The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Expert Picks: William Fèvre and…William Fèvre!

Two expert selections from Crystal Edgar

Crystal 2014We are all very excited here to welcome the 2014 whites from William Fèvre! Tis the season to bring out the crisp whites and I have some great bottles here for any wine lover. This is serious Chablis with fine pedigree, William Fèvre is recognized as one of the best producers in all of Chablis, sitting in the same league as Raveneau and Dauvissat and offering a range of distinguished premier and grand cru bottlings. Fèvre works forty acres of grand cru vineyards and another thirty acres of premier cru, all of which deserve attention. All fruit is harvested by hand and great caution is taken to ensure that the wines are precise, textured and mineral-driven with great structure and racy acidity. Fèvre works every vintage to find just the right balance between richness and minerality, and as these 2014 wines illustrate, Fèvre hit the bulls-eye!

Fèvre crafts some of the most exciting whites we receive each year, and if you have been keeping up with our offers for Burgundy’s 2014 vintage, this vintage is beyond exciting. Here are a few premier cru offerings that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys great white wine. These satisfy serious thirst while going easy on the pocketbook.

William Fèvre 2014 Chablis 1er Cru Montmains $54.99

This vibrant white offers loads of citrus, green peach and minerals with hints of almond and chalk on the finish. Saline minerals and citrusy acidity make this ’14 Chablis ideal to pour as an aperitif or with fresh or grilled oysters. Deriving from William Fèvre’s 4.3 acre parcel of Montmains, which faces southeast and sports emblematic Chablis soils rich in minerals and fossils, this wine vinifies in a combination of stainless steel oak barrels (30-50% used); the wine also ages for 10-15 months in a combination of in French oak barrels and stainless steel before bottling. Supple, structured and vibrant, this Chablis is very food friendly and nicely age-worthy.

William Fèvre 2014 Chablis 1er Cru Vaulorent $81.99

This premier cru is consistently one of my favorite as it adds lovely white floral notes on the notes and palate with added stone fruit character. Slightly more complex and concentrated than the Montmains this can stand up to a range of fresh and grilled seafood, poultry, goat cheese, prosciutto and other salted finger foods. Deriving from a fine eight-acre parcel of Fourchaume 1er Cru that directly abuts the grand cru Les Preuses, Vaulorent is considered the “baby grand cru” at Fèvre, and it consistently outperforms grand crus that cost many times as much.

Expert Picks: William Fèvre and Christian Moreau

Two expert selections from Michael Adler

Michael Adler 5.29.15Thanks to the likes of E&J Gallo and Carlo Rossi, Americans historically understood Chablis almost exclusively as cheap mass-produced jug wine, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Chablis is one of my favorite appellations for white Burgundy because of its zippy crispness, ultra-refreshing acidity, and beguiling mineral-driven complexity in the glass. And in addition to being incredibly food-friendly, it’s also often an incredible value, in part because of the way Chablis was historically marketed in the States. For those of you who enjoy a cleaner style of Chardonnay that’s less influenced by oak and more focused on minerality and bright citrus notes, I urge you to revisit Chablis and fall in love as I have.

When we talk about the absolute best that Chablis has to offer, there’s a small handful of elite estates that come to mind: Raveneau, Dauvissat, Christian Moreau and William Fevre. Today I want to focus on the latter two of these four powerhouse winemakers, Domaine Christian Moreau and Domaine William Fevre. Domaine Christian Moreau, is one of my top three producers of white wines in all of Burgundy, and that’s not an exaggeration. Moreau’s wines are so delicate yet powerful, so mind-bendingly complex and delicious, and they impress me greatly year in and year out for their precise and artful representations of both site and grape. The wines of Domaine Fevre are renowned for their laser-precise flavors, zippy acidity and immaculate detail. Classic in every way, Fevre uses oak judiciously and only in its top wines, and each and every Fevre bottling is a textbook example of its respective terroir.

William Fèvre Chablis 1er Cru Montmains 2013 (375 ml) $29.99

Fevre’s 2013’s are stunning from top to bottom, and considering how tricky the 2013 vintage was, the estate’s wines are even more impressive. Winemaker Didier Séguier feels that the 2013’s will provide incredible pleasure to both the purists as well as those looking for a little more approachability. The 2013 Chablis 1er Cru Montmains that I’m featuring today in 375ml half bottles is the perfect pour for a quiet weeknight when you want to enjoy a great glass of wine but don’t quite need a full bottle, and the price is just as tantalizing and approachable as the juice itself! Bright citrus and tart green apple fruits leap from the glass, supported by zesty minerals, a hint of salinity and bountiful mouth-watering acidity.

Christian Moreau Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2013 $109.99

Deriving from a walled vineyard plot at the bottom of the hill, closes to the village of Chablis, Christian Moreau’s Chablis 2013 Les Clos is a powerful, muscular Chardonnay that will benefit immensely from another 5+ years in the cellar. Les Clos is one of the only two wines Moreau produces that sees time in oak, but this is not an oaky wine in any way – the wood is there only to provide additional structure, depth and complexity, and plays only a very minor role in the wine’s flavor profile. This is an insanely complex and delicious Chardonnay and one that easily holds its weight against the great masters in Puligny, Meursault and Corton-Charlemagne. The domaine is currently transitioning between generations of the Moreau family, with father Christian passing the torch to his son Fabien, who has already demonstrated his unique talent and ability to make some of the world’s very best Chardonnay in Chablis.

Pairing (not Paring) Spring Vegetables

How to get the most from your fiddleheads, ramps, or asparagus

fiddlehead fernsSpring and summer usher in a new batch of colorful vegetables, some of which throw a curve ball when pairing with wine. Now is the time to flex your creative muscles! It’s notoriously challenging to find proper wine matches for artichokes and asparagus; however, roasted root vegetables, stewed beans and earthy mushroom dishes lend themselves quite well to wine. From my experience, when in doubt pull out the bubbles, orange wine, sake or sherry.

I’m taking myself back to my days in culinary school, to offer these basic principles for creating great pairings:

Powerful flavors in food and richness call for powerful wines. Lighter food flavors require lighter wines. Spicy, salty, or smoky flavors in food welcome lighter, fruity reds, and off-dry to semi-sweet whites. You can pair food with wine by creating complementary pairings, where the food tastes like the wine (tomatoes with fresh herbs, olive oil, and olives paired with fresh, bright herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc). Or you can go the opposite direction with contrasting pairing where the food and the wine have opposite flavors and textures (for example, roasted asparagus with hollandaise paired with a vibrant sparkling wine).

Another consideration is how the dish is cooked. Roasting and caramelizing brings out the richer, sweeter flavors in vegetables. Steaming or sautéing can keep the flavors light and bright. Braising will bring out some of the deeper, more brooding and complex aspects of a vegetable or legume. Other components in a dish, from fresh herbs to spices, can also affect what you might pair with your vegetable of choice, so consider options at both ends of the light white to dark red wine spectrum.

Ok time to jump right in! Here are some tricky veggies with wine pairings that will almost always work together:

Artichokes: Artichokes are challenging because they contain a chemical acid called ‘cynarin’, which makes everything taste sweeter — especially the wine. To counter this I recommend serving a dry Fino sherry, smooth Soave from Italy, or a vibrant Txakoli from Spain.

Asparagus: A rustic vegetable that contains compounds like asparagusic acid, which, in case you were wondering, is an organosulfur carboxylic acid. Go for something citrusy, herbal and unoaked. For instance, you might choose a Sancerre or Pouilly Fumé from France’s Loire Valley; Grüner Veltliner from Austria; Alsace Riesling; Italian Sauvignon Blanc; or even unoaked Chardonnay, especially from a cooler region like Oregon’s Willamette Valley or Chablis from France.

Avocados: They are rich and sexy, and they work beautifully with voluptuously herbaceous, grassy and fruity whites, such as Torrontes from Argentina, Chardonnay from France or Italy, Albarino from Spain, or Moschofilero from Greece.

Mushrooms: Sure, there are a number of pairings here, but as far as a standouts go, you only need to remember two words and one wine: Pinot Noir. The earthy mushrooms and the fruit of the Pinot make for the “divine” contrast.

Nettles and Fiddlehead Ferns: These are some of the most highly sought after spring vegetables! These special veggies pair well with a soft, slightly fruity white like Pinot Gris from Oregon, Viognier from southern France, or Pinot Blanc from northern Italy.

Ramps: Make sure to avoid wines with a lot of oak/vanilla notes and wines that are super floral. You want a bright wine with green apple acidity and a hint of grassiness, arugula, or pepper to go with the bright, green, funk flavors in ramps. My picks are Friulano or Pinot Grigio from Friuli, Italy.

Olives: Because of the saltiness and briny flavors, Sake, Fino or Manzanilla Sherry, dry rosé from France, Italy or Spain and/or bubbles are the way to go.

The enjoyment of thoughtful wine and food pairing comes into play when you have special fresh market products on hand whose virtues you want to showcase and savor. That is the essence of the garden cook’s mission—to capture flavor at its peak. Why stop short of the beverage? By its very nature, no other liquid flatters the earth’s bounty better than vino, so cheers!

A Look at Bordeaux, Part 3: Graves and Pessac-Léognan

Taking a tour of the history and terroir of two of Bordeaux’s most famous regions

Château Smith Haut Lafitte, taken by the author

Château Smith Haut Lafitte, taken by the author

Here is part three of Robin Kelley O’Connor’s multi-part look at Bordeaux. You can find part one, an overview of Bordeaux, here, and you can catch up on part two, a look at the region’s dry whites, here.

Two of Bordeaux’s greatest winemaking areas, Graves and Pessac-Léognan lay claim not only to making thousands of years of vintages, but are also Bordeaux’s original and very first vineyards. Bordeaux was known as Burdigala in the Gallo-Roman period, but during the Middle Ages despite the trials of tribal organization, there was a gradual expansion of the vineyards, originally planted in the very heart of the city of Bordeaux and surrounding villages. Proof of these urban vineyards exist today; Châteaux Haut-Brion, La Mission Haut-Brion, Pape Clément (in fact Château Pape Clément, founded by Pope Clément V in 1306 is the oldest named property in Bordeaux), Les Carmes Haut-Brion, and Picque Caillou are all located within the gates and boundaries of the southern part of the city of Bordeaux. Think of this location in terms of New York City: it would be somewhat of the equivalent of Prospect Park in Brooklyn being one big vineyard.

Graves and Pessac-Léognan witnessed a serious expansion in 1152, with the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry Plantagenet King of England. Eleanor granted exclusive trading rights to the properties in the suburbs, which included communes in Graves. During this time, Bordeaux merchants were exempt from an export tax imposed on ships sailing with merchandise from the port of Bordeaux, and this golden age of Graves’ wines fed the English thirst for red wine. which lasted for 300 years that Aquitaine (most of western France including Bordeaux) was under English rule, from 1152 to 1453. In this context, it’s important to note that Pessac-Léognan is a relatively new appellation that was created in 1987, before which all the Châteaux of Pessac-Léognan took the appellation moniker “Graves.” The Pessac-Léognan appellation occupies the northern zone of Graves near and inside the city of Bordeaux itself.

Château Haut-Bailly, taken by the author

Château Haut-Bailly, taken by the author

The châteaux of Graves and Pessac Léognan produce red and white wine. The finest dry whites of Bordeaux come from these two appellations, though they don’t outshine the indisputably world-class reds. The whites accounting for 20-25% of the production are made from a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle. Sauvignon brings richness, aromatic qualities, and complexity when it ages. Sémillon is the dominant grape variety in the Graves region, and it contributes fleshiness and finesse. Muscadelle in small quantities gives pleasant uplifting fruitiness and floral notes. The dry whites are medium to full bodied, and they range from fresh, fruity, and elegant to wines to those that gain complexity with age—certain châteaux’ wines have the ability to age 10, 15, to 20 years or more.

Château Haut-Bailly, taken by the author

Château Haut-Brion, taken by the author

Reds make up 70-80% of the production in these regions. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot dominate the blend with Cabernet Franc offering a minor supporting role, and Petit Verdot and Malbec used in very small quantities. Cabernet Sauvignon, the oldest grape variety of Bordeaux, is the key behind the aging capabilities and developing complexity of bouquet and flavor profile. Merlot gives a gentle tannic structure, fruity aromas and a wonderful complement to Cabernet Sauvignon. When used in the blend, Cabernet Franc adds some tannin, suppleness, and elegance. In essence, these red wines have compelling aromas, perfumed, elegance, and structure, as well as noted spiciness, toastiness, all combined with superb balance and longevity—some wines can go the distance of 50 years or more. A third category, Graves Superieures, makes up 5% of the Graves appellation. These wines are white and sweet mostly made from the Sémillon grape.

The origins of the notion and idea of “Grand Cru” was born in the Graves. From the 15th to the 18th century, the wines of the Graves region dominated the market with the very best wines going to England and Northern Europe. 1855 saw the creation of the Classification of the Médoc with 60 châteaux selected; however, one wine of the Graves was listed as a 1st Growth (1er Grand Cru Classé): Château Haut-Brion, a testament to the greatness of the wines of the Graves. When ambassador of the United States to France, Thomas Jefferson was a huge lover of the wines of the Graves, and he bought wines of the Graves to Monticello’s wine cellar in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Soils of fossilized seashells, taken by the author

Soils of fossilized seashells, taken by the author

What makes the wines of Graves and Pessac-Léognan so special is the unique terroir. The appellations are made up of gravelly soils with sub soils of fossilized seashells, sand, clay and limestone. Graves created a classification in 1955 called “Crus Classés de Graves” to celebrate this region’s unique wines. The classification comprises 16 châteaux and includes both red and white wines; it’s a fine place to start when learning to enjoy these extraordinary, historical wines from Bordeaux.

A Look At Bordeaux, Part 2: Bordeaux’s Dry White Wines

A look into Bordeaux’s terroir and unsung dry whites

unnamedFor part one of this series, go here:

What are the circumstances that have allowed the Bordeaux wine region to produce such outstanding wines for centuries? The short answer is the terroir. Bordeaux vineyards sit on the 45th parallel in Southwest France, right up against the Atlantic Ocean, giving Bordeaux a mild oceanic temperate climate. The same Gulf Stream that goes up the entire East Coast of the United States and the Maritime Provinces of Canada wanders across the Northern Atlantic and eventually makes its way to the Atlantic coast of France and, eventually, Bordeaux, where it warms and regulates the region’s temperatures. Just off Bordeaux’s coastline is a pine forest that acts as barrier protecting the vineyards against the sometimes harsh weather of the Bay of Biscay, a site known to have some of the Atlantic’s fiercest weather.

The winters in Bordeaux have a low risk of frost; the springs are wet with occasional frost scares; summers are warm; and the autumns have been reliably for optimal grape ripening over the last 30 years. Along with the weather, the soils and geology is a great asset to Bordeaux’s wine-growing success, contributing to the diversity of characteristics in the wines. On Bordeaux’s Left Bank, which covers the areas of the greater Médoc, Graves, Pessac-Léognan, Barsac and Graves, the well drained soils consist of gravel, sand and some clay. Bordeaux’s Right Bank, which covers a wide range of appellations including most of the Bordeaux, Bordeaux Supérieur, Côte de Bordeaux, and Saint-Émilion-Pomerol-Fronsac, has soils composed of wet limestone, moist clay, and smaller amounts of sand and gravel. Above all, the Bordelaise have figured out of long periods of time what grape varieties to plant in the right soils.

unnamed-1Although best known for its red wines, Bordeaux has been making dry white wines for centuries. Interestingly enough, in the 1950s 60% of Bordeaux production was white wine. Today red wine dominates, accounting for 89% of the total production. In 2013, the total planting of vines dedicated to making dry white only represents 8% of the vineyard area.

There are two main styles of whites that Bordeaux produces. One is well structured, complex, highly aromatic whites that have the ability for eight or more years of aging, particularly the white wines of Graves and Pessac-Léognan. The other style is those whites that are fresh, fruity with lively acidity and made for immediate drinking.

unnamed-3At the core of the Bordeaux whites are the major grape varieties Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon, with a supporting role coming from the Muscadelle grape. Sauvignon Blanc generally leads the charge for the Bordeaux white wine blend. The first reference of Sauvignon Blanc in Bordeaux dates back to 1736, which suggests it’s an indigenous grape. Sauvignon Blanc is vibrant, fresh, and flavorful, with wonderful aromas of citrus, fresh cut grass and hay, along with hints of dry herbs. It can make powerful and complex wines, as well as wines that are early drinking and fresh.

The wonderful Sémillon grape brings beautiful color to the wine, and it also offers finesse and smoothness. Sémillon makes up 52% of all white variety plantings in Bordeaux, and the region’s producers use Sémillon to produce both dry white and sweet white wines. When young, a Sémillon wine’s aromas are subtle and restrained, with notes of peach, acacia, nuttiness, but with some age, this wine develops roundness, opulence, texture, and complexity with a bouquet of honey, wax, apricots, pear and mango. Sémillon makes a white with amazing aging potential.

Bordeaux dry whites are some of the greatest wines produced on earth, but for some unknown reason, they remain a hidden secret. As a Bordeaux authority, a Certified Wine Educator, and a big fan of these wines, I take it as my mission to spread the word about these incredible evocations of Bordeaux’s unusual, extraordinary terroir.

To continue to learn more about this fascinating wine region, check back for further installments.

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