A très Français January

It’s the bitter cold of January that can set the mind to wander. For us, we picture a cozy bistro on the side streets of Paris, where a wood stove in the center not only warms the restaurant’s entirety, but seems to create a contagious glow on patrons’ faces.  Or maybe that can be attributed to the wine they are consuming as the snow outside picks up, and they linger over a rich, beefy soupe à l’oignon gratinée, the de rigueur steak frites or a luscious beef Bourguignon.

It’s a civilized way to get through winter’s harshest days, right? That’s what we were thinking as we went looking for the perfect wines for the January edition of our Inspired Wine Club: two gorgeous, full French reds that can warm you up this month as you sit by a fire, dawdle in the kitchen by a warm oven or share these wines in good company on a cold Illinois winter night.

Paul Mas Estate Malbec, Languedoc, France

Before Argentina ruled the land of Malbec, this truly was a French thing.  And this 90% Malbec with 10% Cabernet Franc is a wonderful example of how Malbec is still a great French wine find.  Deep purple in color with powerful, complex aromas of ripe plum, black currant and mocha that are tinged with delightful spicy accents – yes, this is a wine we love. A good fruit concentration supports this medium to full-bodied Malbec and its ripe tannins. Enjoy its layers of vanilla spiciness. This is a perfect accompaniment to mushroom-y Hunter’s Stew, or even alongside some Stilton cheese and crackers.

Mas de la Dame La Gourmande Rouge, Provence, France

So very, very French is this Dame, including the fact that it is aged entirely in steel tanks – no wood aging! And yes, this 50% Grenache, 50% Syrah red will most definitely win you over as it has us! From its ruby purple color to aromas of ripe red fruits and soft spices, the introduction is mesmerizing.  It is rich, full, and round with ripe red fruit flavors accented by soft nuances of spice that will have Van Gogh whispering in your ear that Illinois winters can’t possibly be as bad as the Provencal winter mistral storms.  Or that could be the wine talking. In any event, enjoy this lovely with a hearty ribeye roast or even that gooey, stinky French cheese you’ve been saving from Christmas to snack on with a crispy baguette.

Photo credit: Jean-François Gornet, Flickr


June Wine Club: An Old World treat to welcome in the summer

It’s times like these when we think about relaxing in the sun and spending time outside with friends and family. The wines we are featuring in the Inspired Wine Club this month will fit both occasions. Nothing says “fun in the sun” like a delicious wine shared with friends poolside, beachside or even just alongside the patio barbecue.

And we have found the perfect pair to ring you into summer. This month we present to you a couple of our favorite, most refreshing, summer-enthusiastic Rosé wines. Maybe you like yours young, fresh and fruity from France, produced for centuries with a mix of Syrah and Grenache,  Or maybe you prefer Spain’s approach to this classic summer quaff with 100% Tempranillo from the historic Rioja region.  In either case, these are the perfect pair to say, “bienvenue” or “bienvenido.”  Yes, we’ve missed you, beautiful Summer.

2015 Domaine La Croix Belle Rosé Le Champ des Grillons, France

Although this will likely not be your first French Rosé, it will certainly be a memorable one. The 2015 Rosé Le Champ des Grillons (crickets’ field), a blend of 40% Grenache Noir, 30% Syrah and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, is  hand-harvested from a 20-year-old estate vineyard.  After a long maceration (about three weeks), each grape variety is fermented separately and then aged together in stainless steel tanks for nine months.  The wine results in a ruby red color with purple reflections. With a complex nose of black fruit, blackcurrant, cocoa and spice, it is rich and full in the mouth with notes of bay leaf and black olive.  Enjoy its perfect balance and fresh, long fruity finish with your light fresh foods of summer: a delicate poached salmon mousse, a rosemary bedazzled, grilled chicken or even as a sipper with a plate of crusty bruschetta.

2011 Vivanco Crianza, Rioja, Spain

Bodegas Dinastia Vivanco is a well-known name in the wine trade in Rioja, as Pedro Vivanco grew the family firm in the 1970s. Vivanco Rioja Crianza is bursting with red berries. Mild hints of smoke, toasted vanilla, and spice balance the fruit.  A well-structured, meaty wine with mature tannins, this is elegant through the long finish.  Vinified in French oak vats and aged for 16 months in previously used French and American oak barrels, this wine will continue to evolve over the next several years.  The label depicts Joan Miro’s Le Troubadour painting, on display at the Vivanco Museum that features a corkscrew.  This 100% Tempranillo wine is aged for 16 months in French and American oak barrels. Again, this is a light, bright wine perfect as a refreshing summer sipper (mixed with club soda for extra refreshment as a spritzer when out in the sunshine) or as an elegant accompaniment to a grilled shrimp diablo or crabcake-topped Caesar salad.


Mother Nature’s contribution to good wine

The French have long owned the word, “terroir,” using it to describe how a vineyard’s climate produces that certain “je ne c’est quoi” that makes their wine so unique.  But as winemakers around the world know, there are many flavors of terroir, all bringing a special something to the wines they produce, when done with the right craftsmanship and attention to detail.

This month, the Inspired Wine Club offers two such wines that serve as wonderful examples of the terroir from which they spring and the flavors, colors and aromatics that result from carefully crafted wines that yield to the best Mother Nature has to offer.  Ever wonder how Napa’s climate translates into a mostly Cabernet red blend?  We’ve got you covered. Want to see how an Italian winemaker draws from the natural minerality of Umbria to produce a scintillating wine blend?  Yes, that’s here too.

And maybe blends are another common denominator to this month’s offerings.  Afteralll, it seems particularly apropos as March weather tends to be a blend of winter and spring.  However, in the case of these wines, you don’t have to ponder on what to wear; no need to decide between winter parka, rain poncho, or cotton sweater as you grab the corkscrew and a couple of glasses before settling in.

2013 Fortnight Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California

With 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 5% Malbec, this dark purple blend is a smooth, well-balanced wine that has been barrel aged (55% French oak, 45% American oak) to draw out those red fruits that cling to the cedar notes. Think bright blackberry, rich mocha and vanilla with cedar and crushed gravel on the finish. Of course, this wine pairs well with a smoky, grilled ribeye, but it is also a delight with a luscious Moroccan couscous royale, Merguez sausage or garlicky lamb chops.

2014 Vitiano Bianco, Umbria, Italy

It’s always lovely to hear of successful experiments, and this is one of those stories.  With 50% Vermentino and 50% Verdicchio grapes grown in experimental vineyards shared with the University of Viterbo, this wine benefits from the area’s sedimentary clay soils.  In this case, the winemaker opts for steel tanks to let the natural beauty of these grapes stand alone. The result is a balanced, fresh wine.  The nose is a mesmerizing mix of lime, pear and fragrant herbs.  The color, golden.  And the wine itself offers a minerality with a fresh finish. That freshness is a perfect accompaniment to green salads, a freshly caught, pan fried rainbow trout, or even a final lobster bisque to say “farewell” to winter.


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