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

Arrogant Frog: making old world wines with new world attitude

So there I was, tapping away at the keyboard, enjoying my new-found self-appointed career as a food and wine journalist dreaming up idea after idea of posts to like, retweet, memes to create, memes to share, people to poke, chats to follow, inside jokes to make, hashtags to use…you know the typical stuff one does when one doesn’t really want to earn a living. Then startlingly I received one, possibly my first ever, guest comment on my blog from someone at McCue Communications. Mon Dieu!

She wanted me to give her my information so she could send me some wines to try. They were actually going to send me wine? Huh? What’s the catch? Ah ha….so that’s what this is all about. This was a similar epiphany to the day I realized that golf was more about betting money and drinking beer with the “fellas” than it was about golf. I gave up golf too soon to fully partake. Quelle dommage.

Being accustomed to buying and reviewing wines of my own volition, I was concerned about my freedom to express an opinion untethered by wine sent gratis. What do I do if they, ahem, are not so good? Luckily, the Arrogant Frog wines by Domaine Paul Mas made my job much easier and euphemistic free. Moreover, I had the pleasure of tasting with other wine writers I deeply admire including Sir Jeff Siegel winecurmudgeon.com, Michelle Williams rockinredblog.com and Beth Smith travelingwinechick.com – who happens to be my neighbor so we made a lunch date.

The Humble Wine Maker

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This frog gets around.

It was a privilege to partake in the virtual tasting with fourth-generation vintner Jean-Claude Mas to learn about his latest value vintages. His family has led premium winemaking in the Languedoc region from their centuries-old estate since 1892 and when M. Mas took the reins in 2000, he dedicated his wine making practices to preserving the land and the beauty of Languedoc. In 10 years, he plans to transition all 8 of his family wineries into organic vineyards that employ natural farming principles through the use of the latest technology. This has already reduced the need for pesticides and other chemical based agricultural practices that can harm the natural balance. “We must preserve the beauty of Languedoc, and feed the Earth with nutrients in the way nature intended. The use of chemicals for the past 50 years has stressed the vines and now we need to use technology to bring us back.” In summary, it is about making old world wines with new world attitude. C’est tout!

http://www.creme-de-languedoc.com/Languedoc/history.php
Rebellion & Resistance: The history of Languedoc Roussillon, South of France

7 Things that I learnScreen Shot 2014-07-28 at 2.15.54 AMed about the Jean-Claude Mas philosophy:

1. He prefers new American Oak to French Oak – definitely a new world attitude.
2. He believes advancements in agricultural technology will replace the need for chemicals – hooray!
3. He believes a vacuum wine stopper is “utter stupidity” – good to know.
4. The Frog on the front of the bottle is the “humble wine maker” – I chose to name him Hubert de Vin-chy.
5. He likes Stelvin screw caps for white wines and cork for red. (pro vs. con see this post on bauduc blog)
6. He believes all his wines taste even better after 24hrs. I agree.
7. His style of wine making is not aggressive but soft due to the ripeness of the grapes in the South of France.

Now on to the wines…

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The peaches are nearly ready to be picked, grilled, doused in cream, baked into a rustic tarte, made into ice cream, eaten off the tree – ahhh Summer.

Arrogant Frog 2013 Sauvignon Blanc $10
The first thing I detected in the nose was lemon and grass. First sip is crisp, citrus and bright – reminded me of a New Zealand Sauv Blanc vs. the California Sauv Blancs I enjoy at this price point which can be more fruit forward. I enjoyed this wine and found it had a nice bright mild acidity and a smooth finish that was a touch buttery. It was very enjoyable. For $10 at retail, it would be a challenge to find a wine of this quality for a better price – I’d buy it again. I’m about to harvest my peach trees in a couple of weeks so I think this will pair perfectly with some grilled peaches and a cheese board of aged cheddar, gouda and a Humboldt Fog.

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Coq Au Vin recipe anyone?

Arrogant Frog 2013 Pinot Noir $10
The color was dark garnet with a red-brown halo, which was unusual to me. There was a comment made about this being a “refreshing” Pinot Noir. As it was a warm climate Pinot, when slightly chilled, one can appreciate the delicate flavors of cherry and very light oak. Due to the warm climate in Languedoc, the Pinot grapes mature fast, unlike classic Pinots (like on the Sonoma Coast) that mature slowly. M. Mas explained that he takes great care in deciding where these grapes are planted to ensure the best result, although he did admit, this Pinot was unlike most typical Pinots. I found it very unexpected. I let it open up the next day and albeit pleasant, it was not necessarily the right flavor profile for this Pinofile. I would say it was respectably drinkable and it was fantastic the next day for braising chicken with tomatoes and peppers picked from my garden in my Le Crueset for hours and hours and hours – delish! What little wine there was left, did sip nicely with the meal.

Arrogant Frog 2013 Chardonnay $10
The nose was immediately and undeniably pineapple. First sip was lemony with a light oak finish – 25% of this wine was aged in Oak which contributed to the lactic character on the mouth which is the toasty flavor the oak expresses through the wine – some refer to this as creme brûlée. I enjoyed this wine and it was an outstanding value for $10. This Chardonnay was aged in American Oak which was quite intriguing to me. When I asked what the difference was between American and French Oak M. Mas explained that the American oak gives more lactone resulting in more toasty vanilla notes than the French oak which is more subtle. When the oak is very dry, it does not dominate the character of the wine. (Note to self, more wine knowledge to be had in the procurement, aging and use of oak in the wine making process. I found a succinct post on thekitchn.com about French vs. American Oak) In Mediterranean made wines, the American oak is preferred as it lets the wine breathe less and is better when aging very ripe grapes. As M. Mas explains “in Languedoc we can pick the grapes when we want, not when we can. Think about that…” I think this Chardonnay is a delight. An everyday luxury I would buy again.

Arrogant Frog 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon (55%) Merlot (45%) $10
Nose is blackberry, blueberry, dark fruit. First sip is spicy, cocoa, vanilla, coconut and raspberry. Nicely complex and toasty from the US Oak. Soft, round not aggressive and very refined tannins and acidity. This wine is excellent with dessert, especially chocolate! Rich and bold, this wine could easily pass for a $40 bottle of wine. When asked about how the cocoa flavor was achieved, M. Mas answered it was from the ripe fruit and the American Oak. This wine is a buy again. I don’t want this wine, I need it!

 

Stay curious!

loie