Today I am once again joined by friend and fellow sommelier, Ivelisse Negroni. We are in the southwest of France, and have been exploring the picturesque vineyards of Dordogne prefecture. After a long day in the countryside, our trek has come to an end Bergerac. This lovely little town has much more to it than the renown Cyrano de Bergerac. Though the city is striated with statues and monuments in his honor, the town picturesque town of Begerac is a wonderful combination of gentle countryside, award winning flower beds, local gourmet specialties, and of course, excellent wine. To add to the area’s allure, the Dordogne is one of France’s most beautiful rivers. Though I have visited Bergerac many times, the recently renovated “Old Town” quarter has been restored to its former beauty. Whenever Ivelisse and I are visiting, we often enjoy spending a pleasurable afternoon strolling the streets, and relaxing in the shady squares as we enjoy some of the local wines.
When someone mentions Semillon (Say-mee-yoh) wine, for many, their thoughts are directed to the wine vineyards of Bordeaux, Australia, and California. Semillon has continued to grow in international popularity and is also widely planted in Chile, New Zealand, South Africa, and Washington. However, southwest France is clearly Semillon’s homeland.
What accounts for the popularity of this unsung hero? The thick-skinned golden grape is the key component in one of the world’s most famous wines, Sauterne. The renown sweet wine is primarily a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Wine makers rely on Botrytis (The Noble Rot) for the wine’s characteristic honey nectar, while Sauvignon Blanc provides a little acidity and freshness.
Ivelisse selected as our first wine, Chateau Valandraud Blanc de Valandraud 2006. It is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, and Semillon. Murielle Andraud has been making all of Chateau Valandraud’s wines since 2003. Just in case you did not know, Murielle is also one of the finest chefs on the Right Bank. I have also been fortunate to share her table a time or two in the past. In the glass, the wine is an alluring light gold. On the nose, it is an aromatic feast of citrus fruits, with grapefruit, lemon, and lime prevailing. On the palate, the wine is refreshing. It also delivers a big, juicy mouthful of bright fruit flavors that wake the palate. There are also notes of apples and pineapples that show well. The finish is long and filled with flavors of fresh lemon. The alcohol content is 13.5% with a price tag of $40.
“I have been a supporter of Murielle’s wines since 2003, when she introduced her first white wine,” Ivelisse was quick to add. “I especially like this wine’s aromatic blend blend of assorted fruits.”
“I agree. A very nice wine for that hot summer day.”
“My sentiments exactly.”
Our next selection, Chateau le Thibaut Monbazillac 2005, is most inviting in the glass. Its coloring is an illuminating yellow gold, striated with silver highlights that beckon you. The nose is filled with floral aromas and citrus fruits of both Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, and accented by its appealing botrytis character. On the palate, the wine is sweet with a nice velvety texture. Flavors of peach, apricot, and honey abound. Definitely, a wine worthy of aging. The alcohol content is 13.5% with a price tag of $25.
“I like the perfume bouquet of this wine,” Ivelisse began, while she continued to savor her wine. “It also has good fruit. Definitely a wine for chatting with the girlfriends.”
“I found the scent a trifle overpowering,” I replied as I considered the wine. “I would serve this wine when introducing someone to Sauterne.”
“As for pairing this Sauterne, ewe’s blue cheese,” she paused on the moment as she giggled to herself.
“Would you care to share what you find so amusing?”
“A heavily scented Sauterne, banana crisps, and a room filled with you and your girls,” I cocked a playful brow. I do approve of the ewe’s cheese,” as we both broke into laughter.
Our next selection, Chateau Doisy-Verdrines 2010 is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. It is a lovely golden yellow in the glass. On the nose, the bouquet is refined. There are aromas of lemon curd, honey, spice, and just a hint of quince that comes through. On the palate, this young wine is already rich and well-defined. There are pleasurable and well-balanced layers of apricot, peach, and fig. The finish is long, spicy, and rich, with faint whispers of ginger and green tea eventually coming through. The alcohol content is 14% with a price tag of $50.
“I was surprised by the complexity of so young a wine,” Ivelisse was quick to share her delight. “However, since it is a young wine, I would pair it with a sauté of pork tenderloin with spicy habanero sauce. I have found that this adds even more complexity to the wine.”
“Sounds delicious,” I openly displayed my pleasure. “Quite interesting the way you pair Sauterne.”
“Keep in mind that with younger Sauternes, high-fat cheeses, cured ham, and spicy chilies make a fine match because these flavors and textures will stand up to the wine.”
“Since we are discussing non-classic, but unique pairings, what about fried chicken?” I playfully teased.
“You bet!” Ivelisse was quick to reply. “With a squeeze of lemon, it is perfect.”
Our last wine, Chateau d’Yquem 1997 is a Sauterne beyond reproach. It is an expression of all that this style of wine can be, and more. The legendary, and award winning winery, is located in southwestern Bordeaux, in the Gironde region. Vineyards in this part of Bordeaux are known as Graves. Wines from Chateau d”Yquem are characterized by their complexity, concentration, and sweetness. These wines have extraordinary longevity and have been known to keep for a century or more. In May of 1787, just prior to his return to Philadelphia, Thomas Jefferson was invited for a private tasting. He ended up buying 30 cases for President Washington and 10 cases for himself. Mr. Jefferson was reported to have said, “This is an excellent wine that seems to satisfy the tastes of Americans better than any wine ever seen in France.” Our wine is an equal blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. In the glass, our 1997 was a dark gold. At first sight, we knew this was a very special wine. The ’97 had evolved more in color than other wines that had been aged a dozen or more years longer. The nose was expansive and filled our nostrils with an intoxicating bouquet of apricot, pear, quince, and almonds. I also noted that our “97 continued to develop in the glass. On the palate, it is full-bodied with amazing complexity. The wine is richly layered with flavors of honey, apricot, pear, lemon, and roasted nuts. The 1997 is definitely a wine that will continue to show well over the next half a century. The alcohol content is 14.5% with a price tag of $200.
“What I find most appealing about our ’97 is it is extremely concentrated, yet remains subtle,” Ivelisse spoke softly as she savored her wine.
“I agree whole-heartedly. While creamy and opulent, it is also refined. A truly superb wine.”
“This one I would pair with the classic combination of foie gras and tart sauce,” Ivelisse’s tone was definite and assured.
“I could just sit here and enjoy our 1997 all night long,” I chuckled lightly. “What’s on the schedule for tomorrow?”
“Nothing much,” she stroked my arm lightly. “I did have my eye on a Chateau d’Yquem 1967.”
“What?” I rose to full height in my chair. “That is a $2000 bottle of wine.”
“Well,” Ivelisse giggled in her soft tone. “You did just receive an American Express Platinum Card.”
But that my friends, is another story …