I’m in a race. Not a foot race….pffft. (I can’t seem to get past the carb-loading part.) It’s on a wine app I discovered almost two years ago. Vivino lets me keep track of wines I’ve tasted, by rating and reviewing them. Some people can remember tastes and smells easily (I’m not one of them), so this tool helps me keep track of what I’ve tried, and prompts my own sensory memories with my notes. I made the mistake of introducing this app to my original wine mentor, and though I had a year head-start on him, he’s rapidly closing the gap on me, while I’m scrambling to stay ahead of him. This wine tasting thing is getting cut-throat!

Vivino2

Like any good aunt, I’m starting my nephew young. And Philippe’s ranking is already out of date….now somewhere in the 280s, he’s catching up fast. Quick… fetch me some wine!

Phew...saved by the tasting. Gonzague takes us through the geography of the Northern Rhone, and a six pack awaits.

Phew…Rhône to the rescue. Gonzague takes us through the geography of the Northern Rhone, and a six pack awaits.

Fortunately, the first activity to kickstart the week is a class tasting of the Northern Rhône. (Monday wine tastings soften the blow…) The key takeaway is that the Northern Rhone is mostly Syrah (red wines) and Viognier (white wines) although there’s often some Viognier in the reds as it blends really well with Syrah.

Condrieu, in the north, is particularly well known for Viognier. This is a grape I like very much, and would love to add it to my future-wines-I’d-like-to-grow-in-Ontario list, but it ripens late, and the climate in Prince Edward County is probably a little too cold for it. (Although I have tried some pretty spectacular Niagara Viognier…I understand it isn’t consistently amazing every year. Yet. Insert awkward conversation about the upside of global warming here….) I’m only starting to get to know this region, but I’m enjoying the Syrahs I’ve had from St Joseph and Cornas so far. The first time I had a St Joseph was from my New York wine store, Appellation, in Chelsea. My wine guy (one always has a “guy” for everything there) pointed out that olives are a signature aroma for wines from this area – so that’s what I look for every time I encounter one.

But it's France, so the audit heaven graphs look like this.

But it’s France, so the audit heaven graphs look like this.

By this point in the semester we’re in wine audit heaven. (Looks nothing like actual audit heaven; I suspect there are somewhat more grey and black suits, and signature, yet not too outlandish, ties. Also, lots of graphs.) It may be my flair for the dramatic, but I find myself concocting elaborate stories to make sense of the the numbers we’re reviewing. Poor Farmer Earl’s tractor must have broken down in the middle of the harvest, as his maintenance costs are through the roof (not the actual roof, as far as I can tell from the numbers), yet still had to buy a new tractor. Did he get so distracted with the breakdown of the tractor (or the selection of the new one) that he didn’t notice when the contractors charged him 5x the normal rate? Stay tuned for next week’s episode when Farmer Earl discovers that his wine broker, a long-time family friend, has been embezzling funds…

Our next topic for the week is wine buying. After weeks of looking at terroir and discussing how each plot of earth makes a unique and special bottle of wine, this professor switches the tune – explaining that we have to start with the assumption that, for many, wine is more commodity than specialty good. Over two days of discussing buying and consuming behaviours, we get our hands on a huge database of wine purchases from Auchan (sort of like the French Walmart) and, nerd alert, get to play with the data! It turns out a lot of one-time buyers wait to buy wine in September, during the big Foire à Vin, or wine fair sales at the big supermarkets.

Wine is like breakfast cereal! And over 700 Bordeaux brands at the Auchan - so many that the pie slices can't keep up. Mmm pie.

Wine buying insights: Wine is like breakfast cereal! (Because consumers are typically loyal to only a small handful of brands. Not because people consume it at breakfast…) And over 700 Bordeaux brands at the Auchan – so many that the pie slices can’t keep up.

Remember the most expensive bottle of wine I wrote about a few weeks ago? Well, one of our professors also works there, at Château Cheval Blanc, as the consultant. So we take advantage of a day off to get a technical briefing and tour of the estate. It’s the same professor who has been teaching us the terroir lessons and taking us to soil pits in the middle of nowhere, Médoc (not ominous at all), but interestingly enough, when he explains the soils at Cheval Blanc, and which grapes they’ve chosen – the decision makes perfect sense. (Merlot in the sandy bits, Cabernet Franc in the gravel and clay, in case you’re curious). Cheval Blanc is at the edge of the St Emilion appellation, and actually has a little more in common with Pomerol terroir (like that of Petrus) than the limestone plateau of St Emilion.

The famous white horse of Cheval Blanc. Old Cabernet Franc vines. Discussion about aging in the barrel room, followed by a little smackerel of something.

The famous white horse of Cheval Blanc. Old Cabernet Franc vines. Discussion about aging in the barrel room, followed by a little smackerel of something. Remember when I said one of my profs was responsible for creating the soil map of St Emilion? This is him! (Grammatically speaking, this is he, but that sounds weird…)

After a ‘worker’s lunch’ (lots of food, and some good insights into our professor’s personal wine preferences), we head off to Clos Fourtet. I’ve seen this estate many times before from the other side of the wall – it’s located right at the top of the hill in St Emilion, by the cloisters, and within sight of the big steeple.  We’ve actually met the director here before – we did the harvest at his personal vineyard Pierre de Lune back in September! It’s a happy reunion – we tell him that we’ve just come from Cheval Blanc, and he nods, knowingly. Our professor is very technical, as was the Cheval Blanc visit; but Clos Fourtet is managed biodynamically, and our host clearly enjoys embracing the mystery a little.

Clos Fourtet is located right next to the village of St Emilion. Every window and doorway seems to beckon. Limestone quarries below the estate are for aging bottles and wine barrels.

Winter is definitely not coming anymore: the view of St Emilion from Clos Fourtet. Every window and doorway seems to beckon. Visitors are reminded that the 2009 vintage received a perfect Robert Parker score of 100. Limestone quarries below the estate are for aging bottles and wine barrels.

In other news, the proposal for my Albuquerque stone table tops came in today. Yes, you read that correctly. The prefix of my email address appears to be common enough or at least easily confused such that I regularly get emails meant for various and sundry other C Taylors (all Americans, oddly enough). Cathy in New Mexico is busy finding ‘forever homes’ for beveled masonry. Charity and her mom make lovely pasta dishes for the neighbours in North Carolina. Chad from Wyoming likes to be swindled out of his money by celebrity con men. (He also mistakenly sent me his e-tickets to said celebrity con-vention. He’s good at this game). I got an interview at a fanfic website out of this once; I’d love to know which of my alter egos signed me up for that. And whether any of them are getting my emails…..

The weekend can't pass without a visit to the Marché St Michel. Everyone is outside enjoying the sun, and I'm enjoying the €2 pan I picked up!

The weekend can’t pass without a visit to the Marché St Michel. My kingdom for a horse: the slightly lesser-known Cheval Brun. Everyone is outside enjoying the sun, including these French classics, and this little prince in negotiations for his white charger, while I’m enjoying the €2 pan I picked up!

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2 thoughts on “game of rhônes

  1. Love the game of throne references and the stuffed animal in a cage! By the way, your nephew might be catching up to you too…. O started out very early. Haha

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