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Alsace Grand Cru Wines: A Best Kept Secret Revealed

Grand Cru wines are the cream of the crop in regions of Burgundy and Bordeaux, but here’s a tip: Alsace also makes outstanding grand cru wines, and they deliver exceptional quality for value.

We visited with Georges Lorentz, seventh generation of family-run Domaine Gustave Lorentz and winery president. Established in 1836, Gustave Lorentz is located in the heart of Alsace’s Grand Cru wine country near Altenberg de Bergheim. The winery is the essence of Alsace: historic, decidedly French and welcoming to visitors.

Georges Lorentz
Georges Lorentz

While we were familiar with the fact that 90 percent of Alsace wine production is white, we learned a few key points during our discussion with Lorentz:

Alsace has a unique micro-climate

Located in northeast France bordering Germany and Switzerland, Alsace is a small region with big secret Lorentz shared with us: “Alsace is protected by the Vosges Mountains and has a unique micro-climate that delivers drier and warmer temperatures, ideal growing conditions. In fact, Colmar is considered the second driest town in France.” Most producers practice organic and biodynamic farming. Gustave Lorentz has farmed organically since 2012.

Altenberg-Bergheim slopes
The Altenberg region in Bergheim is the heart of the Alsace Grand Cru wine country

Alsace Grand Cru wines are a rare find

While Alsace produces seven grape varieties, only Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Muscat are permitted in the Grand Cru regions of Kanzlerberg and Altenberg de Bergheim near Gustave Lorentz. Here, vineyard plots are small, with concentrated plantings and lower yields in soils that are mainly clay and limestone, producing exceptional grapes. The wines deliver more complexity and can age well. Lorentz told us, “Alsace Grand Cru wines represent only five percent of production, so they are a rare find and exceptional value.” Most average $35/45/bottle.

Gustave Lorentz Cremant d'Alsace
Gustave Lorentz Cremant d’Alsace- versatile and food friendly

Alsace Is a top sparkling wine region

Alsace is the oldest and largest producer of crémant, sparkling wines made in the traditional method. One can find crémants made from blends of Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Noir. Chardonnay is also permitted to make Crémantd’Alsace. These wines are elegant and refined, delivering great value as well, averaging $30 bottle.


Alsace vs. Germany- Styles

Historically, Alsace has bounced between French and German occupation. However, the heritage, culture, and wines are very much French, as Lorentz explained: “Both Alsace and Germany used the same seven different grape varieties; but Alsace’s vinification style is decidedly French. Germans tend to enjoy drinking wine outside their meals so vinify their wines accordingly, making wines lighter in body, alcohol and style, and also sweeter with less acidity. Conversely, Alsace wines a made to enjoy with food and therefore made with more body, higher alcohol and also drier with better acidity.”

We were impressed with the finesse of the Gustave Lorentz wines we tasted:

Gustave Lorentz Riesling Reserve
Gustave Lorentz Riesling Reserve (importer: Quintessential Wines)

 

Riesling Reserve2017, 100% Riesling with white floral and citrus notes, fresh acidity and a hint of minerality. The finish is dry and fresh. A nice aperitif wine or paired with seafood, white meat chicken or a classic Alsace Choucroute (pork and sauerkraut).
12.3% ABV SRP $21

Gustave Lorentz Pinot Gris (importer: Quintessential Wines)
Gustave Lorentz Pinot Gris (importer: Quintessential Wines)

Pinot Gris 2018, 100% Pinot Gris, that, while white, shows more like a red wine in structure. Creamy texture and underlying yet distinct backbone of acidity, it shows notes of pear and quince with a subdued smokiness in the finish. A beautiful wine that pairs well with roasted chicken, venison, or cheeses like Comté or Parmesan. 13.5% ABV, SRP $24.

Gustave Lorentz Cremant d'Alsace

Crémant d’Alsace Brut, 34% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Blanc, 33% Pinot Noir. Made in the méthode traditionnelle to bring a refinement to the bubbles. Zesty and crisp with notes of lemon rind and a hint of red berry. Made our mouths water for a plate of smoked gouda and country ham, or a plate of grilled shrimp. 12% ABV, SRP $26

Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé, a 100% Pinot Noir made in the méthode traditionnelle. Pale salmon pink in color, this crémant is lovely to look at as well as to sip. Fresh and fruity with flavors of wild strawberry and raspberry, softer palate and more roundness. 12 % ABV SRP $25 Enjoy with a heartier dish like roast pork, pasta with tomato sauce or to complement a light fruit dessert. 12% ABV, SRP $25

Gustave Lorentz wines are imported in the U.S.A. by Quintessential Wines. www.gustavelorentz.com

Listen to our SIPs podcast with Georges Lorentz, seventh generation family member and president of Domaine Gustave Lorentz:

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The Beaujolais Wine Route: A Snapshot

The Beaujolais region in France has been designated a “Paie d’art et d’histoire,” recognizing its centuries-old heritage, picturesque villages, historic sights and many wine estates. Nearly 200 wineries are open to the public.

The official Beaujolais Wine Route covers roughly 85 miles. To the south are the larger regions of Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages. Moving north you’ll find the 10 smaller crus. Like the wines themselves, each appellation has a unique character based on its climate, altitude and diversity of soils which include an indigenous pink granite, clay, schist and limestone.

Map of beau
Map of the Beaujolais Terroir

Here’s a snapshot, of the Beaujolais Wine Route:

Comprised of 72 villages, AOC Beaujolais, the southernmost appellation, is three times larger than neighboring Beaujolais-Villages, to the east. While reds made from the Gamay grape dominate, one can experience vibrant rosés and white wines made with Chardonnay. Whites from the Beaujolais appellation can carry hints of peach and apricots ,while Beaujolais Villages whites can have aromas of pear, fresh almond and tropical fruit and a touch of almond and vanilla.

Pierres Doree
The Golden Stones (Les Pierres Dorées) Photo: www.beaujolais.com

Here are some fun facts about these two areas: In AOC Beaujolais, Les Pierres Dorées, which translates to “golden stones,” refers to a cluster of picturesque villages dotted with large golden stones that can be quite spectacular in the sunlight. In fact, this area has earned the nickname “Little Tuscany,” thanks to its steep hills and gorgeous landscape. One example is the hilltop town of Oingt ( oh-engt), which is named one of the most beautiful villages in France.

The hilltop village of Oingt has been called one of the most beautiful villages in France. Photo: www.beaujolais.com

For a nice introduction to the region, visit the historical capital of Beaujeu (BO-JU), located in Beaujolais-Villages. The Beaujolais Museum has information on the region’s viticultural history.

Venturing northward lie the 10 Beaujolais crus. Cru wine styles change thanks to geology and climate. One can try Beaujolais wines that are softer like Brouilly, Fleurie and Chenas to more supple and structured like Julienas, Morgon and Moulin A Vent.

Brouilly and Côte-de-Brouilly are the southernmost crus. Brouilly wines are more fruity- plummy with some minerality. Côte de Brouilly wines are slightly fuller bodied. This is due to soils and elevation. This area has a mixture of four soil types: pink granite (unique to Beaujolais), limestone marl, river rocks and clay.

The chapel of Mont Brouilly, in Beaujolais, Rhone department, France

Mount Brouilly straddles the two AOCs -Brouilly at the base and Côte-de-Brouilly on the mountain slopes where vineyards grow in rocky, volcanic soils, some dating to Roman time. At the summit of Mt Brouilly is Notre- Dame- aux Rayzin (The Chapel of Our Lady of the Grapes). It was built in 1857 to protect the vineyards.

Venturing north, Régnié is a small cru spread over just one square mile with pink granite, mineral-rich terrain. Grapes are grown on hillside around 1,150 feet above sea level. Régnié produces aromatic wines with notes of raspberry, red currant, blackberry and a touch of spice.

Morgon-Saint-Joseph-Cru-du-Beaujolais-Gillet-Inter-Beaujolais-

Morgon is the second largest Cru after Brouilly with 250 producers in 4.5 square miles. It is named after the local hamlet of Morgon. The soil in Morgon is rich in iron oxide with traces of manganese and volcanic rock. Morgon wines are fuller-bodied with a deep garnet color and favors of ripe cherry, peach, apricot and plum.

Chiroubles has been called “the most Beaujolais of all the crus.” This region has a higher altitude, 1,475 above sea level and cooler temperatures Wines are ruby red with light floral votes of violet and peony.

Fleurie, a northern cru, covers just three-square miles. The soil here is almost entirely made up of the pinkish granite unique to this part of Beaujolais. Fleurie produces softer, aromatic wines with floral and fruity essences of iris, violet, rose, red fruit and peach.

Le Moulin A Vent in the backdrop of winter vineyards. Photo: www.beaujolais.com

The highest rated of all the Beaujolais crus, Moulin-à-Vent is ruby to dark garnet in color with lush floral and fruit aromas. It’s a wine that evolves and becomes more complex with age, delivering more earthiness and spice. Moulin a Vent means windmill, a nod to the giant windmill located in the town of Romaneche-Thorins

Chenas in a small cru located in a mountainous area that was once a dense forest before King Phillippe V ordered the trees be repaved with vines. Chenas is considered one of the finest crus, whose garnet-ruby red wines can be aged for a few years. Chenas wines were a favorite of King Louis XIII.

Vineyards in Julianas

Moving northwest in Beaujolais, Juliénas produces earthier wines with a deep ruby red color and strawberry, violet, red currant and peony characteristics. Juliénas are powerful wines with essences of vanilla and cinnamon laced into the red fruits. The name, Julienas is taken from Julius Caesar; many vines here date to the Gallo-Roman period.

Beaujolais’s northernmost cru is called Saint-Amour. Wines can range from soft, fruit and floral to spicier, with notes of cherry kirsch. Saint-Amour is known as the most romantic Beaujolais. In fact, 20 to 25 percent of Saint-Amour sales occur in February around Valentine’s Day.

Now that we took you on a snapshot tour, we hope you are ready to taste. For more information on Beaujolais and its wines visit www.beaujolais.com

Listen to our SIPS podcast on The Beaujolais Wine Route below (stream), or click here: https://bit.ly/TCT_BeaujolaisAppellations

 

 

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Virginia’s Barboursville Vineyards: Southern Hospitality with an Italian Accent

We’re fans of Virginia wines and the region itself and made our third visit to explore the state in October. The weather was perfect and fall foliage was just starting. We spent three nights staying at the 1804 Inn at Barboursville Vineyards, located in Central Virginia’s Monticello AVA.

This was our first visit to Barboursville, and we produced a live show with general manager and winemaker, Luca Paschina, who shared the estate’s history over a dinner he prepared for us with a selection on Barboursville’s wines.

 

Luca Paschina has been the winemaker at Barboursville since 1990.

Barboursville’s America-Italy Connection

Barboursville was the 19th century estate of Virginia’s Governor, James Barbour, a colleague and good friend of Thomas Jefferson. The two were practically neighbors- in rural Virginia that can mean several miles away which many may still say is “up the road a ways.” Jefferson’s historic home, Monticello, is about a 20- minute drive near Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia.

Barboursville Estate (photo from winery website www.bbvwine.com

)

Historically, Barboursville was a farming estate for sheep. Like many centuries-old farms, it changed hands over time. In 1976 Italian vintner, Gianni Zonin, acquired the estate to create Barboursville Vineyards, the only winery for the Zonin family outside Italy. This was a bold move for the Zonins, whose family dates back seven generations, and it marked a major milestone in then-sleepy Virginia wine history. The Zonins happen to be the largest privately family-run wine company in Italy. By selecting Virginia over locales like Napa and New York’s Finger Lakes to start a U.S. winery, the Zonins made quite a splash in the wine news world.

First grape plantings at Barboursville Vineyards in the 1970s
Gianni Zonin pictures at the first grape planting at Barboursville Vineyards in the 1970s. Photo courtesy of Barboursville Vineyards

Luca Paschina has served as general manager and winemaker at Barboursville Vineyards since 1990. Paschina is from a Piemontese winemaking family and is doing some amazing things with Italian varietals in this area of Central Virginia, notably Fiano, Vermentino and Nebbiolo. Barboursville’s selections also include Viognier and Cabernet Franc, which both flourish in this area. Most well-known of the estate’s wines is Octagon, Barboursville’s signature Bordeaux style blend.

There is also an onsite grape drying facility to make passito.
The inn itself also offers some smaller houses. When we were there it was quiet aside from two or three other couples staying on-site. However, the tasting rooms, inside and out, were busy with day trippers enjoying wines and a light lunch from the on-site Palladio restaurant. The tasting room team did a great job managing safe social distancing. Throughout our Virginia winery visits, everyone was incredibly careful about this.

What’s left of James Barbour’s home, designed by Thomas Jefferson and destroyed in a fire.

Paschina noted that the tasting room is open every day except three holidays, and one can visit the property and the ruins of Barbour’s house, which was designed by Jefferson. Sadly, the house was destroyed in a Christmas Day fire in 1884. The estate also has some stunning gardens and a patio to relax with a glass or two of wine and gaze at the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.

Barboursville Harvest Toast
Luca Paschina and Fernando Franco toast the end of harvest.

On our final day at Barboursville, harvest ended as we were saying our goodbyes. Vineyard manager, Fernando Franco made the final “victory lap” through the vineyards and up to the tasting patio in the big blue harvester. Out came the cameras and a bottle of Barboursville sparkling wine which Franco sabered. Glasses were raised in celebration to toast the end of a harvest that, many local vintners admitted to us, has its challenges thanks to a frost in May which had everyone scrambling to protect the buds. Paschina made a speech and thanked his team for their hard work. What a special moment to capture and savor in the vineyards among friends!

The Connected Table Live at Barboursville with Luca Paschina.

Here are the show notes and link. You can also hear it anytime on your favorite podcast platform.


 

Photos not provided by Barboursville Vineyards were taken by The Connected Table.

 

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