Thanks to Lynn at Savor the Harvest and Jill at L’occasion, our French Winophiles group received four French wines to sample in anticipation of Valentine’s Day and our February event. Each wine has some connection to the love theme, and it was good fun finding the right pairings to accompany them. My husband and I enjoyed the wines over the course of a week: sometimes while we cheered for the US Olympians, others as we enjoyed a few minutes of peace and quiet at the end of an exasperating day.
Scroll down to the bottom of this post to see what has inspired the rest of the Winophiles this month. It’s sure to be a collection replete with romantic recipes and perfect pairings.
How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Wines!
It’s Valentine’s Day – or rather, yesterday was. I’ve never been a fan of the holiday, probably because it has always seemed so manufactured to me: conspicuous spending to impress your loved ones on a single day just isn’t my thing. I’d rather spread the sentiment over the whole year, with periodic, low-key reminders to my peeps of their importance to me.
Yes, all of my peeps. You see, I typically send cards to my girlfriends, a few close guy friends, and my siblings, taking the holiday to a new level. I have always loved the surprise of a hand-written envelope peeking out from a pile of bills and junk mail; something that promises an instant personal connection in what would otherwise be a day of electronic communication. I assume other folks enjoy the same.
This year, Valentine’s Day arrived at a time when I’ve been feeling overwhelmed physically, mentally, and emotionally. After battling the flu for two weeks, I learned that my mom, who has been in a full-nursing care facility for a couple of years, had taken a turn for the worse. Pneumonia was wreaking havoc on her 90-pound body, exacerbated by another infection that had grossly swollen her hands. We almost lost her. Thank goodness, her condition has since stabilized, and she seems to be fighting the infections. One day at a time.
And yesterday, around 3:00 pm ET, students at a local high school hid in closets and under desks, hoping to survive the country’s latest mass shooting. Seventeen dead, dozens more injured, countless others traumatized. It was not time to celebrate anything.
Pairing #1: A Quiet Dinner with my Husband and a Sip of Saint-Amour
The last thing on my mind last night was a fancy dinner. I wasn’t even hungry. But my husband is always hungry! So I channeled my cooking energies and put together a meal of comfort food and perfect wine: Roast chicken and vegetables and a bottle of Gamay from Saint-Amour, my one nod to February 14th.
I dressed a mix of chopped leeks, carrots, and onions with olive oil, salt and pepper, and got them roasting in a 400-degree oven for about 20 minutes. Then I stirred the mix, reduced the oven temp to 350, and added two seasoned, boneless chicken breasts on top. Cooked that for 25 more minutes, and Comfort Food Perfection was ready.
2016 Vignerons de Bel-Air Saint-Amour (SRP about $19)
You might be familiar with the wines of Beaujolais, the wine region due south of Burgundy in France. It’s most famous product is Beaujolais Nouveau, a simple, fruity wine released the third Thursday of November. But there are better wines to be had, especially those produced in the 10 communes known as the Beaujolais Crus. These are serious wines, made from grapes grown on the best soils and, while they are based on Gamay, they sometimes evoke comparisons to their Pinot Noir-based cousins to the north.
The Vignerons de Bel-Air was founded in 1929 as a cooperative comprising 250 growers. Collectively, there are 700 hectares under vine, all of which are sustainably farmed. Members are invited to participate in continuing education activities and have access to an agronomist consultant as well.
The grapes for this Saint-Amour come from 60-year-old Gamay vines lying atop granitic soils with layers of clay, limestone, and schist. The wine was made via semi-carbonic maceration and underwent traditional fermentation, after which it spent five months in stainless steel tanks.
Color: Dark purple, all the way to the rim.
Nose: Typical Gamay nose of raspberry and cherry, plus a little dust thrown in for good measure. Nothing else smells like Gamay to me!
Palate: Black fruit notes pop through an earthy, dusty component. Low tannins, moderate acidity, medium body. This is an excellent benchmark Gamay. And there is just no better wine with roast chicken than a Beaujolais Cru. (Note: I did also try the Savoie with the chicken, thinking it might be a better match. Nope!)
Pairing #2: Stepping It Up – Roast Pork Loin with Fig Balsamic Glaze
Have you ever tasted a wine from Savoie? It’s an Alpine region that borders Switzerland, and which is famous for its cheese. If you haven’t yet laid hands on a bottle of Savoyard wine, you’re not alone: most of production is consumed locally, leaving little for the export market. And that’s our loss, because these wines are good!
2017 Jean Perrier et Fils Cuvée Gastronomie Fleur de Jacquère Apremont (11.5% abv; SRP around $14)
The Perrier family, which has made wine since 1855, farms 62 hectares of vines in the shadow of the Mont Blanc, perhaps the most famous of the Alps. The best parcels for grape-growing in Savoie balance altitude and cooler climates with favorable south-facing aspects, making best use of the sun’s warmth. Apremont, where these grapes were grown, lies on such a site.
The Fleur de Jacquère takes its name from the grape variety, Jacquère, which is native to Switzerland. I found this wine to be a delight, full of crisp citrus notes and white floral aromas. In fact, I’m hoping to track down a few more bottles because it charmed me so much!
It was a perfect match with the roast pork loin.
Color: Pale lemon-green, with a slight haze to it. Unfiltered?
Nose: Pronounced aromas even without swirling the glass. Notes of Pear, lemon, pineapple, and fennel. A day later, it’s still aromatic, with more notes of apple and lemon zest.
Palate: Very round in the mouth, with flavors of pineapple, pear, and lemon. A medium-bodied wine with medium+ acidity and a long finish with a rather savory note. I really loved this wine! Perfect match with a pork loin glazed with fig balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard, atop chopped sweet potatoes, shallots, and pear.
Pairing #3: Pre-Dinner Cocktails and Rosé d/Anjou
When planning a Valentine’s Day meal, you can’t go wrong with a bottle of something pink. And most wine lovers will be happy to sip on a glass of French Rosé any day, any time of the year. While your first thought might be to head down to Provence, let me point you in another direction: the Loire Valley. Here they make Rosé from grapes like Grolleau, Cabernet Franc, and even Gamay (of the aforementioned Beaujolais.)
2016 Famille Bougrier Pure Love Rosé d’Anjou (12% abv; SRP around $14)
First off, I loved the presentation. This wine comes in a clear, square bottle, looking more like a spirit than a wine. In addition to showcasing the brilliant, watermelon-pink color of the wine, the square bottle has a few distinct advantages over the traditional bottle style. According to the winery website, using a square bottle reduces the carbon footprint of the packaging. And it’s supposedly easier to grasp than a round bottle. I think the main reason is aesthetics, though. This bottle practically jumps off the shelf, demanding that you pay attention.
Pure Love is a mix of Gamay (50%) and Grolleau (50%) and the grapes were grown on clay soils with ribbons of silica running through. The Bougrier Family bought the property in 1885, and it continues to operate it today, making it one of the few remaining family-managed wineries in the region.
I paired this Rosé d’Anjou with a charcuterie plate to share with friends before an evening on the town. Well, that was the idea, anyway. Truth is, I had this for dinner by myself after an exhausting day. Gabe was away on a business trip, and I was searching for some winter cheer. Worked like a charm! It’s impossible to resist a glass of bright pink Rosé and a platter of tasty treats! By the way, this wine is available exclusively at Total Wine.
Color: Pale watermelon pink.
Nose: Effusive aromas of red fruit (cherry) and a distinct floral component. A hint of orange zest lifts everything.
Palate: Delicate red fruit with a slightly tangy citrus note. A bit sweet but countered by lots of acidity. Texture is round and like quicksilver on the tongue, rolling around to hit every spot. There’s also an intriguing herbal/floral note I can’t pinpoint.
Pairing #4: Sexy Steak Night – A Meat-Lover’s Valentine’s Day Dinner
When I saw a bottle of Côte-Rôtie among the sample bottles, I was tempted to stow it away and keep it for myself. But that’s hardly the spirit of Valentine’s Day, right? So I did the second-best thing: I bought a big, bone-in rib-eye and cooked it to perfection. Made a beautiful salad to serve alongside it, and, Voilà! Romantic dinner is served.
2013 Vidal-Fleury Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde (13.5% abv; SRP around $72)
Personally, I could have skipped the steak and just had a few glasses of this wine. But then again, it’s chock-full of Syrah (95%) with a touch of Viognier (5%) to round it out and elevate the aromas. Happy Valentine’s Day to me!
Vidal-Fleury specializes in Rhône varieties and has been making wine here since 1781, which qualifies them as the oldest surviving winery in the region. In fact, it was Thomas Jefferson himself who first exported Vidal-Fleury wines to the United States.
Grapes come from two of the most famous sites in the Northern Rhône: the Côte Brune, which lies on northeasterly slopes atop iron-rich soils and clay; and the Côte Blonde, facing southwest on soils of gneiss and clay sands. The wine was made using indigenous yeasts and was aged on its lees for three years in oak foudres. It rested in bottle for six additional months before release.
Color: Inky purple; dense.
Nose: Blackberry, dirt, ballpoint pen, and graphite. Needs a while to open.
Palate: Old world Syrah, for sure! Restrained black fruit with a hint of vanilla. Big tannins are balanced by medium+ acidity and alcohol. It’s a big wine! One that will reward the patient wine lover. Not that I have any patience . . . .
Make the Holiday Last All Year
I realize that Valentine’s Day has come and gone for 2018. But that doesn’t mean you can’t spice up a random evening in March or May and extend the holiday past its winter expiration date. Start with one or two of these French wines, whip up something fabulous in the kitchen, and celebrate your special people whenever the mood strikes.
Here are some more ideas from the rest of the French Winophiles:
Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “L’Amour dans une Bouteille ou Quatre”
Susannah from Avvinare tells us about “Love in the Rhone Valley”
L.M. Archer at binNotes shares “The Hedonistic Taster | № 36 | #Winophiles + Love: L’Amour du Patrimoine”
Jeff at Food, Wine, Click! gives us “French Wines for ‘His’ and ‘Hers’ Valentines”
Jill from L’Occasion takes us on a sensory route “Tasting Romance: French Wine and the Senses”
Michelle of Rockin’ Red Blog helps us “Celebrate La Saint-Valentin with French Wine”
David of Cooking Chat dishes up “French Wine Picks and Pairings for Valentine’s Day”
Liz from What’s in that Bottle pairs “Celebrate Galentine’s Day with French Wines & Fondue”
Gwen at Wine Predator shares “Sweethearts: French Wines and Pizza”
Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm shows us how to “Spice up your Love Life with Shrimp Etouffee”
Nicole from Somm’s Table shares “Cooking to the Wine: Domaine Chardigny Saint-Amour with Roasted Salmon and a little Romance”
Martin from ENOFYLZ Wine Blog tells us about “Celebrating L’Amour Du Vin With French Wine At The Table”
Lynn from Savor the Harvest shares “L’Amour du vin”
Rupal from Syrah Queen offers up “Valentine’s Day Romance with French Wines.”
Jane from Always Ravenous asks “Why Does French Food and Wine Taste So Good? Love!”
And here at The Swirling Dervish we says “How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Wines.”
We’ll be gathering on Saturday, February 17th, at 11 am ET on Twitter to share our thoughts on the wines and the dishes we paired with them. We’d love you to join us! If you’re interested in learning more about our discoveries, just follow the hashtag #Winophiles at the appointed time. And remember to add the hashtag to any of your tweets so we can say hi.
The French Winophiles meet (virtually) on the third Saturday of each month to discuss a particular theme related to French wine. Next month we follow the fearless Liz Barrett from What’s In that Glass as she hosts Range of Rhônes. Put March 17th on your calendar, and get ready to Rhône!