Thursday, May 26, 2022

My Life in Wine Episode 30

Episode 29 took a nostalgic look at three events that helped shape my knowledge and understanding of wine.  With the help of a kindly French waiter, and some Beaujolais, I found a new beverage to enjoy with food besides beer.  And, despite my attraction to Burgundy and Pinot Noir, I discovered the pleasures of aged Bordeaux and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Lastly, at a mountain restaurant in northern Italy, I was introduced to the depth and diversity of Italian wine.

In this final episode of "My Life in Wine," two events come to mind that include bookends enclosing the many years of learning and appreciation.  The "Then" was a tasting of eye-opening wines that set a personal course of wine discovery for the future and the "Now" was the gratifying experience that comes from teaching about tasting and evaluating wine and seeing first the smile, then a nod of the head and finally, the moment when it clicks.


In the 1970s, wine awareness in Colorado was just beginning to take shape.  There was a store in downtown Denver where you could buy California wine for less than it sold for in California.  Colorado boasted of one winery then in an old warehouse along the Platte River.  Vineyards were struggling with winter kill on the Western Slope and a wine tasting group was taking shape known as "The Grape Nuts."

Recognizing the growing interest in wine by its readers, the Rocky Mountain News hired me to write a weekly wine column.  Jack Daniels (not that Jack Daniels), worked for a local wine distributor then and was the founder of The Grape Nuts. Jack saw my column and invited me to one of the group's tastings. 

It was Daniels' turn to supply the wine the night I attended. He selected six red Burgundies from the famous Dr. Barolet Collection.  Dr. Arthur Barolet was an early 20th century physician from Burgundy with a passion for making and collecting wine.  His vast collection, which dated back to the early 1920s, included such wines as 1935 Clos Vougeot, 1937 Vosne Romanee and 1923 Hospice de Beaune Cuvee Fonguerand. 


Dr. Barolet enjoyed making his own wine and some of them were part of his  collection when he died.  He also liked to refresh aging wines with a little brandy, a practice that was not uncommon in those days. The brandy lifted the wine's tiring flavors and gave it a little more life.

The Barolet Burgundies we had that night in Denver are lost in my memory, but the tasting is not.  Even after 40 years and a lot traveling, the wines were inviting and balanced.  Although one or two were quickly passing old age, most of them  were still showing deep textured black cherry and ripe plum, soft tannins, good acidity and length.  No doubt, the longevity of these wines was helped by the brandy.

I came away from that tasting with a lasting appreciation for mature wines and the need to age certain red wines.  Barolet wines pop up at auctions or through private sales, now and then.  By now, though, they are curiosities and buyers should beware. 


Near the end of my active wine writing career in northern California, a friend suggested I teach about wine.  He mentioned my name and background to the head of a wine studies program at the local junior college and at the start of the next semester, I was in the classroom where I stayed for 13 years.

My first class was in 2003 and I was surprised at the demand for wine knowledge. Students came from a range of backgrounds and ages, including a few underage teenagers who tried to game the system and one man who told me in confidence that he was a recovering alcoholic eager to learn about wine and that he would just smell the wines during our class tastings.

The evening classes consisted of a lecture and a tasting of relevant wines. It was during the tastings when the bond between teacher and student had its highest value, especially when students were prompted to describe what they were smelling and tasting.

Even the vaguest description was discussed, as we explored the wines together. True to his word, the recovering alcoholic smelled all of the wines, adding some relevant and helpful observations.

 If someone thought they detected mint, I would explain the difference between peppermint and eucalyptus, a component often confused with mint.  Or, we would examine the subtle differences between lemon zest, the white pith and the juice.

To illustrate the difficulty of describing a wine in terms that others will understand, I would ask the class to describe the smell and taste of a banana or licorice.  Everyone knew what a banana smelled and tasted like, from personal experience, but they could only come up with, "Um...banana!"


Seeing the look on a student's face as they finally were able to put a name to what they were smelling and tasting, was the gratifying understanding of the teaching moment.

The satisfaction of being able to pass along my knowledge of wine was, for me, a fit way to end "My Life in Wine."  But I hope you will continue to enjoy "Gerald D Boyd on Wine" and will tell your friends.

Next blog: Sparkling Cava

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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Cabernet Franc

Here's a fun fact: Cabernet Franc, the grape variety that gives class to Bordeaux blends, is a parent of Cabernet Sauvignon.


It's true.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc are proud of their progeny's success. For a long time, Cab Franc, a cultivar that some believe is the "true" Bordeaux red grape, was part of the classic Bordeaux blend, preferred by a number of chateaux.  While that's still the case, Cab Franc has branched out as a varietal red outside France.

A little history.  Tracing the ancestry of a grape can be frustrating, often ending in a dead end. Cabernet Franc likely got its start in France, somewhere between the Loire Valley and Provence. Some studies, however, contend that Cab Franc may have Spanish ancestry. 

What is certain is sometime in the 18th century, Cardinal Richelieu directed an abbot named Breton to plant Cab Franc vines at an Abbey in Bourgueil, Loire Valley. This ecclesiastical directive survives today as Breton is the Loire name for Cabernet Franc.

And there are other synonyms: Cab Franc is known as Bouchet in the Bordeaux right bank Libourne vineyards of St. Emilion and Pomerol.  In Italy, Cab Franc is often known simply as Cabernet.   

Bordeaux Franc: In Bordeaux, Cabernet Franc is the anchor grape, in the right bank regions of St. Emilion and Pomerol.  Merlot is the major grape in the Libourne, with Cab Franc playing a supporting role.  

Cooler weather in the Libournais is ideal for growing Cab Franc, but it is too cold for Cabernet Sauvignon, which does better in the Medoc, across the Gironde estuary.  Although the distances are not that great between the Medoc and Libournais vineyards, the differences in the climate and soils are enough.

The central Loire Valley region of Touraine is where Cab Franc does best as a varietal wine.  Chinon and Bourgueil are both 90% Cab Franc with Cabernet Sauvignon making up the remaining 10% of the blend.

This high percentage of Cab Franc gives Chinon and Bourgueil wines a concentrated berry aroma and flavors reminiscent of raspberry and some say pencil shavings.  Bourgueil is the more structured of the two, with deeper flavors and the possibility of aging. 

While a Bordeaux blend containing Cab Franc is a good candidate for aging, the structure and character of mid-weight Touraine Cab Francs is near term drinking. The point of Chinon and Bourgueil is drink now. This approach has earned Chinon the honorific of being called "The Frenchman's wine."

Bourgueil wines worth the search include Domaine les Pins, Joel Taluau, Yannick Amirault.  Chinon Cab Francs: Pierre & Bertrand Couly, Angelliaume, Charles Joquet. 

California and Washington Franc:  Interest in California and Washington state Cab Franc is growing, as a varietal and as part of a Bordeaux blend.  Acreage of Cab Franc is making a slow but steady climb in California, with more consumers looking for alternatives to Cabernet Sauvignon. Cab Franc is most at home in the Napa Valley, but where ever you find Cab Sauv and Merlot, it's likely that Cab Franc will also be there.

Bosché Cabernet Sauvignon Bottle Shot

 Aside: Fans of Freemark Abbey, in the Napa Valley, may recall Freemark's red wine called Cabernet Bosche.  The name may cause some buyers to confuse the wine for Cab Franc.  The Abbey Cabernet Bosche is Cabernet Sauvignon from John Bosche's vineyard, next to BV 1, which along with BV 2 are the vineyards for the iconic Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve.  The 2018 Cabernet Bosche sells for $175.

Washington has taken to Cab Franc in a big way.  Paul Gregutt, in his 2010 book, "Washington Wines & Wineries," list 32 Washington wineries that either bottle Cab Franc as a varietal or use it in a red blend.

Columbia winery made the first Washington Cab Franc in 1991, but it would be a few years before the varietal took offCab Franc has a tendency to be herbal and that can be a problem in Washington's cooler climate.

The major stylistic difference between California and Washington Cab Franc is fruit intensity.  Warmer growing conditions generally mean fruitier wines with more lush intensity.  Cooler growing conditions temper the lushness and often mean controlling the variety's herbal tendency.  Of course site-specific planting can help mitigate this problem.

California Cabernet Francs include Lang & Reed, Chappellet, Lieu Dit and Keenan. Look for these Washington Cab Francs: Chateau Ste. Michelle, Owen Roe, Willow Crest.

There are many choice today for red wines with Cabernet character.  The nice thing about Cabernet Franc is its adaptability as a blending component and as a varietal. 

Next blog: My Life in Wine Episode 30

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Thursday, May 12, 2022

Jurancon & Jura

Things are popping on the wine front.  More high-end restaurants are coming on line with an informed understanding that high quality creative food shows best when paired with carefully selected wines.  

After so many years of wine being secondary to food, its now time for the two to share a place of equal importance.

Credit wine-savvy restaurateurs and knowledgeable sommeliers for creating wine lists that operate outside the Chardonnay/Cabernet box and for featuring wines from unknown places such as the Jurancon and Jura.  

While sounding similar, these two mostly unknown French wine regions offer a variety of white wines that challenge the standard offerings.  Indigenous grapes, with unusual names, are transformed into wines that are surely outside the box: Courbu, Poulsard, Arrufiac, Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng, Trousseau and Savagnin.


Along the foothills of the western Pyrenees is a string of individualistic wines, like Madiran, Cotes de St-Mont, Irouleguy (Basque) and Jurancon.  Madiran, a deep tannic red made from the Tannat grape, had its day a few years ago, while St-Mont and Irouleguy never made an impact in the U.S. market.

The beauty of  Jurancon

Better known, although not always easy to find, are the dry and sweet Jurancon wines, made mostly from the Petit Manseng, with a little Gros Manseng.  Jurancon sec is a dry, crisp white packed with spice and aromatic fruits.  

Sweet Jurancon, made from the Basque grape, Petit Manseng, is one of a variety of sweet French wines that are unique in their own right, but share some similarities.  For example, the PM grape is resistant to various molds, while Semillon, the core grape of Sauternes thrives on the botrytis mold; Petit Manseng does equally well at various levels of sweetness, but year after year, Sauternes is about the same sweetness; Jurancon often is slightly green-hued; Sauternes is a bright medium gold.

Outside France, Petit Manseng is popular in Uruguay, brought there, along with the red variety Tannat, by Basque settlers.  Experimental amounts are also to be found in California, New Zealand, Italy and Australia.

Expect to pay between $15-$20 for Jurancon blanc, such as Domaine Bordenane and Domaine Cauhape.


Jura is a small eastern French wine region with a wide variety of wines, made mainly from five grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Poulsard, Trousseau and Savagnin.  The first two are the classic grapes of neighboring Burgundy and came to the Jura centuries ago.

Arbois town in France Arbois town in heart of the Jura wine region of eastern France. Place to visit, tourist attraction. jura france stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images
Village of Arbois, Jura

There is an interesting lineage story, at least to grape researchers, connecting Trousseau and Savagnin, that's unique to the Jura.  DNA profiling has revealed a connection between Trousseau and the Portuguese grape Bastardo, sometimes used in Dao red wine. Further, Trousseau is likely a sibling of both Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc and somewhere down the line, it is related to Savagnin.

Savagnin is a very old grape, native to the region around Jura.  Savagnin has some similar characteristics to Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc.  Curiously, Savagnin is related to both grapes, although the flavors of SB and GT are quite different.

White wine made mainly from Trousseau is powerful, with a forward spicy perfume.  Savagnin flavors are very similar to Trousseau. With both Trousseau and Savagnin, the emphasis is on perfumed.

Jura has two main sub-appellations: Arbois and Cote du Jura, both of which make red, white, pink and sparkling wines. About two-thirds is white wine.

Jura and Cote du Jura whites are priced from $20-$30, for Chardonnay and Savagnin blends or a different take on French Chardonnay. Look for Domaine de l'Aigle and Domaines des Carlines.

Part of the enjoyment of wine is the search and discovery of something new.  Jurancon and Jura are not supermarket wines, but should be available from your local wine merchant. 

Next blog: Cabernet Franc

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Thursday, May 5, 2022

My Life in Wine Episode 29

In Episode 28, I recalled the rigors, as a rookie wine judge, of tasting  California Sherry early in the morning, under the watchful eye of a seasoned judge and panel leader.  And I revisited an evening in Hawaii when I was asked the dreaded question, "What is this wine?"

These three episodes of "My Life in Wine," plus two or three more in Episode 30, will be the last of MLIW.  The plan, for episodes 29 and 30,  is to ramble through the 50-plus years I have been writing about wine, starting here with some thoughts on the evolving nature of certain wines that caught my attention.  

Beaujolais villages

Borgogne Rouge: When the wine bug first bit hard, injecting me with a kind of drug that has had a strong hold on me over the years, my epiphany wine, tasted at a train station restaurant in Chaumont, France, was likely Beaujolais.  I was stunned by the flavor and complexity of this newly discovered drink, so much so, that I didn't write it down.  

Thinking back, I suppose it could have been a red Burgundy, since we were just up the road from Dijon, the gateway to the great pleasures of Cote d'Nuit red wine, but the wise old waiter who recommended the wine we had that evening knew better than to initiate a neophyte with a more complex (not to mention, more expensive) wine, when Beaujolais would do nicely.   

Beaujolais is south of Burgundy and while the two wines are distinctively different (terroir, grapes, styles), there is a certain sameness that places Beaujolais rouge as a gateway, a preamble, a transition, to red Burgundy. 

What I learned over the years is that regular Beaujolais, and the more complex cru wines, is a richly textured quaff-able drink, layered with ripe Gamay flavors, while even the lightest Burgundy from the Cote de Beaune, is more complex and   habit forming.  

I didn't know it at the time, but Burgundy would become my favorite, go-to red wine, even though I eventually spent more time writing about Bordeaux. 

Bordeaux Pleasures:  Burgundy's complexity and depth is derived only from Pinot Noir, while Bordeaux is a blend of five grapes that, over time, were carefully selected for their compatibility with each other, even though the growth characteristics are different.

Cabernet Sauvignon, the main component of the blend, doesn't stand alone in Bordeaux, but benefits from a blended association with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.  In practice today, the first three are the main components of most modern Bordeaux blends, while Malbec and Petit Verdot are used sparingly.

When I began writing about wine in the late 1960s, a popular phrase was "Bordeaux is the king of wine, Burgundy the queen."  Political correctness was not a topic in those days, so the comparison was more subtly explained by saying that Cabernet Sauvignon was leaner and more muscular and Pinot Noir was softer and fuller in body. 

Anyway, as a fledgling writer, I followed the trend and began writing more about Bordeaux blends and the emerging California varietal Cabernet Sauvignons, even though I was being seduced more by red Burgundy and the few Oregon and California Pinot Noirs I could find. 

Young Cabernet's rough tannins and leaner fruit are harder to like than the softer tannins and forward fruit of youthful Burgundy and Pinot Noir.  But the harder tannic nature of Cabernet went cross ways when I tasted my first aged Bordeaux.  

I have to admit, though, that as impressed as I am with the seamless blend and complexity of aged Bordeaux, Burgundy is still my fav red wine.  

Today, an appreciation for the differences between Burgundy and Bordeaux, adds to my ongoing enjoyment of red wine and by extension, other red wines like the variety of Italian vino.                          

Lombardy vineyards

Viva Italiano! In the early 1950s, while stationed in southern Germany, a friend and I headed south on leave in my 1950 Chevy Bel-Air, bound for Italy. Wine discoveries were not high on the agenda, but we did have a serendipitous meal at a mountain  hotel restaurant that left me with a desire to know more about wine.

The Chevy was struggling at the higher altitude, so we stopped at a small hotel to give the car a rest and have a meal. It was late afternoon and the dining room was bustling with an anniversary celebration.  When it was apparent that we were Americans, the boisterous celebrants invited us to join the party. 

Fortunately, my Italian-American friend spoke a little Italian, so we got the gist of what was happening.  The short version of a long story is that we enjoyed a full meal, with copious amounts of local wine and there was no charge

Ever since, I've tried to work out what the wine might have been.  The most likely route had us in the mountainous part of Lombardy, since we drove out of the mountains and stopped at a General Motors garage in Milan (I was amazed to find GM in Italy) to fix my ailing car.  So, the wine might have been Barbera or Pinot Noir from Oltrepo Pavese, or possibly a Valtellina Nebibolo. 

Whatever, it was a new red wine for me and another experience in the pleasures of good food and wine. 

Next blog: Jurancon and Jura

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