wine for you.


It’s likely that you have a very clear concept of what a California chardonnay tastes like: full bodied, fruity, round, buttery. California leaves a distinct mark on its wine. There is, however, another side to chardonnay. Just as distinct but in the opposite manner, French chardonnays from the northern region of Chablis have their own unique qualities: Crisp, refined, elegant, light, subtle, and tart. To give you a chance to explore this unique region we are offering six selections at a discount. Buy them one at a time for 15% off or try any six at once and save 20%. If you find one that you absolutely love purchase a full case and receive 25% off.

Jean-Claude Courtault

Jean Claude Courtault began working in Chablis in 1974 as a vineyard manager for other estates. He began acquiring small parcels of land in 1984, starting with just 3.7 acres, and began making his own wine. Today the estate has 43 acres and is continuing to grow with the help of Jean Claude’s daughter Stéphanie and her husband Vincent Michelet. The wines of the Estate Jean-Claude Courtault are known for their strong fruit character.

2011 Chablis $24.99

The wine is an excellent introduction to Chablis. It is bright and mineral driven with hints of crisp apple and lemon. 

Domaine Testut

Founded in 1967, Domaine Testut is fortunate to have most of its vineyards planted over half a century ago. These old vines produce smaller more concentrated grapes which give the wine more intense flavor than that of wines from younger grapes. 

2013 Chablis 1er Cru Montee de Tonnerre $51.99

The Montee de Tonnerre vineyard is one of the best premier crus with ideal south-east facing exposure allowing the grapes to ripen longer. To ensure that the grapes are in perfect condition the vineyard is picked entirely by hand which ensures that the grapes don’t oxidize before reaching the winery.

Chartron et Trebuchet

The Chartron family has been growing grapes since 1859 but it was not until the 1980s that they, along with Louis Trébuchet, began making their own wines. They own some of the very best chardonnay vineyards in the whole world stretching from Chablis in the north to the Côte de Beaune further south.

2012 Chablis Premier Cru Beauroy $44.99

Their Beauroy is on the more powerfull-bodied end of the spectrum and is complimented by a portion of new oak barrels as well as extended aging, 12-16 months in barrel and  4-6 months in bottle before it is released.

Domaine Corinne Perchaud

Corinne Perchaud and her husband Jean-Pierre Grossot began working in the Domaine in 1980, they are the third generation to run the family estate which was founded in 1920. They are now joined by their daughter Eve making her the fourth generation to work at the estate.

2013 Chablis Premier Cru Vaucoupin $42.99

Their plantings in the Vaucoupin vineyard are only 3.5 acres. This site is one of the few south facing slopes in the region giving the vines longer sun exposure allowing them to ripen more. Another advantage of the site is the Kimmeridgian limestone soil that gives the wines their unique characteristics. The wine is aged on its lees in barrel for sixteen months before release which tames the tart acidity and gives it a rounder mouth feel.

2013 Chablis Premier Cru Fourneaux $42.99

Fourneaux means oven in French and is so named because the steep slopes acts to trap precious heat and the soil is rocky which reflects heat back to the plants helping them ripen the grapes to maturity. Only 25% of the wine is aged in barrel which helps to preserve freshness.

Garnier & Fils

Brothers Xavier and Jérôme Garnier share a passion for wine and the Chablis region, where their family has owned a 57-acre estate for many decades. While their father sold the grapes, the brothers began making their own wine in 1996, selling it to restaurants in and around Paris. Garnier & Fils uses traditional, environmentally friendly, organic practices; they harvest later than most, ferment with natural yeast and age the wines in very large barrels.

2013 Chablis 1er Cru Montmains $42.99

Montmains is another south facing vineyard allowing for more ripeness. The vines are all over 35 years old giving the final wine more concentration. The wine is aged in large 600L barrels as well as some stainless steel making the final wine more crisp.

Chablis Grand Cru Vauldesir $99.99

Vauldesir is one of the seven Grand Crus of Chablis. They are all located on a single hillside above the village of Chablis. The Grand Crus benefit from perfect sun exposure and the warmest spot in the area allowing the for the most intense and powerful wines. The grand Crus are are aged for nearly two years in small oak barrels before bottling adding even more body and complexity.


We’ve all heard the term “oak” used to describe wine, and at some point in all of our wine-drinking lives, we’ve internally asked ourselves what that actually means. We’ve also all been at a party in which someone mentions oak in wine and everyone will nod along like they completely understand the concept. But how many of us actually know what oak means for winemaking and can recognize the taste of it wine?

Beam_Rack_House

 

When we say a wine is oaky we are referring to the flavors from the barrels it was aged in. New barrels impart flavors of vanilla, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, dill, and smoke resulting from the toasting process that allows the barrels to be shaped. As barrels are used over and over again they lose these flavors and become more neutral. The age of the tree the barrel is made from can be very important because as the tree ages, its grains become more tightly packed. The younger tree with more loosely packed grains will impart more flavor into a wine.

You can think of oak in a similarly to salt – a chef will use more or less salt depending upon the flavors he desires in his dishes. The same is true with a winemaker and their desired flavors for their wine.

This French Chablis is completely unoaked

This French Chablis is completely unoaked


This California chardonnay spent 9 months in oak barrles

This California chardonnay spent 9 months in oak barrels

Most people are familiar with oak through drinking chardonnay. Below, we have two examples of chardonnays, both at the opposite ends of the “oak” spectrum.

 

The first of these is the Christian Moreau Chablis, a chardonnay that is completely unoaked and was made using stainless steel tanks. Because it was never exposed to oak, you’ll get the full, natural flavors of chardonnay: apple, lemon, and a flint-like minerality. It’s color can range from light yellow to hay.

Our second wine, a chardonnay from Rombauer Vineyards, spend nine months in oak barrels and is known for its rich aroma of lemon curd, butterscotch, and vanilla.

 

 

 

As you can, oak plays an important part our industry. Hopefully, next time you’re shopping for wine or tasting with friends, you’ll have a little more insight into what it is you’re drinking.

 

 


At some point in every wine drinker’s life, they’ve purchased a bottle simply because of the design of its label. I do it, you do it, we’ve all done it, and it’s perfectly fine! The truth is that wine labels can not only be entertaining and engaging, but a well-designed label is full of information. 

Historically, wine labels have been bland and uninteresting, but recent changes in the industry have lead to an incredible variety of label shapes, sizes, and designs. While a good label is supposed to be eye-catching and enjoyable, its primary purpose is to convey information about the wine.

Wine labels, especially imported wines from Europe, can be somewhat confusing when compared with their American-made counterparts. The typical parts of an imported wine label are labeled below.

Label chart

The importer: This wine was brought to the U.S. by wine importer Kermit Lynch.

Winery name: This wine was produced by the Domaine de Durban winery located in France’s southern Rhone region.

Wine name: Gigondas is the name of the region where these grapes were grown, and the Domaine decided to keep that name for this wine.

Wine type: On the label it is simply “Red Rhone Wine,” but this wine is actually 70% grenache and 30% syrah.

Net contents: All standard wine bottles hold 750ml.

Sulfite notice: The U.S. government requires that all food products that contain sulfites to be labeled as such. All wines naturally contain sulfites.

Country of origin: With all imported wine, the U.S. government requires that the country of origin is noted.

Alcohol by volume: The alcohol level of the Gigondas is 14.5%.

Producer information: This is the name and location of the winery. The text here reads “Leydier & Fils,” or “Leydier & Sons,” as Domaine de Durban is now run by three generations of the Leydier family.

Bottler information: This tells us where the wine was bottled. “Mis en bouteille au Domaine” roughly translates to “bottled at the winery.”

PDO category: Within every wine-growing region, there a legally defined geographic areas called Protected Designated Origin (PDO). In America, we call these “American Viticultural Areas (AVA), but in France this is translated as “Appellation d’origins Protégée,” and this label tells us that this wine was grown in official Gigondas area.

Vintage: The vintage, of course, tells us the year in which the grapes were grown and harvested.



Ask a sommelier what their favorite type of wine is and they’ll likely respond with “bubbles!”  Sparkling wines are not only refreshing and delicious, but they can turn an everyday situation into a celebration. Fortunately for us, sparkling wines are available at every price range, and a bottle that suits your tastes and needs is easy to find at almost any wine shop. Most sparklings wines will fall into one of three categories: Champagne, Prosecco, and Cava.

 

bubbles mao

Champagne:

The pinnacle of the sparkling wine experience is, of course, Champagne.  What makes Champagne so special?  Both the location and production set Champagne apart from other sparkling wines. First, the grapes for this wine (only pinot noir, chardonnay, and pinot meunier can be used for Champagne)  are grown in the cold-weathered, chalky-soiled Champagne region of France that gives the wine its signature zesty acidity and mineral flavors. Secondly, the production process for Champagne is unique in the world.  While there are many ways to put the bubbles in the bottle, the original and most time-consuming way is to add wine and sugar to still, non-sparkling, wine and put it in a bottle. Then, the bottle is corked and put it in a cellar until sugar to start a secondary fermentation. A bi-product of that fermentation is thousands of delicate bubbles of carbon dioxide. During this process, Champagne bottles are aged from 15 months to 9 years. Champagne bubbles should be tiny and plentiful, giving the wine a near creamy mouthfeel. A bottle of Champagne from about $35 to well over $300.

Prosecco:

Prosecco is one of my favorite inexpensive sparklers available on the market.  Prosecco comes from Italy and is grown in a region just north of Venice.  The main qualities of Prosecco are friendly and easy-drinking. The bubbles in Prosecco are much less persistent than the ones in Champagne- this is due to the way in which the bubbles are formed. The secondary fermentation (bubble makin’ time) occurs in a steel tank, with the wine then being bottled under continuous pressure.  With lots of peach, meyer lemon, and maybe a little creamy vanilla the flavors of this wine are sure to please. Prices for Prosecco are in the $15 range.

Cava:

Cava comes to us from Northern Spain near Catalonia.  The bubbles from Cava are achieved in the same method as Champagne, giving the wine a wonderful texture.  Another similarity to Champagne is that some of the best Cavas use a significant portion of Chardonnay- one of the three grapes allowed in Champagne. The significant difference between Cava and Champagne? Following new technology. The Spanish have fully embraced new technologies that allow them to mechanize the secondary fermentation process and keep the prices down. With flavors of apple, pear, and bright citrus this wine is an amazing bang for your buck. Cava runs from $10 to $20.

giphy (2)

So which sparkling is right for your big day?  Even within these categories, the variances from producer to producer can be distinctive.  Speaking with your favorite beverage professional is the best way to make sure the perfect celebration beverage is invited to the ceremony. Click here to learn more about all the wedding services we offer.