France “Versus” New World

The history of winemaking in France can be traced back to the 6th Century BC, with many of the regions dating back to the time of Roman rule. Numerous Internationally important grape varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon, are indigenous to France; in addition, winemaking techniques and “blends” (i.e. Bordeaux-style, Chateauneuf du Pape-style, Champagne-style) that originated there have been adopted around the world. France is also where the concept of “terroir” was created; the belief that the entirety of any particular site (soil, altitude, climate, rainfall, sunlight, etc.) constitutes the character of the grapes grown there, which cannot be duplicated (click to read more about terroir). In addition, France invented the AOC system, or Appellation d’Origine Controlee, a set of rules which closely defines which grape varieties and winemaking practices are allowed in each of the geologically defined appellations (of which there are literally hundreds), which can include entire regions, individual villages, or even specific vineyards.

Since France is viewed as the “father” of International Wine, “New World” countries such as America, New Zealand, Australia, and Chile, among others, commonly make wines that are inspired by those of France. So for this week’s tasting we thought it would be fun to compare three wines from France, a white Bordeaux, Provencal Rose, and red Burgundy, with similar grapes/styles from New World regions; a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Washington State Rose, and California Pinot Noir.

The French wines for this week’s tasting are all imported by Rosenthal Wine Merchant and include Chateau La Rame Bordeaux Blanc (Sauvignon Blanc), Commanderie de Peyrassol Rose (Provence, blend), and Jean-Claude Thevenet Bourgogne Rouge (Pinot Noir). RWM is one of our favorite importers due to their strict principles and ethics regarding the growers and wines they represent; they focus on French and Italian wine from producers that are family-owned-and-operated, who grow their own grapes, make their wines using natural, traditional, and “organic” practices, and bottle their wines at their estates. Neal Rosenthal, one of the first American importers to adhere to such levels of quality (a true wine importing “pioneer”), states on his website “that wine is an agricultural product and that in its best and purest form wine must reflect a specific sense of place… [his objective] from the outset was to work as directly as possible with growers who were dedicated to producing limited quantities of the finest quality wines and who shared the RWM passion for “terroir”, that ephemeral “sense of place”.” Many of you are familiar with Rosenthal’s wines, and I’m sure understand why we are so fond of his portfolio.

The “New World” selections for the tasting include Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc of North Canterbury, New Zealand, Charles & Charles Rose of Columbia Valley, Washington, and The Pinot Project Pinot Noir of California (an ongoing project by Michael Skurnik Wines). Mt. Beautiful is brand-new to our selection and a delicious example of a “New World” Sauvignon Blanc. Unlike other typical NZ SB, this example is not overwhelming with grapefruit and “cat pee” (I hate that description, but it is so right-on sometimes), instead it offers pretty floral scents, integrated citrus, and mineral/stony undertones. I think you will agree that it is an excellent white. The Charles & Charles Rose of Syrah is juicy and bright, a bit richer than the Provence example, and bone dry. Many of you are familiar with Charles Smith; this project is made with Charles Bieler who has been making rosé in Provence, France with his family since 1992 and was one of the early champions of the category in the US. Bieler says “it took serious explanation to convince people that in fact not all pink wine was sweet. Now, every good restaurant and retailer loads up on at least a few for the warmer months. We’ve come a long way, baby.” Lastly, The Pinot Project is made by esteemed wine importer Michael Skurnik from premium Pinot Noir fruit sourced throughout California. He cannot reveal his sources, but undoubtedly, it is an outstanding wine for the value, and vintage after vintage, a dynamic wine of character.

Overall, we have a great line-up this week; Rosenthal’s French wines are elegant, pure, and terroir-driven, and the “New World” offerings are varietally correct and allow the fruit to shine. I hope you will join us for a fun and educational tasting!

We are so fortunate to be provide with a bounty of delicious goodies to serve at the tasting this week:

From Peter Schmidt, Food & Beverage Director at the Hotel Capstone, there will be a platter of cheeses and smoked meat (if you were at the tasting two weeks ago or saw the post on Facebook, you know what an amazing presentation Peter is capable of!). Peter is a master chef and has been with Hotel Capstone about a year. Hotel Capstone is an ideal venue for parties, receptions, or just about any social gathering! If you need a place to throw a party or simply need gourmet catered food, don’t hesitate to contact Peter Schmidt either by email ( or phone (343-1121).

From Margaret Ann and David Snow of Snow’s Bend Farm, we have been given some delicious freshly-harvested heirloom tomatoes to share with you! Snow’s Bend Farm is located in Coker, just outside of Tuscaloosa, and sits on a bend of the scenic Warrior River. They grow organic fruits and vegetables as well as raise pasture pork (it’s delicious!) and supply farmer’s markets and select restaurants in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. They also offer a weekly CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) during the harvest season; Spirits Wine Cellar is a pick-up point (click here for CSA information) among other locations in Tuscaloosa.

The specific wines for the tasting are:

Chateau La Rame Bordeaux Blanc 2010– Bordeaux, France. “The grapes for this cuvée come from a four hectare hillside parcel of clay and limestone soil with a full southern exposure that overlooks the Garonne River and is planted to Sauvignon Blanc. The vines have an average age of 20 years (as of 2011). After a manual harvest, the grapes are fermented in temperature-controlled vats and left on the fine lees for six months prior to bottling. The overwhelming majority of this cuvée is reserved for our use in the US market (18,000 to 24,000 bottles per annum).” Tasting $16.99


Mt. Beautiful Cheviot Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2010– North Canterbury, New Zealand. “Machine picked fruit was harvested cool to retain aroma and rushed straight to the press to minimise skin contact. The free- run and pressings were kept separate with both components cold settled for 48 hours to obtain bright, clear juice. The different vineyard blocks were fermented separately at cool temperatures to retain the maximum aroma, fruitiness and individuality. After fermentation, the wine was racked and kept on light lees for two months before being blended. This full bodied dry Sauvignon Blanc has dry grass, capsicum and currant leaf aromas. On the palate this wine has a clean fresh gooseberry and white currant flavour backed by crisp acidity and good length.” Tasting $17.99

Commanderie de Peyrassol Rose 2011– Provence, France. “For us, this wine is the classic representation of the pink-tinted wines of this region and is the workhorse wine of the estate. It carries a pale rose color, a lovely fruit blossom nose and finishes crisply dry with a stony touch that gives it class and elegance. The grape blend is usually Cinsault, Grenache and Syrah in varying percentages. The average age of the vines is 25 years or more. The Rosés of Peyrassol are made from the direct press method. The grapes undergo cold maceration before being pressed. This gives them their beautiful watermelon pink color. The fermentation takes place under controlled temperatures and is exceptionally long, resulting in rosés that are both lively, fresh and full-bodied. As production has increased at Peyrassol with the additional plantings, we too have increased our purchases. Our annual allotment is now between 40,000 to 50,000 bottles.” Tasting $18.99


Charles & Charles Rose of Syrah 2011– Columbia Valley, Washington. 100% Syrah. “Coming from the Columbia Valley in Washington State, the Charles and Charles Rose assails your nostrils with the smell of ultra fresh strawberries and raspberries. It goes down dry, crisp and dangerously easy. Bring a bottle to beach house, drink too much of this while sitting on your stoop, and sip on it all Saturday afternoon while laying lazily in the grass with your summer fling. It’s time to get serious about your summer drinking so stock up on one of the best roses of the year.” Tasting $11.99

Jean-Claude Thevenet Bourgogne Rouge “Bussieres Les Clos” 2010– Burgundy, France. “The pinot noir for this wine is found in the village of Bussieres and is sourced from the lieu-dit “Les Clos”.  The vines are south-facing at 350 feet above sea level on gently sloping hills that are principally composed of clay.  The fruit tends to ripen early due to its excellent exposure.  Pigeage [stomping of grapes] and remontage [the process of pulling out wine from underneath the cap of grape skins and then pumping it back over the cap in order to stimulate maceration] are practiced during fermentation.  This wine is marked by notes of black, ripe berries, often a touch “sauvage”.” Tasting $19.99


The Pinot Project Pinot Noir 2011– California. “Hand-crafted from the finest California Pinot Noir grapes. Pure Pinot aromas and flavors — black cherries kissed by oak and complimented by just the right amount of Asian spice. Extremely versatile with a host of your favorite dishes. Enjoy in moderation as soon as possible. This label will self-destruct in 5 seconds.” Tasting $15.99

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