Tag Archives | France


Intense color. Middleweight. Tar + plums w/ cocoa + flowers around each corner. Hope popularity doesn’t screw it up.

Malbec Description

     Malbec is au currant. It is selling briskly during a recession when most wines are retrenching. It goes great with a big hunka’ red meat, and confers a gaucho image which understandably appeals to salarymen everywhere. Dr. Roger Corder, a British pharmacology researcher, even says Argentine Malbecs are particularly rich in the polyphenols which help protect against artery disease. Good news when you’re having a big hunka’ red meat. And really good Malbec can be had for less than $25. Sign me up!

Malbec Wine Education

     The success of Argentine Malbec on the U.S. market over the last four years is the envy of wine producing regions all over the world. Wines of Argentina says they sold 628,000 cases of Malbec in America in 2005, and 3.15 million cases in 2009. Particularly jealous is the district of Cahors in southwest France, which specializes in Malbec (traditionally called Cot there), and from whence the Argentine vines are reputed to have come.
     Of course commercial success on our shores usually has more to do with pricing and adroit marketing than it has to do with what is in the bottle. I’d never bet against the physical attractiveness of any Argentine winery’s PR staff. And, until last month, exchange rates did give the Argentine wines an enormous price advantage over their European counterparts.
     By way of incentive, Argentina has 50,000 acres of Malbec planted, which is more than California has planted to Zinfandel. France has less than 15,000 acres, and even that has been steadily declining since 1970. Malbec vines are quite sensitive to mildew. Hence the variety seems logically more applicable to arid climates such as Mendoza (in the rain shadow of the Andes), than it would be in the frequent summer rains of southwest France.
     Nevertheless a battle of sorts has been joined, and vintners in both California and Washington State are paying attention. There are only 1,500 acres of Malbec in California. Which explains why in 2008 Malbec grapes sold for $4,550 a ton in Napa Valley ~ almost the same price as Cabernet Sauvignon, and nearly twice as much money per ton as Merlot. In Sonoma Malbec grapes were 15% more expensive than Cab Sauv. And in the Sierra Foothills Malbec is nearly 50% more expensive than any other grape. Supply and demand. You think Wall Street is a casino? Try farming.

Malbec recommendations

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Bodega Bistro, Little Saigon, S.F.

Vietnam, but w/ meat. Very sophisticated food. Break out a quality French wine. Red Burgundy esp useful.

Restaurant Recommendation

     Bodega (website, 415-921-1218, on Larkin – two doors uphill from Eddy, medium priced with a couple temptations to splurge) may sound like a noteworthy California seafood place. That’s actually Hayes St Grill, about eight blocks away. When I tell you BoDeGa is a Vietnamese restaurant, you may immediately think of plates filled with vegetables. That’s not entirely untrue, but it’s helpful to know the translation from the Vietnamese language: Bo = beef; De = lamb; Ga = chicken. Vegans can eat at Bodega, but they can’t get uppity.
     Let’s not mince words here. If you insist on ordering beer to drink with the food at Bodega, you’re a Philistine.

Wine & Food Pairing

     Chef-owner Jimmie Kwok has an enviable résumé. He worked at some of San Francisco’s top hotel restaurants, and also several years with Il Fornaio. He describes Bodega as “cuisine Indochine” and, as befits Vietnam’s history, there is a considerable French influence to several of his dishes. Take the Tournedos for example. That would be filet Mignon and foie gras wrapped in bacon with a black truffle sauce. Better order them when you make your reservation. They sell out early. An older Syrah from Santa Barbara County would be a good match. Perhaps 1999 Qupé. But, for a ‘standing O’ from your dinner companions seek out a five- or six-year-old bottle of Stolpman La Croce (50-50 split of Syrah and Sangiovese fermented together).

Educational Background

     On the more traditional side, Jimmie’s Pho (beef and noodle broth) includes a homeopathic dose of …

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06 Vougeraie Savigny-les-Beaune (Marconnets)

Bio-d since 01. Wild yeast. Attractive feral nose w/ blk cherry robe. Minced squab + plum sauce.

Green Wines

     At speaking engagements, British wine writer Clive Coates likes to joke about Burgundian vintners, “You know, they’re all peasants.” Clive is not being disparaging. He is colorfully illustrating the manner in which Burgundians are yoked to the land. Wealthy, well-educated, well-traveled vintners from Burgundy still spend months of every year in their vineyards pruning, pulling leaves, replanting, and harvesting. This close relationship to the soil may help explain why Burgundy has so many organic and bio-dynamic vineyards. Heaven knows, organic grape growing is not easy when rain is likely to fall at any time during the Summer.

Wine Education

     Domaine de la Vougeraie was organized by Jean-Charles Boisset and his sister Nathalie in the 1990’s to consolidate several prestigious properties they had acquired with their father Jean-Claude under a single, more easily marketed label. In all, the vineyards for the Vougeraie project totaled 37 hectares (94 acres) spread out over 29 Burgundian appellations. The goal was definitely to create a luxury brand: there are parcels in five red and one white Grand Cru vineyards. About a quarter of the property is in Vougeot. Yields are low ~ barely over two tons per acre. These holdings ~ plus ownership of prestige domaines such as Bouchard, Jaffelin, Ropiteau, and Mommesin ~ make the Boisset family the wealthiest wine estate in all of Burgundy. As if that weren’t enough, in September of this year 40-year-old Jean-Charles married Gina Gallo

Find the remainder of this post on the Stanford Wine Blog titled Straight from the Vine. Continue Reading →

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06 d’Angerville Volnay (Cailleret)

Modest color, but tightly refined nose w/ floral highlights. Beautiful oolong-like finish. Value.

Both Volnay and Montelie can represent pretty good bargains in a Burgundy market which seems to be continuously hyperventilating. This off-vintage wine, nevertheless comes from a very highly-regarded 1st Cru vineyard, and perhaps Volnay’s most illustrious producer. Like a tall, slim woman on a Parisian boulevard, this wine is both elegantly understated and eye-catching at the very same time. It makes you feel grown up, at a young adult price.

Wine Education Vacation

2006 Marquis d’Angerville 1st cru Volnay (les Cailleret Vyd) from the Côte de Beaune. Tasted at the monthly Friday night Varietal Series class in Nevada City [href=”http://wineeducationvacation.com”]. Retail store wine cost is around $85. Wine was part of a comparison to illustrate district characteristics amongst red Burgundies. Others included two Frederic Magnien premier crus from the Côte de Nuits: a Chambolle-Musigny (Feusselottes); and a Vosne-Romanée (Suchot). Unfortunately the Suchot was corked.

Background wine education

     Volnay is a small town just south of Pommard in the southern half of the Côte d’Or, France’s legendary Burgundy region. This southern section is best known for white wine, and some of Volnay’s vineyards do cross over into neighboring Meursault. There are no Grand Cru vineyards in Volnay. Indeed there is only one Grand Cru red vineyard in the whole of the Côte de Beaune (Corton Bressandes), i.e. in this southern half of the Côte d’Or. Nevertheless, Volnay does have several Premier Cru vineyards of which they are justifiably proud. Les Cailleret is just south of town along the main road.
     The proximity of Volnay to Pommard is confusing because the wines bear virtually no resemblance to each other. Pommard is jammy, the most californicated of all the red Burgundies. Volnay is more frequently delicate, perhaps in the style of New Zealand Pinot Noirs from Central Otago in the middle of the south island, except Volnay has a floral perfuminess reminiscent of Chambolle’s best wines. Bad Volnay is thin and watery. Great Volnay has a lifted berry character backed up by the complexity of black tea. Rarely would anyone describe Volnay as robust in the mouth. Restrained is more often the phrase that springs to mind. Careful never to over accessorize. Understated. Old money.

Taste the Wine

      The 2006 d’Angerville was a wonderful example of what the French would call Volnay typicité. Far from lightweight, on an internet dating site it would still have called itself “slender,” and I would have gone along. The wine was much more substantial in terms of flavor concentration than in terms of alcohol and extract. That is an impressive structural expression, no less because it is so unusual when one’s daily fare is California wine, especially today. The nose was overlain by blackberry essence, but lifted by the scent of yellow roses and heather. Round and full, but not big nor obvious. In the mouth the wine was smooth, not at all grippy, with long acid to make you salivate. Like a good comedian, this wine left you wanting to hear more next week.


     This wine would be perfect with duck leg confit served in a salad of spring greens with pomegranate seeds. Just a hint of raspberry vinaigrette and some hazelnut oil to dress the salad. It could be the first course, but would be better as the third or fourth in a five- or seven-course meal. The idea is you want fragrance without weight. Don’t turn the confit into high-end sloppy Joes with a sauce. Merely use the duck leg by itself, maybe crisped just a bit under the broiler before being separated from the bone and sprinkled in meaty chunks about the salad.

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