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Archive for the ‘Wine Trips’ Category

By Claire Yeading, Grand Crew Contributor

For wine lovers there are many reasons to make a wine vacation your vacation of choice for 2014: and no, we’re not just talking about the chance to sample a wide variety of vintages! Colorful landscapes, beautiful vineyards and the chance to meet a host of interesting and likeminded people are also all great reasons to make a wine vacation the vacation for you. But which trip is the best one for you? If money were no object, where in the world should you be booking that flight to? Here are some ideas:

Try Tuscany

Tuscany is renowned as being one of the greatest wine regions in the world. A trip here is worth undertaking simply to try the famous Chianti Classico at source! But as well as the wine, Tuscany is an incredibly beautiful part of the world to visit. Think stunning landscapes, leafy vineyards and rolling hills. Many of the wineries are found in converted castles, which only adds to the excitement and drama of a visit to the region. When you visit Tuscany you’ll find endless sunshine, and your wine can be complemented by the fabulous plump olives that the region is famous for too. If you love your food as much as you love your wine, then Tuscany is the perfect vacation destination for you.

Love the Loire Valley                         

You can’t write a list of places to visit for a wine vacation without mentioning France! And the Loire Valley is one of the most fascinating parts of France to visit for a wine vacation. Smoky cabernet, sweet muscadets and crisp sauvignon blancs should all be on your must-drink list when you visit this famous wine region.  The Loire Valley is one of the most beautiful and picturesque parts of France. It is famed for the lush greenness of the landscape, and you’ll often hear the gentle sound of the Loire river passing by the vineyards you choose to visit. You’ll come for the wine, stay for the beautiful chateaux, and contemplate moving here forever before you leave!

Book a Wine Cruise

If you’re interest is in European wine and you’d like to explore more than one region during your vacation, then a great option would be to book a European food and wine cruise. This will enable you to explore some of the continent’s most famous and popular wine producing regions from the comfort of your cruise ship. You can also enjoy some especially fine wines, hand-chosen to enhance your journey, whilst you travel.  According to Iglu Cruise, these kind of cruises enable travelers to immerse themselves in this important social and cultural aspect of the port of call. Everything from regional cuisine, wineappreciation and dining etiquette await you on this type of gastronomic adventure. Many cruises will even have expert wine tasters on hand to help to guide you through the grape varieties of each region and teach you everything you need to know about the art of wine tasting. For the wine lover, this really and truly is the trip of a lifetime.

Closer to Home in Napa Valley

If you want to stay within the United States and travel a little closer to home then there’s only one place to go. Head to the Napa Valley. With over fifty different types of grapes on offer, as well as some beautiful vineyards and cozy caverns where you can sit and enjoy a glass of fine wine, this trip is the perfect way to relax and unwind whilst exploring the world of fine wine. Napa Valley is just fifty miles north of San Francisco, meaning that you could also combine your tranquil wine trip with exploration of this vibrant city too. It’s a best of both worlds vacation, and one that is especially suited to those new to the concept of wine-based vacation.

If you’re thinking of taking a wine vacation for 2014, then there are endless wonderful possibilities for where to travel. So what are you waiting for? Why not start the New Year by booking your dream wine vacation today?

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This past Friday and Saturday, on location at my new gig at Domain du Closel – Château des Vaults, I took the opportunity to visit three more neighboring Savennières producers. After visiting six Savennières producers in three days, I’m extremely pleased with the quality and diversity that we all have to offer. Domaine des Baumard, very well-known in the US, might be the first Savennières producer to experiment with screw caps. All of their wines are now bottled with screw caps, which is very much a “New World” approach, and can be considered quite provocative among the traditionalists of France. My second visit was with Claude Papin of Château Pierre Bise. Claude is an anti-communicator communicator. Boy can the man talk ! He is passionate about terroir, a “terroirist” if you will. He believes a good wine should sell itself through its terroir, not through marketing and promotions. Although this is a very admirable and inspiring approach, my personal and professional belief is that like a good wine, it should always be a balance of the two. After all, if we make a good wine, then we want people to drink it ! Unfortunately, this usually requires a little bit of business communications. In either case Claude is a great viticulturist and winemaker and should be respected as such. My final visit on Saturday was with Jo Pithon of Pithon-Paillé. Jo is what some refer to as a “peasant” winemaker. He is very friendly, approachable and casual and is knee deep in his winemaking. His Anjou Rouge is one of the best I’ve ever had.

Below are the wines I tasted … (more…)

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OK so I lied, I really didn’t meet with Nicolas Joly. BUT I did have the pleasure of tasting with his daughter, Virginie, the next generation of biodynamic viticulturists. In fact she’s now in charge of winemaking at Coulée de Serrant. After this first tasting, I stopped by Domaine aux Moines for a tasting with owner and former winemaker, Monique Laroche. My final stop was with Luc Bizard, owner of Château d’Epiré. I’ve always been a huge fan of Savennières wine, especially for its complexity, minerality and great expression of terroir. However, I’m now an even huger fan I must say. The majority of the wines were showing very well and the commitment of each producer was evident. These visits were part of my second day on the job at Closel – Château des Vaults in order to gain a better taste of what our neighboring wineries are pumping out. This is not about competition. This is about spreading the word on the beauty and quality of Savennières, which so many of the local producers are offering, including us I might add ! 😉

Below are my tasting notes. The overall conclusion is that I’m a huge fan of the 2008 Savennières vintage … (more…)

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Part three of my Stellenbosch three-parter was spent at Thelema Mountain Vineyards with General Manager Thomas Webb, son of the owners Gyles and Barbara Webb.

The estate, situated on the Helshoogte Pass just outside of the city of Stellenbosch, was purchased in 1983 by Gyles Webb and family.  Gyles was an accountant until one day he decided to drop what he was doing and become a winemaker.  So he studied winemaking at Stellenbosch University and then spent some time working for various producers in South Africa and abroad, before purchasing the Thelema estate.  Today Gyles and his wife Barbara manage the estate along with his sister-in-law Jenny de Tolly.  Gyles also works as the Cellarmaster, in charge of winemaking.  Quick linguistic note … “Cellarmaster” is typically used in lieu of “Winemaker” in South Africa.  In other words, whereas in the US and France you’d have a Cellarmaster working under the Winemaker, in South Africa they are one in the same. (more…)

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My second visit, and part two of my Stellenbosch three-part series, was to Beyerskloof.  I was lucky enough to visit with the “King of Pinotage” himself.  I personally acclaimed owner and winemaker, Beyers Truter, the King of Pinotage, but I don’t imagine many people in the South African wine industry would dispute this coronation.  Beyers is obsessed with Pinotage and he even wrote an essay entitled “The Pinotage Story”.  Additionally, Beyers is the Founder and Chairman of the Pinotage Association.  Although it’s true that not all of Beyers’ selection is strictly Pinotage, just to give you an idea, the estate produces dry red Pinotage, white Pinotage, rosé Pinotage, and sparkling Pinotage.  Now before I go any further let me make clear that there’s a reason Beyers has focused so much on Pinotage production, and it’s not just to create a market niche.  He truly makes world-class quality and extremely tasty and expressive wine from the Pinotage grape.  OK so by now I imagine most of you are thinking … if this idiot says Pinotage one more time! … I digress … (more…)

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Finally, I’m back in Paris, after being out of the continent for three weeks.  I visited Dubai for 3-4 days, and then conducted two weeks of intensive field research of the Table Mountain National Park in Cape Town, South Africa.  The African portion of my journey was part of my final project for my graduate degree.  Sitta Sama, Fabiola and Haitao were all along for the ride, as they are part of our four-person research team.  Additionally, a special thanks must go out to our advisor Glen, for putting up with all of our shenanigans for 2 solid weeks.

So what the hell does all of this have to do with wine?  Well on Saturday the 16th, just before kicking off our marathon of interviews, I managed to spend a day in Stellenbosch, drinking and chatting with three of the top South African wine producers.  I visited Jeff Grier of Villiera / Domaine Grier, Beyers Truter of Beyerskloof, and Thomas Webb of Thelema Mountain Vineyards.  This post will be a three-parter, spanning the next three days. (more…)

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What a better end to two amazing and most vinous months in Bordeaux, than a visit to the international gold standard of sweet wine (vin liquoreux).  Of course I am referring to none other than Château d’Yquem, the sole Premier Cru Supérieur from the 1855 Classification.

Château d’Yquem

The château itself dates back to the 12th century; however, it was not until 1711, when Léon de Sauvage purchased the estate, that the first vines were grown.  In 1785 Léon’s only descendant, Françoise-Joséphine de Sauvage d’Yquem, married Comte Louis-Amédée de Lur Saluces.  This marked the beginning of the Lur Saluces dynasty, whose control of the estate spanned 4 centuries.  By the time Lur Saluces had taken over, Yquem was already an international symbol of quality and royalty.  Thomas Jefferson cherished the wine so much during his visits to France that he brought back hundreds of bottles for himself and for President George Washington.  Furthermore, Yquem became the wine of choice of the Russian tzars.  Contrary to what many may assume, it was not until the beginning of the 19th century that the painstaking practice of picking and vinifying botrytised grapes was implemented.  This noble rot is of course indispensable today for the production of Yquem and all Sauternes cru classé wines for that matter.  Jumping into the 20th century, from before the First World War until 1968, Marquis Bernard de Lur Saluces presided over the estate.  His predecessor was Comte Alexandre de Lur Saluces, who managed the estate for nearly 40 years.  In 1999 LVMH purchased the estate, ending the over 200 year reign of the Lur Saluces family.  LVMH’s Chairman and CEO, Bernard Arnault, personally acquired a 50% share hold of the estate with the other half maintained by LVMH.  Although the Lur Saluces era was over, the family left many legacies that will secure Yquem’s eminence for years and hopefully centuries to come.  The installation of an elaborate drainage system of over 60 miles of pipes is considered to be one of Lur Saluces’ most significant contributions and keys to Yquem’s world class quality.  The Comte stayed on as general manager until 2004 when Pierre Lurton took over as Yquem’s General Director.  Mr. Lurton also manages Château Cheval Blanc, a Second Growth Saint-Emilion estate.

Botrytis Cinerea, A.K.A. Noble Rot, on the attack!Yquem’s terroir is said to be first and foremost the key to the estate’s nearly uncontested quality in sweet wine production.  The estate’s size is 189 hectares; however, 126 hectares are planted and only 100 hectares are qualified for producing Sauternes AOC.  The average age of the vines is 30 years, and roughly 3 hectares of vines are pulled and replanted each year.  The composition of grapes is 80% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc, which, contrary to most estates, correlates almost directly to the final blend of each vintage.  The soil is composed of a mixture of clay, sand, and gravel; however, what makes Yquem’s terroir so unique is that virtually every parcel has a unique soil composition.  The estate believes that the diversity of the soil is critical to the quality and expression of the wine.  Furthermore, the estate’s location and orientation is essential, providing a perfect environment for producing botrytised grapes.  The large Landaise Forest to the South, the Garonne River Valley to the North, and the Ciron River to the west, surround the estate on all corners, providing a perfect microclimate that results in cool morning fog and hot, dry afternoons.  It would he hard to recreate in a laboratory a better incubator for the botrytis cinerea Noble Rot.

The harvest typically begins around mid September and can last anywhere from 15 days to 3 months.  Mother Nature is truly in control and her will must never be questioned, as only the select botrytised berries will be picked.  A team of around 150 workers will complete 5 to 11 passes through the vineyards during the harvest period, picking one by one the botrytised grapes.  Naturally, the yields are small, averaging 9 hectoliters per hectare.  It is estimated that only one glass of Yquem is produced per vine.  And as an example in 2000, due to the unrelenting rains and subsequent crop loss, the yields dropped to a staggering 2 hectoliters.  At the average stage of grape maturity, yielding 9 hectoliters, the residual sugar level is around 300 grams per liter, producing the desired natural alcohol level of around 20%.

Each day’s harvest is split up by parcel and varietal and upon arrival at the château, 3 pneumatic presses will be completed.  Each press produces a progressively higher level of alcohol and residual sugar concentration.  All three presses are combined and sent to barrel for fermentation in 100% new oak.  Once the desired 12.5% to 14.5% ABV is achieved, fermentation is stopped by a freeze shock at zero degrees Celsius.  Chaptalization is strictly avoided.  The resulting wine has a residual sugar content of around 125 grams per liter.  By Spring each barrel is blind tasted to deem if the wine is worthy of the Yquem label.  As the cellar master noted, the estate makes either Yquem or nothing.  There is no second label, lower-quality production, although since 1959 the estate began bottling a new label called “Y”.  “Y” is harvested earlier and is a higher alcohol, non-botrytised, dry wine.  Once the Yquem wine is selected, which can amount to anywhere from 15% to 80% of the harvest, the barrels are moved to the main cellar to complete their 3 years of barrel aging.  In the history of the estate, 9 vintages have been completely declassified and sold to négociants for bottling as generic Sauternes wine.  The declassified vintages with no Yquem production were 1910, 1915, 1930, 1951, 1952, 1964, 1972, 1974, and 1992.  In addition to the drainage system and the ideal microclimate, it is this attitude of nothing less than perfection, regardless of the financial loss, that ranks Yquem among the world’s top sweet wines year after year.  On average 120,000 bottles of Yquem are produced annually.

2006 Château d’YquemAlthough the tradition at Yquem was always to never sell en primeur, future sales began once LVMH assumed ownership.  Some critics worried that Yquem’s character would change under the hands of this corporate behemoth; however, the en primeur sales have truly been the only change to occur at Yquem.  The meticulous vineyard management and drive to perfection in the cellar haven’t been altered in any way.

At the end of the visit I tasted the latest 2006 vintage …

2006 Château d’Yquem
Tasting Notes: 80% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc.  14% ABV.  The nose is powerful and aromatic with an explosion of beautiful tropical fruits, including pineapple, peach, citrus and subtle notes of spice and minerality.  In the mouth this wine is cloying at first with a syrupy texture but at the same time it is delicious with a velvety smooth mouth feel and good acidity that balances out the wine in the midpalate.  There are flavors of prunes, raisins, bitter orange and peach peel, and pears, followed by more raisins on the long, long finish.
Rating: 18/20 (WS 95-100)
Price: ~400€ @ Snooth.com

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