August 1998 Newsletter
Wines evaluated last month: 225
Rejected: 204 Approved: 21 Selected: 2
The French Connection
Without really planning it, we ended up with two decidedly French connections this month. Last month France celebrated Bastille Day followed by winning the world cup. Fortunately, we received the wine early. There probably wasn't much left after all the celebrating.
Our Chateau Potelle is owned by a Frenchman who met his Swedish wife in Paris and came to California to search for vineyard land at the request of his family, proprietors of a chateau in Bordeaux. How much more French can you get than that!
Okay, so the fact that the wine from Potelle is decidedly California may skew the results a bit, but we felt we had to show some loyalty to our home state, right? Regardless, this zinfandel is a marvelous example of the grape from one of the oldest and most-respected regions in the state, the Shenendoah Valley. It has a decidedly French bend, though. The elegant, complex flavors make it delicious on its own and will match almost anything you can serve with it.
Chardonnay from the Languedoc is an odd bird indeed. No matter. It's made in the dry, flinty style with moderate oak and a superb finish. It's decidedly French and sound value as well.
Jean Noel Fourmeaux's family was in the wine business in Bordeaux with a family castle named Chateau Potelle. Marketta Fourmeaux was born in Finland and moved to Paris at age 16 where she first met her husband-to-be. She first came to California in 1968 as an exchange student, staying for a year with a family of grape growers, so the seed had been planted.
Upon her return to Paris, she married Jean Noel. In 1980, they returned to California to do research on suitable grape-growing regions and decided that Napa was as good as any in the world. They decided to stay.
In 1988 the couple purchased a 273 acre property, home and winery on Mt. Veeder where they produce about 22,000 cases of wine per year. This winery is one of the most beautiful natural settings in the Napa Valley, set in dramatically rolling hills and forests 1800 feet up from the Napa Valley floor. And, fortunately, the wines produced from these hillside vineyards are equally distinctive and dramatic and have brought Chateau Potelle to the top of the wine world. According to the winemaking couple, hillside vineyards have it over flat-land vineyards in every way, especially in the intensity and character of the wine.
It is ironic in a way that the first world-class success for Chateau Potelle came not with French varietals, but with an all American varietal, Zinfandel. In the vintage of 1990 Chateau Potelle crafted a Zinfandel that was unlike any other, exuberant, intense, but not heavy. An elegant wine that, quite frankly, took the wine world by surprise and put Chateau Potelle on the map.
This offering comes from one of the finest growing regions for Zinfandel in the state, the Shenandoah Valley at the foothills of the great Sierras. This area has been revered for the big, buxom offerings it produces. Our wine is a bit more refined than some of the high-alcohol, over-bearing wines that can come from the area. While still showing its Sierra Foothills roots, it is definitely a class act and one that you'll enjoy for many years.
Spicy, cherry and strawberry flavors blast from the glass and continue on palate. Beautifully layered essences of clove, cinnamon and five-spice tantalize the taste buds. From fish to grilled chicken this beauty can match with almost anything, even the shrimp recipes on page 6.
Just beginning to
show. Will easily
expand over the
next 2-3 years.
The vast area of Languedoc-Roussillon is full of contrasts and contradictions. The production of vin ordinaire is still the principal activity of many a conservative wine grower, but these growers are a dying breed, and over the last ten years the winds of change have swept through the region at near gale force. The wine lake is drying up and innovation is the order of the day, with an urgent quest for quality and technology that makes the region one of the most exciting in France today.
The Coteaux du Languedoc covers a wide expanse of vineyards from just south of Narbonne, along the Mediterranean past the picturesque city of Béziers. The Coteaux is considered the finest growing area in the Languedoc and structured similar to Bordeaux, with a basic appellation, Languedoc-Roussillon, and specific villages of particular quality singled out for special mention, like our Domaine de Sarret in the Cotes de Thongue.
Domaine de Sarret is part of a fairly large, family-run wine operation named Domaine de Coussergues. It is a property which has been owned by the same family since 1495. What is interesting about Coussergues is not just the quality of its wines, but the fact that it has been consistently honored with gold medals at international tastings in Paris for the past 20 years. Most wineries with this track record would be raising their prices to the absurd levels we are seeing today. Fortunately, Domaine de Sarret is quietly making exceptional wines which offer tremendous value.
Chardonnay is a relative newcomer here. The hot, dry climate which dominates most of the Languedoc is more suitable to the hearty reds which have become the mainstay of the region. However, the hillsides near the Mediterranean are cooled by the maritime influences and provide an ideal environment in which to grow this most noble of white grapes. Right now, Chardonnay from here is a well-kept secret. We trust you'll keep it to yourself so that there will be ample supply for all of us.
Bright fruit with soil and mineral notes and a healthy dash of oak. This little beauty hangs in there from beginning to end and creates quite a sensation in the process. Absolutely stunning with the shrimp recipes on page 6.
Lovely now, will
hold for a year or
"Paul, is matching the right wine with the right food as difficult as some think?"
G.A.M., San Bernadino
Matching food and wine is an art, but it is an art that should always be fun. It should never, therefore, be made too complicated; it should be treated as one of those games that it is almost impossible to lose. If all else fails, an eccentric match of wine and food can always be passed off as one's own personal taste.
A large part of the secret is to look at the meal as a whole, rather than tackling each dish as a separate entity. Each course should complement the one before it so that you don't end up with chicken in everything. And so it should be with the wines. You wouldn't serve a Chardonnay with each course, just like you wouldn't have tarragon in each course. The meal should build to a grand finale. Start light and go from there.
A few guidelines are in order here. These should not be thought of as unbreakable. As the French put it, "Tous les goû ts sont dans la nature," or there is room for everybody's likes and dislikes.
These guidelines can be summarized as follows:
• Light wines before heavy wines
• Simple wines before complex wines
• Dry wines before sweet wines
• White wines before red wines
• Let the sauce decide the wine
• Local wines with local foods
Food and wine have an effect on each other, and that effect should be beneficial. When well matched, food will soften the tannin and lower the acidity of wine; wine will enhance the flavor of food and help both the digestion and the appetite. But, as in all marriages, one partner will dominate. The dominant partner may stimulate the other, but it will still dominate. In wine growing regions this is so well accepted that the traditional food is often simple and intended to show off the wine.
Don't be afraid to experiment and, for heaven's sake, don't get trapped into the red with red and white with white nonsense. Try serving this month's zinfandel with this month's shrimp recipe and tell me it doesn't work.
Adventures in Food
Here are a couple of great shrimp recipes to match with that full-flavored Domaine de Sarrat Chardonnay (or even the Zinfandel).
SANTA ROSA SHRIMP
1 1/2 lbs raw, white shrimp, peeled and deveined. 16-20/lb.
2 1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 1 Tbsp. lime juice
1 Tbsp. Dom. de Sarret Chardonnay
1 tsp. ground thyme
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. white pepper
2 cups fresh corn (about 4 cobs)
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 large tomato, cut in 8 pieces
Combine shrimp, garlic, lime juice, wine, thyme, salt and white pepper in large bowl. Mix to coati well. Spray skillet with cooking spray. Cook shrimp on medium high for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove shrimp from skillet; set aside. Press shrimp with finger. They should be springy to the touch. In same skillet, add corn, bell peppers and onions, cook on medium until corn is tender. Add shrimp and tomatoes to skillet and cook until shrimp is less springy to the touch. Serves 4.
1 1/2 pounds raw, white
shrimp, peeled and deveined. 16-20.
2 tsp. Dijon-style mustard
4 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp. cayenne
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. dried thyme
6 Tbsp. cold butter
2 Tbsp. chicken broth
2 Tbsp. Dom. de Sarrat Chardonnay
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup thinly sliced scallions
Whisk mustard and Worcestershire sauce until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the lemon juice, wine, cayenne, cumin, chili powder and thyme. Set aside. (Can be made 2 or 3 days ahead.) Add half the butter to a skillet set at medium heat. When butter has melted, add chicken broth and shrimp. Cook, stirring, until shrimp is half-cooked, about 2 minutes. Add mustard mixture and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more. (To check, cut a shrimp in half at the thickest part to see if it's center is slightly translucent or press with finger as described above.) Remove with slotted spoon to a warm bowl or platter while you finish the sauce.
Cut the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter into small pieces and put in skillet. Bring mixture to a strong simmer and swirl pan by the handle Ne until the sauce has absorbed the butter. Remove from heat, add fresh black pepper. Taste and add salt if needed. Stir in scallions and shrimp, but do not cook any further. Serve on warm plates. Serves 4.
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