An Afternoon at Brane Cantenac

“We are not lost,” she said. “I know exactly where we are.”

I was on a bicycle in the middle of Margaux. A few of us had stopped for a photo and lost the rest of our group. Marie Helen of Brane Cantenac was my guide, and she assured me we would reconnect. “They are probably headed to Chateau Margaux,” she said. I nodded and gleefully started peddling. A few minutes later, we coasted down the driveway to one of the most recognizable wineries in all the world. I didn’t mind being stranded.

Chateaux Margaux

We unfortunately didn’t taste the famous first growth that day; but soon after we reconvened with our colleagues and continued our rainy but scenic adventure.

In spite of the persistent clouds, we circled through vineyards and made brief stops at about a dozen other chateaux including Palmer, Rauzan Segla, and Lascombes. These are gorgeous, impeccable properties worth a visit, although I might recommend you drive instead.

 

The changes in weather here are amazing. From sun to clouds to pouring rain, then sun again—mixed with a wide range of temperatures, we saw it all during our three hour journey. One wonders how the vines keep up, but the canes were growing tiny buds, and already a new cycle is underway. It’s all great for grapes, but not for bicycle riding. I will never talk of microclimates or terroir the same way again. Luckily at the end we were treated to lunch and a memorable afternoon at Brane, considered among the best of the Second Growths.

Henri Lurton, third generation owner and star oenologist, met us in the tasting room with a glass of 2015 Margaux de Brane. This was refreshingly approachable. It is made from the youngest vines on the property, and treated with minimal oak to retain the youthful fruit character.

The Brane team then led us through a vertical of the three most recent recent vintages of Baron de Brane and Brane Cantenac. Henri explained the blending and selection process, which happens in January. They sometimes taste 120 different samples, eventually taking the best from each plot and creating the blends for each label. He told us “It isn’t easy to make less of our first wine but these [other labels] are also gems, they’re just different.”

Among what we tasted, the 2015 Baron was a favorite. It’s led by merlot, with flavors of cherry, plum, anisette, and cedar, marked by medium body and supple tannins.  The 2015 Brane was also fantastic, with notes of cassis, black cherry, spice and violets. This blend is driven by a much higher percentage of Cabernet, lending itself to more structure and a lingering grippy finish. It is a rich, almost opulent wine, but retains a surprising balance of tannin and acidity, characteristic for Brane. This was only eclipsed by the new barrel sample of 2016. It is flashy and youthful but impressive, with loads of spice, lush black cherry, minerals, and vanilla, finishing with a burst of racy black currant, graphite and cedar on the long finish. A benchmark for 2016 for sure.

Henri Lurton

Throughout our tasting and lunch, Henri shared his expertise and thoughts about Bordeaux, his rich family history, and his passion for wines from all over the world. His enthusiasm and high standards are impressive. He insists on creating wines that express their terroir and strives to make the best wine possible from its region. We also discussed the exciting 2016 vintage, which many have attributed to extremely lucky circumstances. James Suckling recently lauded the newest offering “The best Brane ever.” When asked about this, Henri smiled humbly and said “The new baby is always considered the best,” but recalled several other successful vintages with pride. In the end we were all taken with the classic 2000, which is long gone from stores, but collectors should be pleased.

My sincere gratitude and best wishes go out to Kimberly at LD Vins and the terrific team at Brane Cantenac for the hospitality.

Unforgettable Day at Brane Cantenac

Catching Up

I’m not quite sure where to start. So much has happened since my last post. Here are some highlights, in chronological order: I adopted and fell in love with a dog. This wonderful creature had two surgeries and close to twenty rehab visits in her first year with us. More on this later. I got a promotion. With this well-earned feat came a transfer to a location nearly thirty miles from home. Not surprisingly, I bought a new, more fuel efficient vehicle. I grew hundreds of tomatoes, cukes, and peppers in my organic garden paradise. I grew my cute little pixie haircut out and as a result wear my hair in a ponytail most days. My beloved Blackhawks won another Cup. I watched the entire series of The West Wing, Game of Thrones, and Sons of Anarchy. My husband got a fantastic new job. I hosted Thanksgiving. It snowed 56 inches so far this winter.
Other interesting events since my last post:

Continue reading “Catching Up”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is, without question, my favorite holiday.  Food, wine and football? What more could a vintage girl ask for?! But more than those things, it’s a day we stop to remember and share our blessings.  And I am grateful my life is full of them.  I have an amazing husband who loves and accepts me just the way I am.  I have friends that take good care of me, even when I resist.  I have parents that continuously inspire me and have always supported me unconditionally.  I have three amazing, hilarious, supportive (albeit dysfunctional) siblings I wouldn’t trade for anything.  I have an extended family I am honored to be a part of.  I have a beautiful home.  I have a stable job in a field I’mpassionate about that challenges me and brings me tremendous joy.  And I live in a fantastic country, where I’m free to talk and write about anything I please, in spite of my sass and questionable language.  Life is good.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Now, as the culinary part of the holiday goes, of course I’m ecstatic.   And this is arguably the biggest, baddest, best day of the year for folks like me.  There are so many awesome food and wine pairing opportunities! The trick here is not to play only to the turkey.  We also have to consider the stuffing, the green bean casserole, the yams, the mashed potatoes.  Then there are the audibles: Some families serve ham; my dad always made a pan of lasagna.  Each family has its own traditions.  And, in some families, we basically have to set out to please the masses, so in many cases a good Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay is perfect.  But  generally I’m most enthusiastic about off dry-whites and light to medium bodied reds.  Riesling and Pinot Noir really reign supreme; but there are many interesting choices.

So, without further ado, here’s some recommendations for your Thanksgiving table:

  • Fritz Riesling Pfalz ($12)
  • Donnhoff Oberhauser Liestenberg Riesling Kabinett ($32)
  • Botani Muscatel, Malaga ($18)
  • Ransom Temperance Vineyard Gewurztraminer, Oregon ($20)
  • Domaine Weinbach Gewurztraminer, Alsace ($25)
  • Elk Cove Pinot Blanc, Oregon ($16)
  • Peter Lehman Layers White ($16)
  • Tangent Ecclestone, Central Cost ($15)
  • Patz & Hall Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast ($30)
  • Chateau Trinquevedel Rosé, Tavel ($22)
  • Chidaine Vouvray ($25)
  • Avanthia Godello, Valdeorras ($30)
  • Merry Edwards Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast ($45)
  • St. Cosme Cotes du Rhone ($15)
  • Maysara 3 degrees, McMinnville ($18)
  • Ata Rangi Pinot Noir, Martinborough New Zealand ($40)
  • Jean-Paul Thevenet Morgon, Beaujolais ($20)
  • Domaine Raspail-Ay Gigondas ($30)
  • Alto Moncayo Veraton Garnacha, Campo de Borja ($26)

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Slumps

There were forty-six at bats between Alex Rodriguez’ 599th and 600th homeruns.  Forty six! With all of ESPN and baseball nation just watching and waiting.  As a long time hater of everything Yankee, I thoroughly enjoyed this time.  “This is what happens,” I would say with disdain, “when a guy stops taking steroids.” I hope his souvenir ball has a giant asterisk on it.  Or, more appropriately, injected into it.

But enough of my hatred for cheaters.  My point is– everyone has slumps now and then.  And A-Rod’s was really only a blip on the radar.  A baseball player named Bill Bergen went that long without a single hit.  In 1909 he went 0-46.  That’s about twelve games.  Ouch.  Worse yet, think about my beloved Chicago Cubs, who haven’t won a championship in over one hundred years– the longest drought in professional sports.  Think about Dan Marino and his long, illustrious career without the coveted ring.  Think about fans of pro sports in Cleveland who’ve been waiting for a championship since 1964 (and since The Decision 2010, we all know what direction that’s going.)  Or, think about Vinny Testaverde, who in 1988 threw thirty-five interceptions.  Thirty-five.  But every time he threw a pick that season, he got up, dusted himself off and tried again.  And then, threw another interception.

I guess everyone goes through a period of doubt and failure, and I am certainly no exception.  I’ve been in a slump myself lately.  My mind is focused on many other things; and nothing I’ve drank has impressed or inspired me.  So today, on the day A-Rod blasted his history-making homerun into center field, I’m dusting myself off and breaking out of my wine slump.  Enough is enough.

Vintage Barb is back.

Victory Indeed

A little while back I posted about my beloved Chicago Blackhawks and their quest for the Cup.  On Wednesday, June 9th, Patrick Kane shot the winning goal past big loser goalie Michael Leighton and secured the team’s place in history.  Watch the chaotic but exhilarating ending:

Way to go champs! So, as promised, I finally explored a Philly brewery to honor the Hawks’ win over the hateful Chris Pronger and the Flyers.

Victory Brewing is technically set up in Downingtown, PA, about thirty miles west of Philadelphia.  It is these fine craftsmen that are behind the wildly popular massive brews Hop Devil and Storm King.  But since I’m a lager and witbeer kind of gal, I took home the lighter Prima Pils, Golden Monkey, and Whirlwind Wit.

Prima Pils

I took home a sixer of the Prima Pils after a very long and trying day at work.  One of my colleagues recommended it for me, stating it was “probably the best pilsner in the store.” Maybe so, but this one wasn’t for me.  I wanted something I could pop the second I walked in the door and chug in thirteen seconds flat.  Sadly, I found the bitter German hops way too harsh.  Generally, I like a more fruity, citrusy, thirst quenching kind of beer.  Still, I can see what people like about this brew: It’s light but not watery, refreshing but not mindless.  I think this is a nice beer for people who want a lot of character but not a lot of body.  And it was a great introduction to a serious brewery.

Whirlwind Wit

Next up was the Whirlwind Wit, which is definitely my kind of beer, especially in the summer.  It’s light and refreshing with a fair amount of citrusy hops.  I can’t say it’s my favorite of this style; there isn’t a lot of depth and it falls just a little flat toward the end.  It’s an enjoyable bottle of beer and Blue Moon loyalists should certainly check it out.  But in the end, where the Prima was too strong, the Whirlwind was a little too dull; and I usually want something right in the middle.

Golden Monkey

The Golden Monkey might just fit the bill.  This is Victory’s delicious Belgian style golden ale.  While still considered a lighter beer, its dense, malty complexity give this ale a ton of personality. I found it frothy and fruity and deliciously spicy, with a little richness and a soft, refreshing hoppy finish.  The Monkey is probably my favorite of the brews I tried, although I’m looking forward to the imminent release of Victory’s summer seasonal Sunrise Weissbier.  This should be right up my alley.

Philadelphia, your sports fans leave a lot to be desired.  These are the jerks that pelted Santa with snowballs and worse yet, booed our precious Jonathan Toews when he won the Smythe trophy.  Shame on you.  But your beers are solid.  I look forward to enjoying another Victory brew soon, and will definitely give your fall seasonal a shout out on November 28th when the Bears meet the Eagles.

Some Dude Named Stanley

Let's go Hawks!

For me, wine and professional sports just don’t mix.  When I hang out at Wrigley, it’s all Old Style all day.  During football season I’m a total beer fanatic, though sometimes an occasional glass of sparkler carries over from brunch.  And this month? I’ve had to find something awesome to drink while cheering on our Chicago Blackhawks as they play for their first Stanley Cup since 1961.

Last night for Game 1, while the main attraction was chilling down, I enjoyed a bottle of Unibroue’s Blanche de Chambly.  This is my favorite style of beer and this one is still one of the best I’ve had.  Fresh, citrusy, spicy and delish.  Unibroue is just a damn good brewery. Perhaps its only flaw is its Canadian origins.  With that in mind, I triumphantly devoured it as I reminisced about our victory over Vancouver.

Then I popped open a treat from Brouwerij De Glazen Toren, a newish but fantastic Belgian brewery.  Their Jan de Lichte is made in the same style as the former, but is much thicker and… I don’t know… European flavored.  I think it’s the hops they use.  To be perfectly honest, I really don’t know much about crafting beer, and I don’t really care.  I just know I like it.  The only negative about this brew is I can only buy it in a 750ml bottle.  It’s only the equivalent of only a few beers, but it creates a couple disadvantages.  First, by the bottom I feel it loses some of the freshness.  Also, since this beer is also extremely frothy, and since I don’t have the proper tulip glass, I end up with two inches of foam every time.  Boo! In short, it’s still tasty, but I’d rather have it from the tap as I first discovered it at the nearby Bavarian Lodge.

Things are crazy here in Chi-town.  The last time this city was united like this was when the Bears won in 1985.  Everywhere you look folks are wearing red and black.  Every Target, Walgreens, Sports Authority, grocery store, and gas station is peddling Blackhawk’s gear.  The statue of  MJ is decorated in a Hawks sweater and helmet.  Strangers are actually smiling at each other.  Even the Sports Guy gave us his blessing. It’s all pretty f’ing exciting.  So I guess I should be raising a glass of some great local brew, from which there are plenty to choose.  Maybe for tomorrow’s game I’ll pick up a six pack of Goose Island or Two Brothers or the newer Metropolitan Brewing.

And next week, when the Hawks win it all, I will find and eagerly demolish a great beer from Philly to celebrate.

Grape of the Month: Viognier

May is one of my favorite months!  Here in Chicago the weather is usually perfect– the skies are blue, there’s a delicate breeze, and the sun is warm but soothing overhead.  The ivy is growing at Wrigley, and my Cubbies still have a shot at the title.   Hey, there aren’t too many months I can say that.  Let me enjoy it while I can.

But I think my favorite part of May is watching and smelling the flowers blooming all over the landscape.  While I’m not lucky enough to have my own flower garden just yet, my dreams often include planting one someday.   And though most greenthumbs might choose the glamorous rosebush, my garden will be full of daisies, orchids and gardenias, with a few lilac bushes on the outskirts.  In my dreams I sit in my colorful garden, relax and take in the beautiful day, watch butterflies flitting about, listen to the Cubs on WGN (shameless endorsement) and sip a wonderful, elegant, sumptuous glass of viognier.

Viognier

First of all, it’s pronounced vee-ohn-yay.  Don’t say it wrong or your local wine pro will scowl at you and give you Fetzer or worse.  And it’s home is the Rhône Valley, one of my very favorite wine areas in the world.  Viognier is the main white varietal there and is known especially in the region Condrieu, and as the aromatic zing in Côte Rôtie.  It hasn’t really taken off in the States probably because it’s difficult to say, but mainly because the good ones aren’t cheap.  This is due to small production, mostly because of the grape’s finicky nature.  But it finally seems to be increasing in popularity, thanks to many solid offerings from California and Australia, as well as reasonably priced whites called Vin de Pays which often use mostly viognier.  But do yourself a favor: Spend a little more on this grape.  You can scrimp on something else.

Sight: In the glass it’s a bright yellowish-golden.  It’s a pretty viscous (alcohol-y) wine so you will see more “legs” than many other, lighter whites.  It also appears much more vibrant and shiny than most others.  Oh who am I kidding, by now you’re not even looking at it anymore because…

Smell: Viognier it’s what heaven smells like.  Imagine: The Pearly Gates, Saint Peter, Jesus, harps, all your loved ones, a gigantic comfy couch…  Take a deep breath……  There.  Beautiful.

No? Ok, take one or two daisies from my garden and take off the petals.  Grab a handful of lilacs too.  Don’t worry, the dog is tied up.  (I don’t have a dog, but in my dream I have a gorgeous chocolate lab.  Just go with it.) Now find an empty box of fruit loops– the kind where all the cereal is gone but there’s still that fascinating sugary powder still sifting around at the bottom of the box.  Toss the flower petals in there and give it a good shake.  Head for the nearest orange grove.  Now open the box and smell.  That’s viognier.

Taste: Viognier is perfect for people that think they don’t like white wine.  It’s weighty on the palate, but not heavy or dense like most reds are and some chardonnays can be.  It is rich and complex but has a refreshing, cooling lift.  The flavor is dominated by apricot, tangerine, and orange peel, with flashes of of lilac and violet, and a very faint hint of honey.  Depending on fermentation technique and oak treatment, some have a very slightly creamy edge and subtle hints of vanilla and spice.  Some producers leave a touch of residual sugar to take the edge off the alcohol, so a teeny tiny hint of sweetness isn’t unheard of.  And the late harvested dessert wines I have encountered made from viognier are to die for.  But typically viognier is dry but intensely fruity, complex but subtle, refined, luxurious, and absolutely mesmerizing.

Paring: Grilled salmon or swordfish with a orange-mango salsa.  Spicy Thai dishes.  Any kind of stir fry.

Recommendations:

  • $10-15:  Chono, Yalumba, d’Arenberg “The Hermit Crab”
  • $15-30: Jaffurs, Qupe, Fieldstone; $30-50: Darioush, Georges Vernay, Guigal Condrieu
  • Before you die: Chateau Grillet