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Carpe Vinum: An Afternoon in Provence

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When we started our little wine club (Carpe Vinum) 6 years ago, we chose a very broad, passport approach to wine study — France, Italy, Spain, Australia, etc.  But over the years, as we’ve accumulated more wine knowledge, we’ve narrowed our focus.  I like to think of it as the difference between taking a 100 level and a 400 level class in college.  A 100 level class is a great overview, but you don’t really get to the heart and soul of a subject until you take the upper level classes and seminars.  And it’s at that point you realize the learning is never really done.  The more you learn, the more there is to know.

A couple of us are heading to France on vacation this summer (I’m going Paris and north; my girlfriend is going Paris and south), so we decided it was time for some seminar classes on France.  Our first seminar study is Provence.  I did some Provence research before our Carpe Vinum meeting (because I always need some scaffolding), and my big takeaway was this: Provence isn’t just for Rosé.  OK, it’s mostly for Rosé, but there are a lot of really lovely reds and whites pouring out of the region, too.

Here’s what you came for . . . the wines and the food pairings!

vintage chalk
Memories, light the corner of my mind . . . (you’re welcome for the Streisand ear worm).

Chateau D’Esclans Côtes de Provence 2013 ⭐⭐⭐/90
A blend of Grenache and Rolle (aka Vermentino).  Gorgeous pale coral color — I’m sure Sherwin Williams makes this as a paint color and calls it Salmon Whisper, or some such.  But the thing that will stick with me about this wine is the nose. When I stuck my nose into the glass, I was immediately taken back to when I used to play school as a kid, something I used to do for hours on end.  I had a chalkboard easel, and one of those multi-line chalk holders (so you could make perfect handwriting templates).  And this wine smelled exactly like a brand new box of chalk.  Dry and tart, with subtle flavors of rhubarb and strawberry.  Delightful balance.  Btw, Wine Spectator described this wine as having “warm paving stone” notes . . . which are not to be confused with cool paving stones.  😉  $27.  (Btw #2, Chateau D’Esclans is also the maker of the popular Whispering Angel Rosé).

Paired with Niçoise Salad with Seared Tuna
With an ingredient list as long as my arm (15 items), this is one of those “some assembly required” salads that taste sooooo much better when someone else makes it for you.  A perfect balance of flavors and textures (with the exception of the anchovies, I’m still not team anchovy), I could eat this salad every day if someone would just put it in front of me.

DSCN6163Bonus wine:  Domaine Pont de Cagnosc Vin de Provence 2012 ⭐/85
45% Grenache, 35% Syrah, 15% Carignan, and 5% Cinsault.  The color on this one looks like one of my peonies in bloom (hurry up, Spring!) A far creamier mouth-feel compared to the D’Esclans.  Definitely not as complex or memory-inducing, but there’s something attractive about the simplicity here.  Also the $9 price tag.

The Pairing  👍👍
Absolutely ideal with the D’Esclans.  Superb.  The only thing that could have improved this pairing would have been eating it in Provence, next to a field of lavender. The salad was lovely with the Pont de Cagnosc, as well.  Rosé is just such an accommodating wine.  [Read in Homer Simpson’s voice]:  Rosé.  Is there anything it can’t do?

Chateau de Pibarnon Bandol Rouge 2010  ⭐⭐⭐/91
This wine is from the AOC for red wine in Provence — Bandol.  I’m so glad we got to sample a Bandol red, because after tasting this one, I will be seeking out more.  90% Mourvèdre and 10% Grenache.  A potentially overbearing wine that shows great restraint.  So elegant and smooth, yet structured and complex.  Definitely funk over fruit (which is fine by me).  Tobacco and black pepper, maybe a little old leather.  $30.

Paired with Navarin Printanier (Lamb Stew with Spring Vegetables)
I need to start eating more lamb.  I always thought I didn’t like lamb, but the last couple of Carpe Vinum meetings have featured a lamb recipe, and to my great surprise, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them.  I think I’m learning to embrace the gaminess that previously turned me off.  This is a Julia Child recipe, so as long as you follow it to the letter, it’s foolproof.  Absolutely delicious, with a comforting spiciness to it.

The Pairing 👍👍
Another home run!  Amazing.  The wine makes the stew better and the stew makes the wine better.  I can’t ask for more.

Chateau Miraval Coteaux Varois en Provence 2012  ⭐⭐⭐⭐/90
By now, every oenophile on the planet is familiar with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s Chateau Miraval Rosé, a wine I tried really hard not to like (because Brangelina generally annoys me), but I liked it.  Wait.  That’s not true.  I loved it.  I’ve bought multiple bottles.  So I was very curious and excited to try their white blend (Rolle and Grenache Blanc).  Would it be equally memorable?  Yep.  Aged 90% in stainless steel and 10% in oak, this wine is precisely balanced. The nose totally sold it, though — almonds (one of my favorite smells in the universe).  Tastes like a spring afternoon.  Mineral notes weave throughout, finishing with a slight salinity.  Drinks even better on day 2.  I will definitely buy more.  $22.

Paired with Le Grand Aioli
This is a traditional and very simple Provencal meal.  It’s essentially a platter of assorted steamed/boiled vegetables (I used potatoes, green beans, carrots, beets, carrots, and eggs), served with a homemade garlic mayonnaise (aioli).  I had never made mayonnaise from scratch (and by scratch I mean without the aid of a blender) before.  While it’s not difficult, all that whisking  does give your forearm muscles a workout.  Technically, a proper aioli feast also includes fish (poached cod), but I ended up omitting it because we always have way more than enough food.  I thought the garlic mayonnaise was really powerful, but my girlfriends said the garlic was perfectly comfortable.  Either way, we didn’t have to worry about any of The Cullen’s crashing our meeting.

I also brought some Tapenade (a traditional Provencal olive salad), which I made by cruising the Olive Bar at Wegmans.

The Pairing 👍👍
For the trifecta . . . another superb pairing!  All I can think to say is, WOW!  I couldn’t believe how well the Miraval played with all that garlic!  I also had no idea garlic mayonnaise was so delicious on top of beets!!  And . . . the aioli feast was equally delicious with the Rosés.  The red, not so much, but you can’t have everything.

And for dessert . . . Palmieres!!  I wish I didn’t know how easy these are to make.  All you need is puff pastry and some sugar.  I am in so much trouble.


Next month, we’ll be taking a look at Alsace . . . stay tuned!


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