Tag Archives: Italian Wines

MY NINE GO-TO EVERYDAY FRENCH WINES

LIFE IN FRANCE FOR A WINE LOVER – IT CHANGES YOU

First of all, I want to acknowledge the huge amount of damage to the vineyards of France and much of central Europe by the frosts of the past week, which continue as I write this. It is possible that a majority of the 2021 vintage may be lost. The damage runs from First Growth Bordeaux to Chablis, to Champagne to everyday wines. It is tragic and will be felt for a long time.

I haven’t posted on this blog in quite some time – since November 2019, in fact, during those pre-COVID halcyon days of bliss. The main reason for my absence from these pages, while not from wine, has been that since I have been living in France for 3 years or so now, my experience with wine has changed. It has become more of a relationship with a smaller number of mostly unpretentious and unspectacular wines consumed, for the most part, with meals. If anything, COVID cemented this relationship, as our restaurants are closed and the occasional “special bottle” with a restaurant meal has not been in the mix. When I last wrote about our wine experience living in Lyon (LINK), I was new to the area and just beginning to learn.

While Dorianne and I have extended our pricing for “everyday wines” from an upper limit of about 12€ to about 16€, putting a few second labels from Burgundy in range. Despite this, our average expenditure is likely under 10€ per bottle. This is because I have found a number of labels in the 7€ range that are good enough to drink just about every day. I will list and describe these wines later, but I am not sure that they can be found outside of France. Suffice to say, that for 16€ and under, you can find very drinkable wines from just about any region in France (even Burgundy!). Equivalent wines in the US, in my experience, tend to cost upward of $25.

Another change is that our social circle here is not so wine-centric as the one we left behind in California. The French, with some exceptions of course, view wine as a grocery item. One French friend who loves to drink wine and visit wineries, seldom spends more than 4€ for a bottle. There is a bit more wine talk among the English-speaking expat community here, but not all that much.

Our diets have gotten lighter here and we drink more whites and rosés, especially in spring and summer, but also in winter with fish, salads, and soups.

My purchasing habits here in Lyon are different than they were in the US. I have gradually expanded outward geographically, as each wine shop (cave) here is unique. Each shop has one or two (or more) very good French wines at lower price points; each shop has different wines from the various regions. Most larger supermarkets have some very nice wines on their shelves. Some have more international choices – I get good Spanish, Italian, and Middle Eastern varieties at an Armenian grocery store; Port wines at a Portuguese bodega near the Portuguese consulate; South African wines at a major chain grocery; and even some Penfold’s from my local wine shop.

I have begun to buy more wines online from the producers – wines from Lirac, Tavel, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Pommard, Beaune, and the northern Rhône Valley. When we can, we visit wineries and co-ops nearby in Mâcon, Pouilly-Fuissé, also in Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, and Fleurie in the Beaujolais.

Since we have not been back to the US for over a year, our cave has about 6 bottles of California wines left. But it is fully stocked with other wines, about 90% are French, many purchased at the fall wine festivals (LINK) which I hope return this year.

About half the time, we drink wines which are under 20€ and we consider “everyday wines.” I will do another post featuring those wines soon.

As promised, here are our go-to everyday wines for ten euros or less. Le Versant is a favorite. They make other wines as well, but these are the ones available near us. These are wines that I would share with anyone who visits, as they represent their regions well. They are not of premiere cru quality, but they don’t have to be. I would say that each is worth 2 to 3 times what they sell for.

REDS:

Le Versant Syrah 6,99 €

Le Versant Cabernet 6,99 €

Château Junayme, Fronsac Bordeaux blend 6,35 €

Château Etang des Colombes, Corbières Red Blend 7,40 €

La Bastide St. Dominic, Côte-du-Rhône Red Blend 7,99 €

WHITES:

Le Versant Chardonnay 6,99 €

Le Versant Sauvignon 6,99 €

Le Versant Viognier 5,60 €

Les Orfèvres du Vin, Mâconnaise Aligoté 7,50 €

So that’s what Dorianne and I are drinking most nights with dinner. France offers a wealth of very drinkable wines at very good prices, once you learn what to look for. As we all hope that the local vignerons manage to survive these frosts, let us be grateful for the French wines that we can enjoy today.

As always, your comments are welcomed.

Copyright 2021 – Jim Lockard

MY YEAR IN WINE – 2016

2016 was a year of travel for Dorianne and me. Since we sold our home in early 2015, we have been on the road. 2016 found us in the U.S. and Europe, on a Mediterranean cruise, and in the Middle East. We traveled in 8 states and in Spain, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Poland, England, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel, and Malta. There were wine experiences everywhere. Here are some highlights and “bests” of a very interesting year:

MOST INTERESTING WINERY VISITS:

In July, we went for a day of wine tasting in Rhonda, Spain (LINK). I blogged about it at the time. What made it special was the beauty of the countryside and the fact that it is such a small wine region. You can read about it at the link.

 

Merecouri Estate, Korakohori, Greece (LINK). We visited during a cruise at the port of Katakolo. This is a very interesting winery and vineyard, where the 4th generation of the family is making some good wine. The tour is fun, lots of history, even a museum. The tasting is good – 4 wines and cheese and other snacks. One of the better cruise-related winery tours I have been on. I had a chance to speak to the current patriarch of the family, Christos Kanellakopoulo about wine making techniques. Some of their wines are exported to the U.S.

BEST WINE EXPERIENCES IN A RESTAURANT:

Osteria Barberini, Rome, Italy (LINK). This gem of a restaurant on a very narrow side street near the Spanish Steps and the Piazza Barberini, was both a revelation and a great find for Dorianne and me. We were arriving in Rome from Lyon at about 8:00 pm, and I looked at Trip Advisor for something near our hotel off the Via Veneto. I made a reservation via email for 9:15 pm, as that was the only time available; a good thing, as our flight was late. When we arrived, they were turning people away from what turned out to be a very small restaurant seating about 36 people in three small dining rooms.

And the food! They specialize in truffles, black and white, and we had three wonderful meals there (we went back two more times). A small but well-selected wine list of mostly Italian wines was also a highlight. Here are the wines we had there:

 

‘l’Institut’ Paul Bocuse Restaurant-école at Bellecour Lyon-Centre, Lyon, France (LINK). This restaurant is part of the Bocuse culinary school. It is beautifully designed and everyone there is a student or a teacher. The food is exquisite, the atmosphere is modern and very classy, and there is a very nice wine list with relatively low markups. We had a fabulous meal there, which I blogged about (LINK).

 

TOP FIVE WINES ENJOYED:

I’m limiting this list to just five, but there were many more – hundreds actually. These sort of separated from the herd for one reason or another.

  1. 1994 Harlan Estates, Napa Valley, CA, enjoyed in Agoura Hills, CA
  2. 2012 Jean-Luc & Eric Burguet, Gevery-Chambertin Symphonie, Burgundy, France, enjoyed in Macon, France
  3. 2009 Firriato Quater Rosso, Sicily, Italy, enjoyed in Rome, Italy
  4. 2005 Diamond Creek, Gravely Meadow, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, CA, enjoyed in Pismo Beach, CA
  5. 2003 Gruppo Matarromera Bodega, Cyan Prestigio, Castilla y León, Spain, enjoyed in Granada, Spain

 

BEST OVERALL WINE EXPERIENCES of 2016:

Sharing wine with good friends – or new acquaintances – is, to me, the best part about enjoying wine. This year we had many chances to do just that, and a few of them stand out as very special.

We opened the year with two nights in Pismo Beach, CA, at the mid-century gem, the Kon Tiki Inn with two other couples. Wine tasting ensued, both in terms of bottles brought and a tour of some of the Edna Valley wineries, just west of Pismo Beach. Great meals, and a wonderful two days. We will be repeating the experience again this January 1-4.

Sharing a very special case of wine with my good friend Richard Clark in the early part of the year was very special. Richard received a gift case of selected top-of-the-line wines from California, France, and Italy from his employer for Christmas. One of my top five wines, the Harlan Estates was in that case, along with many other gems that could also have qualified.

Wine dinners in Cambridge, England and in Macon, France with friends that we made through Dorianne’s interest in chamber music were also very special. Wonderful wine, wonderful food, wonderful conversation, and wonderful music ensued.

Two meals with good friends in Rome – one at a great wine bar, another at their beautiful apartment – featured wonderful Italian wines and, again, great food and conversation. You can see Francesco perusing the red wine list at the legendary Rome Wine Bar – Enoteca Ferrara (LINK).

Just this week at Roam-Miami, where we are staying for most of the winter, Dorianne and I hosted a wine tasting and presentation for other guests and their friends. We sampled four varietals/blends – one of each from the Old World and the New World. There was some very nice French and Spanish cheese and dark chocolate; and a glass of Cava to get things rolling. It was a great evening of fun and some of the young people attending learned something about wine.

While there is still some time left in 2016, I am also looking forward to 2017. Our plans include visits to Mexico, Canada, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, California, Oregon and possibly, Washington state. Summer will take us back to EuropeIreland, Scotland, then to France, where we intend to find an apartment in Lyon to be our new home base. Of course, we never know where serendipity will intervene. I will keep you informed.

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

BACK TO SUNLAND WINES TASTING ROOM

On Saturday, Dorianne had a late-morning appointment with her allergist, and it just happened to be in the same shopping center where the Sunland Vintage Winery Tasting Room (Link) is located in Thousand Oaks, CA. The proprietors, Michael and Debby Giovinazzo, were in when I peeked in the door at 11:00 am (the sign said they open at 1:00 pm). I asked if they were open and was invited in.

2015-02-14 12.57.28
The Tasting Room at Sunland Vintage Wines – shared with Alma Sol Wines.

I blogged about their Tantalizing Thursday Events (LINK), where they combine $5 per glass wine with a food truck in the parking lot two weeks ago. That event was so crowded, that I was unable to have a conversation with Mike or Debby, so I returned to do just that.

Mike and Debby have been in the wine business for five years. Their wines are produced in Lodi, CA, and sourced from all over the state. His goal, he said, was to bring Italian Varietals to Southern California, which his Giovinazzo Wines label does, and does very well. There is also a newer label, SVI Wines with more traditional varietals – Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec, and Albarino. 

2015-02-05 18.51.36

Total production this year is 1350 cases, making Sunland Vintage Winery a small producer, but one with great variety. Mike told me that he just contracted for some Dolcetto fruit from Northern California growers that he is excited about. Mike and Debby clearly love being in and talking about, the wine business, and it looks like they have carved out a nice niche for themselves with their Italian Varietals and blends.

If you are in the area, check them out.

WINE TASTING & LOBSTER TRUCK COMBINATION

Here in the Thousand Oaks/Malibu, CA area, we are awash in wine – a good thing. There are over twenty wineries in the two Malibu AVA’s, and a lot of tasting rooms, wine bars, and wine-centric retailers in the Thousand Oaks/Westlake Village area. The competition is growing as the area is developing into a wine destination. Last night, a groups of us joined a large crowd at Sunland Vintage Winery Tasting Room (Link) in Thousand Oaks. The proprietors, Michael and Debby Giovinazzo, held court in a bustling tasting room, pouring $5 glasses of wine for their Thursday evening promotion Tantalizing Thursday, featuring different food trucks each week. Last night it was Cousin’s Maine Lobster Truck (Link), featuring lobster rolls, chowder, tacos and more. 2015-02-05 18.20.29 2015-02-05 18.20.44

2015-02-05 18.24.29
Tip Jar on the Lobster Truck

We settled in at a large table (nine of us), and ordered some wine from the server, Merissa. We started with the Albarino, a nicely crafted white that was perfect with lobster. The line for the Lobster Truck was long, but convivial. Then we headed into the land of the reds. Sunland has two labels, Giovinazzo Wines – Italian varietals like Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Teroldego, and Barbera, and their SVI Brand – Premium Wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Zinfandel, the Albarino,  and Bordeaux Blends. 2015-02-05 18.52.05 2015-02-05 18.51.36 The wines are very well crafted. It is very unusual to have so many Italian varietals from a California winery, so you have to give Sunland credit for being ambitious. We did not taste all of the wines – the $5 per glass format of the evening precluded that, but we did have a sampling. On the Italian side, the Giovinazzo Wines label, we tasted the Dolcetto (harsh and very acidic, and I usually like Dolcettos); Montepulciano (very nice, smooth and balanced, best of the night); Malbec (also nicely balanced, but not very distinctive). From the SVI Wines label, we had the Albarino (very nice, smooth, fruity, grassy); Zinfandel (very sweet, big, ripe, almost a dessert wine); Cabernet Sauvignon (well-crafted, balanced, nice fruit/mineral balance). I plan to return to get some time to taste some of these wines again and to try some of the others. I also want to speak to Mike and Debby when it is less hectic. Sunland Winery is a great addition to the Thousand Oaks wine scene.

A 24 YEAR OLD BAROLO AND A RACK OF LAMB

We were invited to dinner at Richard Clark and Mary Stec’s to meet Richard’s sister, Berrie (hope the spelling is right). We took an almost full bottle of Napa Cellars Cabernet because we are leaving for a week tomorrow and did not want to waste a very nice wine. Richard was grilling a rack of lamb, and Mary was making a Greek salad, roasted squash and Chinese broccoli. Plus goat cheese and huge gigantic olives for appetizers. Nice.

So Richard tells me that a fellow that he works for regularly has given him five cases of wine.

Really?

Really.

All amazing wines – things like Phelps Insignia (early 200’s), Kistler, Caymus – you get the idea.

The Napa Cellars (smooth and very very nice) goes quickly. Richard says, go get something from the cases.

Really?

Really.

A 1990 Barolo – poured into the decanter to sit a while – it clearly need to open – swirling the decanter a lot.

2014-10-23 19.42.49
The 1990 Borgogno Barolo in the decanter & the 2008 Napa Cellars Cabernet

The wine is a 1990 Borgogno Barolo. Very tight right out of the bottle – starts to open a bit after about 20 minutes in the decanter with frequent swirling; a very tightly coiled wine. The wine is pretty close to being over – I would not keep this wine another year. But it could just be this bottle. The nose is very unusual – smoky and something else. So we go online – prices run from $88 to $295 for this vintage. Wow!

The wine has an old taste, but there is still the fruit and the balance. But that nose – smoky, leathery, but more than that; tar, flares, like that. Interesting.

A great dinner and some great wine. Can’t wait to get into those other cases!

2014-10-23 19.36.25
The Barolo.