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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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NV Sauvion Le Cleray Vallet

Appellation:  Loire Valley

Tasting Notes:  13%ABV.  This is a white blend, mostly Sancerre, some Chenin Blanc, but I don’t know how much of anything.  Nose is citrus, mostly grapefruit, and some melon.  On the palate this is melon and citrus, nice acid and some minerality. Taste is kind of thin, though.  A good summer sipper, makes my mouth water, but not outstanding in any way.  Would be a good inexpensive option for a party by the pool.

Price:  $9.99 at Beltway Fine Wine

Rating:  3/5

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The November MPA Wine Tasting was this past Saturday.  John Biers was kind enough to host at his lovely new apartment near the Bastille in Paris.  This time around I organized a horizontal tasting of the Loire Valley (here’s a peek back to the October MPA Wine Tasting).  It would be difficult to announce any winners to the blind tasting picks, as many people batted a perfect 1000.  I was quite impressed, then again out of the 5 wines we tasted, there were 5 distinct varietals represented and so I guess positive results were to be expected.  So without further ado, here’s a summary of the tasting.

A quick overview …

The Loire Valley spans from the mouth of the Loire river on the West Atlantic coast near the town of Nantes, then follows the river all the way to the town of Sancerre, about 200 kilometers due South of Paris.  The area is so large geographically that it is typically broken down into the Lower Loire (melon de Bourgogne dominated wines of Muscadet), the Middle Loire (Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc dominated wines of Touraine, Saumur, Chinon and Vouvray), and the Upper Loire (Sauvignon Blanc dominated wines of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé).

Loire 2008 Vintage: (Wine Spectator 85-87/87-89/87-89 Rating, Franc/Chenin/Sauvignon) “Humid and gray growing season resulted in grapes struggling to ripen throughout the valley. Harvest stretched late in October, saved by an Indian summer; good botrytis development for Chenin Blanc”

Loire 2007 Vintage: (Wine Spectator 83/90/84 Rating, Franc/Chenin/Sauvignon) “Inconsistent growing season marked by a cool summer that led to uneven ripening for Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. A warm, dry September helped save the vintage for Chenin Blanc; late-harvest dessert wines could be outstanding”

Muscadet Sèvres et Maine (13,000 ha) is near the town of Nantes in the Lower Loire.  It is the most significant appellation of Muscadet, accounting for around 75% of overall production and in fact a larger production than any other appellation in the Loire.  Melon de Bourgogne, a white grape, is the sole varietal.  The wine is always dry and aged on its lees and is characteristically effervescent, light, tangy, and almost salty, with citrus, licorice and white flower notes.

Vouvray (2,100 ha) Near Touraine in the Middle Loire.  Chenin Blanc is the dominant varietal; however, a limited amount of Arbois can also be used.  The appellation is the largest producer of Chenin Blanc in France.  The wines are dry to sweet and 65% of the production is sparkling.  The wines can be very unpredictable.  Throughout the vinification the malolactic fermentation is usually forgone, and there is no ageing prior to bottling.  The wines are characteristically acidic and richly fruity with quince, honey and almond notes.

Pouilly Fumé (1,000 ha) is located next to Sancerre in the Upper Loire.  It is one of the Loire’s most famous wines.  Sauvignon Blanc is the sole varietal.  The wines are characteristically smoky, minerally and perfumed with acacia notes.

Saumur-Champigny (1,600 ha) is essentially a southwest extension of Touraine in the Middle Loire.  The appellation is often considered to produce the best red wine of the Loire.  Cabernet Franc is the dominant varietal; however, Cabernet Sauvignon and pineau d’Aunis can also be added as blending grapes.  The wine is characteristically refreshing, light and fruity with red fruit, licorice and green pepper notes.

Côte Roannaise (200 ha) is located on the Southeastern edge of the Loire within the town of Roanne, about 70 kilometers West of Beaujolais.  Gamay is the sole varietal and along with red wine, rosé is also produced.  The red wine is usually vinified similar to Beaujolais, including semi-carbonic maceration, yielding characteristically light and fruity wine, often with banana and cherry notes.

The wines (all purchased at La Grande Epicerie at Le Bon Marché)…

1st PLACE
VOUVRAY | 2007 Champalou – 11€45
Tidbits: 100% Chenin Blanc, 12.5% ABV, bottled immediately after fermentation
Kenny’s tasting notes: A rich and complex nose of overripe, white, fleshy, tropical fruit.  Effervescent in the mouth with semi-sweet fruity flavors of citrus, peach, and dried apricot.  Slighly bitter on the finish.
Ratings: Kenny, 15/20; MPA, 13.9/20

David, “obvious”
Raghu, “marron glacé”
Lina, “honey mustard turkey”
Ben, “SWEET!, why does everyone like it sweet?”
Sophie, “honey ham”
Sheila, “Japanese restaurant”

2ND PLACE
SAUMUR-CHAMPIGNY | 2008 Domaine des Roches Neuves, Thierry Germain [10€50]
Tidbits: 100% Cabernet Franc, 12.5% ABV, 3-day cold maceration, aged 3-4 months on lees in stainless and wood vats
Kenny’s tasting notes: On the nose it’s like a green olive and red fruit smoothie.  Medium tannins and acidic in the mouth with notes of cherry.
Rating: Kenny, 12/20; MPA, 12.6/20

Marina, “Mediterranean”
Lina, “stinky cheese”
Raghu, “clay and truffles”
Ben, “all sorts of cool shit”
Euny, “petrol”
Sophie, “foresty”
Sheila, “old boat, hint of chevre”
Ricardo, “menthol”
Tim, “Bogota”
Laurence, “brioche”

3RD PLACE
POUILLY-FUMÉ | 2008 Michel Redde et Fils “Petit Fumé” [12€35]
Tidbits: 100% Sauvignon Blanc, 13% ABV, aged on lees a few months in stainless vats
Kenny’s tasting notes: Green apple and minerals on the nose.  In the mouth this wine is quite refreshing with flavors of sour apple Jolly Ranchers, minerals, and bitter unripe peach pit.  A great Summer picnic wine.
Ratings: Kenny, 14/20; MPA, 12.5/20

Sheila, “not getting a lot from this”
Pablo, “I don’t know how to describe tastes of wine”

4TH PLACE
MUSCADET SÈVRE ET MAINE | 2008 Domaine Landron “Amphibolite Nature” (Bio) [11€20]
Tidbits: 100% Melon de Bourgogne, 11.2% ABV, TA 5.3 g/l, aged 4 months on lees in cement vats
Kenny’s tasting notes: A round and creamy nose with notes of orange, lemon, and yeast.  A creamy acidity in the mouth with tangy citrus flavors, marked by grapefruit.
Ratings: Kenny, 13/20; MPA, 11.1/20

Sophie, “cheese”
Elodie, “salty”
Raghu, “yunan green tea”

5TH PLACE
CÔTE ROANNAISE | 2007 Domaine des Pothiers [7€20]
Tidbits: 100% Gamay, 12% ABV
Kenny’s tasting notes: A funky, green nose with aromas of mint, banana and a subtle, distint hint of maneure, followed by a suggestion of sake after breathing for a few minutes in the glass.  Very light and acidic in the mouth with flavors of plum, sour cherry and subtle notes of sweaty socks.
Ratings: Kenny, 9/20; MPA, 9/20

Vasu, “fungus, fertilizer, bark, raw mushroom”
Susie, “eggs, a bit rotten”
Raghu, “saw dust”
Franklin, “a bad date”
Tim, “fruity goat pee”
Ricardo, “huele a queso KA”
Sheila, “feet”
Junwei, “something gone bad in a dentist’s garbage can”
Euny, “farm stable”
Ben, “pure evil”

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Artwork from Château Moulin Pey LabrieAfter a month hiatus in East Asia (sumo wrestling rules!) the MPA Wine Club is back!  The husband and wife team of Will and Jeremy were so kind as to host at their brand new apartment in the 19th in Paris, this past Saturday.  They have a kickin’ pad.  The March tasting went vertical!  First we tasted two vintages of Loire Valley blanc from Le Clos du Tue-Bœuf.  We followed with three vintages of Bordeaux rouge from Château Moulin Pey Labrie.  We had a great time, there were a lot of new faces, and thanks to David we even documented our lowest score to date – a 4 out of 20 !!!  The victim was the 2005 Le Clos du Tue-Bœuf.  Ironically this assault was against a bottle that I really liked, although I must admit that there were only about 3 of us that liked the bottle, compared to everyone else who found the wine to be anywhere from undrinkable to commercially acceptable.  Ouch !

So here’s a quick breakdown on the two producers, followed by our MPA tasting notes and ratings, and a condensed Bordeaux Rive Droite and Loire Valley vintage chart …

Le Clos du Tue-Bœuf was started by the two brothers Jean-Marie and Thierry Puzelat in 1994 and is located in Montils in the Val de Loire.  The domaine produces 100% biodynamic wine and is backed by strong winemaking experience from both brothers.  The domaine functions mainly as a négociant, purchasing 75% of its grapes and harvesting the remainder on the estate.  Clos du Tue-Bœuf’s wine is described as vibrant, edgy, and easy drinking.

Château Moulin Pey LabrieChâteau Moulin Pey-Labrie is located on the rive droite of Bordeaux in the town of Fronsac.  Owners Bénédicte and Grégoire Hubau bottled their first vintage in 1988, with the guidance of internationally famed wine consultant, Michel Rolland.  The château is located near the top of a hillside or “Pey” (as it’s called in the local dialect), which provides the origin of the chateau’s name.  The 6.75 hectares of vines have an average age of 35 years and are composed of 98% merlot and 2% malbec grapes.  The vineyard’s soil composition is limestone and clay.  Bénédicte and Grégoire produce 30,000 bottles per year and describe their wines as being strong and structured yet with finesse.  Regarding vinification, all grapes are hand picked, fermented for a long time on the skins, and aged for 18 months in 10-50% new oak.

FIRST PLACE
2005 Château Moulin Pey Labrie
Appellation : Canon-Fronsac, Bordeaux | 100% merlot
Price : 24€80 @ Lavinia
Wine Spectator 90 Rating : Has good ripe blackberry, floral and mineral character. Full-bodied, with very chewy tannins and a long finish. Big and rich. A typical Fronsac. 13,5% ABV. Best after 2011. 2,230 cases made.
MPA Tasting Notes (13.5/20 rating) : Nose – Fruity, red berries, plums, spice, leather, complex.  Mouth – Dry, good smooth tannins, acidic, full-bodied, rich, complex, blackberry
Kenny’s Tasting Notes (14/20 rating) : A very fruity nose with aromas of subtle leather, black cherry, violets, and oak.  A dry wine with balanced tannins and a medium body.  There are flavors of plum, blackberry and leather.

Gom, “like a close old friend, fermented bean paste, wet wood”
Eric, “like a beautiful whore”
Jeremy, “a Luden cherry-flavored cough drops”
Lionel, “banana”
Daisake, “swimming pool in Provence in the summer”
Miki-sa, “Black River Farms Ranch in Michigan, horse saddle”
Felipe, “inky”

SECOND PLACE
2003 Château Moulin Pey Labrie
2003 Château Moulin Pey Labrie Canon-FronsacAppellation : Canon-Fronsac, Bordeaux | 100% merlot
Price : 23€ @ Lavinia
Wine Spectator 89 Rating : Loads of blackberry and toasted oak follow through to a full-bodied palate, with lots of silky tannins and a long, ripe fruit aftertaste. Lots going on here. 12,5% ABV. Best after 2006. 2,100 cases made. –JS
MPA Tasting Notes (12.5/20 rating) : Nose – Leather, blackberry, black cherries, raspberry, prune, black currant jelly, red fruits.  Mouth – Nice acidity, tannic, dry, full-bodied, plums, leather
Kenny’s Tasting Notes (15/20 rating) : A very nice nose with hints of loam, leather, blackberry, smoke and at the very end, a little prune.  A mildly acidic, full to medium-bodied, slightly unbalanced wine with powerful tannins, reminiscent of biting into the skin of a walnut.  There were flavors of black fruit, plum, subtle dark chocolate and vanilla.

Kenny, “like eating the shell of a walnut”
Natacha, “a bowl of red fruit”
Gom, “soju, persimmon”
David, “country side”
John, “tastes like a California”

THIRD PLACE
2002 Château Moulin Pey Labrie
Appellation : Canon-Fronsac, Bordeaux | 100% merlot
Price : 23€ @ Lavinia
Wine Spectator 82 Rating : Some decent fruit with plum and berry character, medium body, short finish. 12,5% ABV. Best after 2005. 2,125 cases made. –JS
MPA Tasting Notes (12.4/20 rating) : Nose – Good nose, elegant, red fruits, plum, oak.  Mouth – Didn’t come through in the palate, medium-bodied, sour, acidic, light tannins, short finish, watery.
Kenny’s Tasting Notes (13/20 rating) : A very elegant and pleasant nose with floral and oak notes.  A big disappointment on the palate, rather disjointed.  The flavors were fruity, sour and acidic without strong tannins to provide any balance.

Gom, “Mona Lisa, sad, hiding something”
David, “purple Big League Chew bubble gum
Sanjeevi, “perfection”
Miki-sa, “I can’t smell or taste any longer, bonne nuit!”
Olga, “I’m drunk”

FOURTH PLACE
2006 Le Clos du Tue-Bœuf “Le Buisson Pouilleux”
Appellation : Vin de Table, Loire | 100% sauvignon blanc
Price : 13€10 @ Lavinia
MPA Tasting Notes (11/20 rating) : Nose – Alcohol, fruity, apple cider, fresh apples, floral, honey.  Mouth – Very fruity, aperitif, honey, apple juice, off dry, less acidic, yeasty
Kenny’s Tasting Notes (12/20 rating) : Subtle aromatics and alcohol on the nose with aromas of apple cider and spice.  A very fruity off-dry wine that has a mild acidity and is a little unbalanced.  The texture is buttery with flavors of honey, followed by a very distant hint of sake on the finish.

Kenny, “sake”
Dena, “caustic taste at the end, burns the back of the throat”
Carole, “summer fruits, girl’s perfume”
David, “I like the smell but it’s still cheap”
Miki-sa, “lettuce from my lunch today”

Wine Spectator 87 Rating (2004 vintage): Yellow color and a yeasty aroma herald this larger than usual Touraine, with lemon zest, grapefruit and gooseberry notes as well. Broad finish is a touch buttery. Drink now. 100 cases imported. –JM

FIFTH PLACE
2005 Le Clos du Tue-Bœuf “Le Buisson Pouilleux”
Le Clos du Tue-Bœuf “Le Buisson Pouilleux”Appellation : Touraine, Loire | 100% sauvignon blanc
Price : 13€40 @ Lavinia
MPA Tasting Notes (9/20 rating) : Nose – strong alcohol, very aromatic, fruity, Granny Smith apples, lemon, peach, plum, yeasty.  Mouth – Effervescent, dry, alcoholic, fruity, white peach, citrus, Granny Smith apples, acidic, sharp, prickly, l’eau de vie.
Kenny’s Tasting Notes (15/20 rating) : Very aromatic, alcoholic and yeasty with notes of spice, ripe white fruit, honeysuckle and rose.  It smelled like a Bath & Body Works.  Effervescent, alcoholic and dry in the mouth, showing balance and mild acidity.  The texture was prickly with fruity flavors highlighted by white peach.

Kenny, “Bath & Body Works”
Will, “rot, crap”
Roopa, “cough syrup”
Gom,”fish, salty”
Jeremy, “septic”
David, “ammonia, Long Island Iced Tea of wine (4 rating!)”
Miki-sa, “green apple Jolly Rancher”

MPA blind tastingBlind Pick Winner : A bunch of people landed 3 correct blind guesses, including yours truly, but Olga took the gold with 4 correct guesses.  And what’s more impressive is that Olga forgot to make a guess in the 5th round, with nothing to say but “I’m drunk”, ha!  So I guess maybe technically she would have scored the first perfect 5!

MPA wine ratingsVINTAGE BREAKDOWN

Loire Recent Vintage Sauvignon Blanc:

2007 WS84-86 (NYR) Very inconsistent. Early flowering caused by an unseasonably warm spring, with the growing season marked by a cool summer through mid-August, leading to uneven ripening for Sauvignon Blanc.
2006 WS86 (Drink) Rainy season caused some rot problems, though Sauvignon Blancs from eastern end were mostly spared. Many producers reduced yields because of unripe grapes.  Lower acidity than 2005 but good fruit.
2005 WS92 (Drink or hold) Warm, dry season and ideal weather at harvest; low yields led to concentrated, balanced wines.
2004 WS89 (Drink) Cold start followed by a warm summer; some rains at harvest time. Whites are clean and fresh.
2003 WS85 (Drink or hold) Wild heat wave during growing season produced some off-kilter whites
2002 WS93 (Drink or hold) Heat during flowering led to a small crop, while ideal September weather produced a superb vintage, with pure, balanced whites.
2001 WS87 (Drink) A cool growing season with a very warm harvest; wines are plumper than in 2000, but still balanced.
2000 WS86 (Drink) Cool start saved by an Indian summer; wines are fresh and clean, though lighter in body.

Bordeaux Rive Droite Recent Vintage Reds:

2007 WS85-88 (NYR) Aromatic and lightly fruity, with fine tannins. Some wines over extracted.
2006 WS89 (Drink or hold) Best vineyards shine with balanced, structured reds; most others slightly austere.
2005 WS99 (Hold) A warm summer with near drought conditions. Opulent and powerful, with solid backbones of tannins and acidity; amazing Pomerols.
2004 WS88 (Drink or hold) Mostly balanced, firm and delicate; some Cabernet Franc-based wines excellent.
2003 WS94 (Hold) A heat wave year with little rain, characterized by a roasting August and one of the earliest harvests on record. Extremely ripe and rich; some wines too jammy.
2002 WS87 (Drink or hold) Low rainfall and warm temperatures in the spring. A cool and humid June with lacking sun, followed by consistent weather leading up to harvest. Balanced and fruity, but lacking some tannin backbone.
2001 WS89 (Drink) Very good quality; ripe tannins, refined style.
2000 WS97 (Hold) Rich, powerful and structured, yet harmonious.

Bordeaux Old-Vintage Reds:

1990 WS97 (Drink or hold) Opulent, well-structured and harmonious.
1989 WS98 (Drink or hold) Bold, dramatic fruit character; tannic and long-aging.
1982 WS95 (Drink or hold) Intense ripe fruit and generous in style; plenty of round tannins. St-Julien & St-Emilion stand out.
1961 WS99 (Drink) Best since 1945; great concentration and structure.
1959 WS97 (Drink) Excellent overall; ripe and rich.
1945 WS98 (Drink) Massive, powerful. Benchmark.
1929 WS96 (Drink) Balanced, fruity and structured.
1900 WS97 (Drink) Legendary. Harmonious and fruity.

The After Party!

MPA Wine Tasting After Party

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