Faites Votre Choix….

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My friend and Napa county neighbor, the Traveling Wine Chick, had the winner’s honor of picking the theme for this Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #MWWC19 . I can only hope the dissertation I am about to put forth is worthy of her motif – “choice.”

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I had the good fortune of being a guest at the wedding of two dear friends in Biarritz, France. Merely a week from this last Saturday, I was strolling the gardens and walking the halls of a beautiful chateau on Lac Brindos surrounded by nuptial brilliance and celestial beauty (the wedding designer is genius and there was no expense spared for this union.) I could go enviously on and on and on giving you enough time to stitch a voodoo doll of my likeness, but I shall refrain.

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Biarritz is a gorgeous seaside city on the Bay of Biscay, on the Atlantic coast in southwestern France. A luxurious destination that is popular with tourists, surfers and scantily clad sun seekers. Situated in Basque country, at the border of Spain and only an hour or more by car from San Sebastian and Bilboa, the town has had a storied maritime past since its establishment as a successful whaling port in the11th and 12th centuries. Doctors in the 18th century prescribed the destination to patients to remedy ailments as they believed that the ocean had therapeutic properties and soon health pilgrimages to Biarritz became de rigeur.

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In 1884, Empress Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III the longest serving President of the Republic and the nephew and heir of Napoleon the First, built a palace on the beach (now the Hôtel du Palais) and soon this was a favored destination for European royalty including British Monarchs, Queen Victoria and King Edward and Spanish Kings.

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Most recently, Biarritz became known as one of the best surf spots in Europe and the beach culture is evident. At times, I did double takes, as certain scenarios looked more like Santa Barbara than seaside France. Surf shops, VW buses with surf racks on top and distant coves sprinkled with bobbing heads on boards waiting to catch the next wave.

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Then there are the casinos, the fine dining, the sea food and the warm hospitality…yes in France! Albeit, the service is at a much different pace than what one finds in the US, but then again, what’s the hurry? Slow down, relax and enjoy a glass of wine.

Enough of that.

As I navigated through the choices of meats, seafood, pastries, cheese, wines, meats, seafood, pastries, cheese and wines, I realized I was caught in a traffic circle of gastronomic proportion with all roads leading to gout.

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I was pleasantly exhausted by the generosity of my hosts and the exceptionally kind service we received from the Chateau Brindos staff. As the jet lag delirium waned, and the rehearsal dinner, wedding ceremony, post ceremony cocktail party, formal dinner, Basque performers, fire works display, lighting of the lanterns, cakes, more cakes, macarron pyramids, wild dancing until 8am, day after morning brunch, cocktails by the pool, chartered buses to Jai Alai tournaments, family paella dinner, scheduled outings to local and not so local sights…I was so enthralled by the glamour of all this organized fun, it can only be described as my personal Belle Époque.

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As guests, we were all spoiled rotten and the wedding hosts could not have executed with any more or less perfection. What I soon learned to appreciate was the fact that I really didn’t have to make any choices, there it all was before us to indulge in blissful celebration in honor of our friends and their union.

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Every wine that was poured for me was excellent, in fact the one choice I made at a restaurant in Paris – a Chinon with my steak frites – was terrible, stale and sour. I sent it back facing off the waiter when he gave me a blank stare – I did not flinch. He disappeared, for a while, then returned with a glass of Bordeaux and chided me for my poor choices. He declared that he has now decided which wine I will be drinking, so I will not bother him again and he can smoke a cigarette. What a kind, generous man, and by the way, the wine was delicious – bon choix!

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Back stateside, safe and sound, I thought of how luxurious it was when I didn’t have to make choices, and conversely how the most important choices you make – the friends you keep, the spouse you marry, where you call home, and where you venture – can afford you that rare luxury.

With that pithy statement, I now bid you adieu as I have made the choice to shred all my credit cards before the gendarmes get back from the tabac.

Stay curious!

loie

Improve the Odds: 3 Tips to Picking a Good Wine Under $10

Recently a friend asked my opinion regarding an article he read about the virtues of buying cheap wine, as in really cheap. My dear friend has a rather valuable wine collection stored in a high tech temperature controlled vault, so although he was open to the merits of the premise, he was askance at the supporting arguments. (Why You Should Be Drinking Cheap Wine via @slate)

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I did not entirely disagree with the article, but I was left quizzical with the explanation of why. I definitely did not find merit in the bias against the industry by attributing wine mark-ups to whiny vintners who bemoan the cost and intensive labor of winemaking. Those greedy capitalist wine makers claim to barely “break even” so it is up to consumers to “subsidize” their glamorous industry – I embellished my point with the glamour bit. Anyone who is close enough to the wine industry knows, it’s agribusiness and not an easy buck, period. Moreover, it’s a calling often led by the courage of a passionate few and tribes of multigenerational vintners. However, ironically, the fastest way to alleviate a greedy capitalist of his money is to sell him a vineyard – ha!

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Those capitalist pigs are such party animals! There’s his accountant behind him. Looks like they just discussed the financials of the winery.

From what I also recall in the article, there was a proof point about the long standing “gotcha” about blind taste testers who often can’t tell the difference between expensive and cheap wines. Hey, if you find good cheap wine, isn’t that the point. Problem is, 80% of cheap wine is swill, and plenty of fine wine is unapproachable (euphemistically put, you won’t like it ’cause it tastes like 80 year old fanny barnyard, and that is what it was intended to taste like. Hey, not everyone takes to extravagances like caviar and Civit coffee, especially in one sitting.)

Finally, I’m in violent agreement on one point, the palate of the masses vs. the palate of experts and collectors is vastly different. A palatable everyday wine may taste fantastic to Aunt Helen with a pork loin at Sunday dinner but flaccid, unstructured and pedestrian to a more discerning wineaux. Snobs require price, pedigree and ratings to allow anything to pass their lips – I discount them entirely as that’s foolish. But connoisseurs, as with any finely crafted good or service know the minutiae that makes a difference. I know a few wineauxs who can appreciate a good deal as much as the finest vintage.

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All value wines are not created equal – and there are some simple ways to identify varietals and blends that will give you a fighting chance to hit a winner. In one year of doing this blog, I taste an average of 5 bottles under $10 before finding one outstanding value wine. Finding a great wine between $15-$20 is not too difficult, but if you dink wine frequently, it adds up fast.

For the adventure seekers, buying value wines until you find one you love is risky for 2 reasons: 1. The frustration could be a turn off to wine altogether  2. The experiment will be just as expensive but less gratifying than buying one or two great bottles priced 15-20.

3 Ways You Can Improve Your Odds at Picking a Good Wine Under $10:

1. Look at the label and check the origin of the wine. Most value wines are made in the Central Valley of California – Gallo land. This is perfectly fine especially if you see a blend – meaning the label will not define a varietal of grape ie. Cabernet Sauvignon. If you see the origin is a well known growing area, (Sonoma Country, Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Monterey) chances are it’s a better wine but there are no guarantees! Some Lodi blends have been fantastic while some famous appellations were blech!

European wines that consistently perform for whites are Italian Pinot Grigio, Portuguese Vinho Verde, Australia and New Zealand produce excellent Sauvignon Blancs. For reds I have found great deals from Spain and Italy – Rioja, Primativo, blends. The best value sparkling is Cava from Spain, Prosecco from Italy and I have found a Cremant and Champagne from France that was ridiculously affordable and as fantastic as some very pricey cousins.

Grape varietals to avoid because I have yet to find one produced under $10 that is decent are Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir – they are out there but few and far in between, Chardonnay – unless you want an oak-bomb, and Merlot. These varietals have nuances that can be achieved between $15-20 at such a better quality I suggest you save your pennies and buy a more expensive bottle to truly get the pleasure of the grape.

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2. Get friendly with your wine merchant. Speak frequently to your wine merchant and ask them two questions: First, what wines under $10 would they recommend? Second, what wines under $10 are the best sellers? You may find your merchant to be a snob – yes this happens. They will sniff and backhandedly proclaim your insouciance, excuse themselves as they have a date with a feather duster. Sometimes they just don’t know much, but they should know what’s been blowing out the door – ah ha! Try that one. Sadly, knowing the best seller is also not fool proof because depending on your local population, for example you may live near a college campus, it may actually be a contrarian indicator.

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3. Lastly, stay curious but have a back-up plan. Embark on a quest to find one great red, one white and a sparkling. There is more art than science to finding a good wine under $10. These tips in combination with a little research, word of mouth, and trial and error will aide you in getting lucky. Once you hit on something you love, stick with it.  Having a value “go to wine” will mitigate the angst of buying and trying new wines and provide a satisfying standby in the event you pick up a bottle that ends up down the drain instead of down the hatch!

Stay curious,

loie

This rosé gave my guests a 90’s flashback & they liked it!

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2012 Regio Dry Rosé, El Dorado County CA $7.99

Available at:  Sonoma Market or find it on Wine-Searcher.com

I was thrilled to conduct a tasting with my esteemed house guests this weekend. These well versed oenophiles were actually shocked that the Rosé was quite delicious. Although I was happy to redeem myself, I’m not sure if the contrast to my other selections tainted their lens (to be revealed in my coming review of my red, white & blue selections for the 4th.)

Nose is immediately strawberry, pineapple. Has a nice complexity for a rosé this inexpensive. Acid is moderate and keeps this rosé bright, crisp very refreshing especially if served well chilled.  The lemony finish pleasantly lingers. We had this wine with a spiced pork loin cooked on the BBQ, roasted seasoned potatoes and a summer salad while listening to the Sneaker Pimps – 90’s flashbacks ensued. After laughing hysterically about something related to an episode of My So Called Life and 21 Jump Street (the original my dears) my guests remarked a second time that they were pleasantly surprised by this wine. Quite impressive after a day of sipping $70+ a bottle vintages of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and the like in a doting of wineries along the Sonoma Valley. (Shame, I think we spent too much!) I’m sticking to my $10 and under creed moving forward, unless my guests insist on buying – that’s the proper protocol for a hostess with a knack for tour guidery.

Rated buy-again, without a second thought.

Stay curious!

loie