My wife tells me winery visits are not interesting for toddlers. I disagree. Wine trips are not only for connoisseurs, you can bring your spouse, brother, kid, parent or even your pet along. But remember two key planning tips: 1. Reading wine books that describe vines, wines and grapes will not help you much. 2. Every vacation should provide each participant non-wine, peak experiences, so anchor your trip in an independently attractive city that has options for the whole family (see Family Wine Vacations, Color Magazine USA, ED. 35 – MARCH 2011).
Building up to my upcoming piece on the sociology of Chardonnay, I wanted to recall a 2007 piece on the subject. In the article A glass of versatility in the June issue of New Statesman, Roger Scruton says the following:
Everyone knows about Chardonnay. At least, they think they do. How it has happened is a deep question of sociology; but it has happened, and there is no going back: everybody today has a clear and distinct idea of Chardonnay. Go to any competent restaurant in this brave new world, and there will be a selection of Chardonnays on the wine list. Enter a bar anywhere in Britain, Australia or America and ask for a glass of Chardonnay, and you will be instantly obliged. People who know nothing about wine have nevertheless heard of Chardonnay, and in all probability retain a memory of tasting it. It is a wine people rely on, swear by and sometimes even recognise. Yet there is hardly any grape with so varied and unpredictable a taste…
The sociologist’s task is indeed to try to figure out why, how, when and who on earth would be responsible for such a paradox. Is it branding? Is it something about the taste, contrary to what Scruton says? What about the French or France factor–we all have a stereotypical and positive view of that place when it comes to elegant food and drink? Or the fact that Chateau Montelena won the 1976 Paris tasting?
Chardonnay is the grape from which the world’s greatest white wine is grown in those tiny Burgundian vineyards whose legendary names – Montrachet, Blagny, Corton-Charlemagne – expand in the brain as their wines expand on the palate. But the same grape produces the steely wine of Chablis, the oily estate wines of Australia, the carefully regulated brands from California, and the madcap Chardonnays of the Languedoc, often produced by Australian exiles in flight from some scandal back home. It is the world’s most versatile grape, producing sharp and sprightly aperitifs to rival the fragrant, buttery wines of the Côte d’Or.
What is happening in the world of Chardonnay? Have you noticed anything? Do you like Chardonnay more or less now than before? What characteristics of this grape is it that lets consumers go crazy for it? Is it simply that it is easer to say “Chardonnay” than try to remember one of those other white grape varietals? Is the selection pretty bad? Is Chardonnay the altogether king of white wine grapes? Let me know.
We all have dreams. Try dreaming of Provence. The terrain is stunning: hills, bushes and shrubs in green and ochre. Soft herbal smells of wild lavender, rosemary and thyme fill your nose. Winds surround you. The Mediterranean ocean is in front of you. Then there is wine. But in the winter, spending hours in fascinating conversation in people’s wine cellars is a cold pleasure. The good thing is, you are almost alone. I recommend Norwegian wool underwear, or going in Summer, Spring or Fall. Failing that, simply dream about it, and read on (Dreaming of Wine in Provence, Color Magazine – Ed. 34 – Feb. 2011).
Domaine Le Galantin Bandol Red (2007, $20, 90/100)
Fantastic wine with dark berry, gamy, leathery flavors. Displays soft, round, yet powerful tannins and a structure with the promise of longevity. Made from 95% Mourvedre and 5% Grenache grapes.
Interview Part I (in French)
Interview Part II (in French)
Chateau de Saint-Martin is an ancient place ruled by women for millennia. Providing a particular perception of her US consumers, Adeline de Barry, owner of Château Saint Martin, said to me: “we have two bottle shapes, one traditional one for local tourists and for the American market, and one more elegant one for the Paris market.” She should know, since she is aristocracy herself and her wine is served in the Élysée Palace.
Château de Saint Martin Eternelle Favorite rosé (2009, $15, 90/10)
The floral perfume of rose petal and fragrant, subtle spices is immediate on the nose. What follows is delicate red fruits with hints of mandarin, grapefruit, almonds, spice, ginger and a long, lingering aftertaste unheard of for a young rosé. The wine simply blew me away and the bottle is extraordinarly chic, cool and cosmopolitan for a traditionally minded French region. The whole experience strangely made me start trying to imagine how vodka would taste if it were made in the Mediterranean climate. It also made me think of the concepts of beauty, purity, and aristocracy, quite fitting for my tasting location in a Château where noble men and most importantly women have lived for centuries and centuries. Having dinner into the night with Ana Chavarri Padilla, winemaker and Adeline de Barry, owner, I felt fortunate to experience the unique pleasures of a simple wine writer, unique attention and care. Their pitch is “a rosé devoted to women’s pleasure”. Are their wines feminine? I think so. But they are never trying to hard. They just are.
I have massive amounts of audio from my time spent at this Chateau, most of it in English, some in French. I will (hopefully) add some short video shortly. Listening to these sound tracks it should be possible to imagine you are right in Provence in the middle of Winter.