June 2010 “Grand Cru Selections” Wine Notes

Increasing connectivity.  The richness of online media.  And your positive feedback.  All tell me it’s time for an electronic archive of my wine club notes.

Members who used to receive dead tree versions of my notes can now access them whenever you need answers to questions such as:

Q: “What’s the deal with that wine you featured in our club months ago?  We hid it under our bed and forgot about it.  Now we need to know what it cost, what to serve it with, and how to get more of it!”

A: Easy.  From my homepage (www.DaveTheWineMerchant.com), click the “Blog” link and select the category “wine”.  Then use the search box (look!  I’ts hanging out up there in the top left corner right now!) to find the wine you’re after.   Just type the vintage and the producer and you should find what you’re after (ex. “2006 Arcadian”).

Q: “I keep a notebook with all your notes and recipes from each shipment, but I can’t find the ones that go with (this wine). Before I pull the cork, what should I pair with it?  Is there an easy recipe for it?”

A: Another easy one!  From my homepage, click the “Recipe” link and use the search box to find my recommended pairing.

Q: I just found these great _(insert seasonal ingredient here!) at the farmer’s market!  What can I make with them and what wine should I pair with it?

A: Same as above – go to my recipe blog and use the search box to type in your ingredient, or the season, or just about anything you can think of.  Go ahead – give it a try!

Do you like this new format?  Hate it??  Please weigh in with your comments, below!



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Summary of “Grand Cru” Selections

for June, 2010

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  1. Tournesol, 2004 Napa Valley Estate Bordeaux Blend.  $45 (member price starts at $40.50) Buy it/Rate it Here
  2. Chateau de la Font du Loup, 2004 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Puy Rolland $49 (member price starts at $44.10)  Buy it/Rate it Here
  3. 2006 Rene Lequin-Colin, Chassagne-Montrachet, 1er Cru Cailleret $46 (member price starts at $41.40)  Buy it/Rate it Here

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1 0f 3) Tournesol, 2004 Napa Valley Estate Bordeaux Blend

$45 (member price starts at $40.50) Buy it/Rate it Here

In French, Tournasol is the name for this winery’s iconic logo – the Sunflower.  The literal translation is “To the Sun“, after the flower’s ability to face the sun throughout the day as it moves across the sky.

2004 marked the debut of this winery.  Subsequent vintages of Tournesol’s Bordeaux Blend are selling at $60, despite the most depressed market Napa has seen in a long time.  So when they approached me with a special price on their debut vintage – at 300 cases, on that was too small for their sales channel – I jumped at the chance to introduce it to you at this lower price.  This is a well-made wine that will appeal to new-world wine lovers.

Tasting Notes – Ruby red, with leading aromas one can follow reliably down the path towards Bordeaux Blends from Napa.  Black fruits, a hint of flinty steel, black olives, dried herbs and warm, smoky leather and sweet oak spice.  A most interesting flutter of milk chocolate on the finish.

Fruit from the estate vineyard was fermented separately, by varietal.  Barrels from a wide number of forests and coopers were used, where some of the varietals lived for as long as 20 months – one sip tells you the winemaker (Ken Bernards, of Ancien fame) spared no expense on the oak regimen. Each barrel was kept as a separate lot, then blending trials began in late 2006. Over the course of that first year, the staff at Tournesol developed this wine, defining the style that has become their signature wine.
  • Grape Source: 100% Tournesol Estate Vineyards
  • Appellation: Napa Valley, in the eastern foothills south of Atlas Peak
  • Winemaking: Certified Organic Winery
  • Production: <300 cases

Tournesol, 2004 Napa Valley Estate Bordeaux Blend

$45 (member price starts at $40.50) Buy it/Rate it Here

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2 of 3) Chateau de la Font du Loup, 2004 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Puy Rolland

$49 (member price starts at $44.10) Buy it/Rate it Here

A unique wine from Chateauneuf-du-Pape –100% Grenache!
The Wine
Grenache has always taken the leading role in the 13-grape blend that defines these “Kings of the Rhone”. But this is the first C-d-P I’ve tasted where the wine was 100% Grenache. And I like it! But then, what’s not to like when the grapes come from “Le Puy Rolland” – a vineyard planted 90 years ago!?

Look for the noted “flavors of the pebbles” (photo, left) which marks wines from this region. The Chateau’s vineyards also have some alluvial soil mixed with their stones, though both are glacial vestiges.  

Made from vines that are 80-100 years old, the grapes for this wine are grown on a single parcel of land. Richly structured black fruits, lively game and earth notes, and deep, dark and smoky fruit on the long finish – reminds me of berry pies baked in a dutch oven over a camp fire.

This estate is now in its fourth generation of descendants of Great Grandpa Jean-Roch Melia, who founded it in the first half of the 1900’s.  The current caretakers – Anne Charlotte Melia and her husband Laurent are working to elevate the label to the top tier of C-d-P wines.  The name of the estate – La Font du Loup, or “the fountain of the wolves” – comes from a natural spring on the property which has sated the thirst of Mount Ventoux wolves ever since memory began.

Map of Southern RhoneThe Region

The term “Chateauneuf-du-Pape” roughly translates as “The Pope’s new Castle“, a term referring to a 70-year period of history when the Papal residency was moved to Avignon. The Popes who sat on French soil were big wine lovers, but at first their wine came from Burgundy, as the Rhone wines of Avignon were far inferior.

They did, however, do much to promote better varietal selection and vineyard/wine-making practices.  During the installment ceremony of the second Avignon pope (John the 22nd) records indicate that wines of the Northern Rhone were served at the Pope’s palace.  To gain such a prestigious and noteworthy imbiber was sufficient for the proud locals to coin the phrase “Vin du Pape” (wine of the Pope), the basis from which the current name evolved.

For wine lovers and history buffs, a visit to the Rhone valley lives with you the rest of your life.  From the antiquities of Roman Ruins – the Pont du Gard perhaps the most famous – to Van Gough’s final years, Nostradamus’ birth place, and even the sights and smells of the lavender fields, this is a place that warms its way into your soul and refuses to leave.

Chateau de la Font du Loup, 2004 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Puy Rolland

$49 (member price starts at $44.10) Buy it/Rate it Here

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3 of 3) Rene Lequin-Colin, 2006 Chassagne-Montrachet, 1er Cru Cailleret

$46 (member price starts at $41.40) Buy it/Rate it Here

The Lequin family’s roots intertwine with Burgundy’s vines all the way back to 1679.  When René Lequin married Josette Colin – from another well-established wine making family, they created Lequin-Colin to craft wine from their 22.5 acres of vineyards scattered across some of Burgundy’s best-known areas – Santenay, Chassagne-Montrachet, Pommard, and Nuits Saint Georges.

The Lequin-Colin winemaking tradition has now passed on to the second generation, as son François has joined the winemaking team (in center of photo, left).

Unlike Chablis’ old tradition of eschewing oak on its Chardonnay, the white wines from the rest of Burgundy are not quite as naked.  But these wines are still rather scantily clad relative to their new world counterparts, with just 25% – 30% of the barrels being new each year – a winemaking decision that allows the fruit to dominate this wine’s experience.  The grapes are crushed and pumped directly into barrels, where they ferment slowly at cool temperatures.

The barrels are stirred weekly (a process called batonage) throughout the winter.  The first racking occurs in the Spring, with some of the spent yeast cells remaining with the wine until the second racking at the end of July, in preparation for bottling at the end of August.  The bottles wine then rests for six months prior to release.

Rene Lequin-Colin, 2006 Chassagne-Montrachet, 1er Cru Cailleret

$46 (member price starts at $41.40) Buy it/Rate it Here

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Cabernet Sauvignon & Grilled (Grass-Fed) Ribeye Steak

In June, 2009, this recipe was paired with the Sojourn Cellars ’05 Sonoma Valley Cabernet sent to members of our Grand Cru Selections sampling program.

SOJ Cab Sauv 05B 1-14-08 AgainAs I wrote the tasting notes for the 2005 Sojourn Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon ($48) I began craving grilled steak.  I could practically smell the hot grill and hear the sizzle.  And got hungry!

We’ve recently started buying grass-fed beef, ever since my wife investigated the environmental and health impacts corn-fed cattle brought to large feed-lots.  I listened attentively as she taught me all about the downside of corn-fed beef, with the antibiotics they require in the over-crowded feedlots where they’re fattened up  just prior to their last moo.  It’s the sort of “Hey listen to this” reading that romantic married couples do for a few minutes before the lights go out and we retreat into our individual dream cycles.

After learning the dangers of commercial beef, I was looking forward to tasting  the healthier, more sustainable, and more expensive alternative.  I just want it to be at least as good as corn-fed beef, perhaps even tastier.  But my first few experiences with it were less than stellar.

You see, grass-fed beef is so much lower in fat that it must be cooked at a lower temperature and for shorter periods of time than regular beef.  We had been told this, but it proved difficult to overcome a lifetime of experience that had taught us exactly how long to leave a steak on the grill.   As a result, we over-cooked our first few efforts with grass-fed beef.  When grilling or pan-searing beef (high heat, short cooking time), it is best to use a New York strip or rib eye, as it comes from a more tender part of the cattle, and benefits from both bone and a layer of fat.  And fat, my friends, is  flavor!

The fat of grass-fed beef is more yellow than that of corn-fed beef, as grass provides a richer source of Vitamin A.  Its flavor will be more mineral-driven than the more iron (blood)-driven flavor of regular beef.

We also found considerable flavor differences among sources of grass-fed beef.  Terry, our butcher at the Real Foods Market,  carries a brand from Argentina that we didn’t find as tasty as the Prather Ranch brand we prefer.  So we invited him over for a taste-off – he brought his brand and we provided the Prather Ranch and all were grilled in an identical manner.  Every taster could tell the difference in flavor without hesitation, but as for which was preferred, there was no concensus.  So you may need to try different ranches before you find a favorite!

1 Grass-Fed Rib Eye Steak per person.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
A good grill.  Mesquite or other hardwood chips add a nice layer of flavor, but I prefer my steak unadorned with extra filigree.  It’s up to you!


Arrange your grill for high, indirect heat.  Grill your steak as you normally would, but muster every ounce of will power you can, and shorten the cooking time by a full minute per side.  Depending on the thickness of your steak, this might mean leaving it on the grill for only 2-3 minutes per side.

Serve with grilled corn on the cob and a side salad of fresh tomatoes with basil and balsamic and life won’t get much better.

Happy MerchantCheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Today’s Quote
“Red meat is not bad for you.  Now blue-green meat… that’s bad for you!”
~Tommy Smothers (American Comedian and Winemaker.  1937 – )

An Elegant Syrah & Tapas! Savory Lamb Meatballs

This recipe was originally paired with the Peay Vineyards 2006 Syrah “La Bruma” in the June, 2009 shipment to members of our Grand Cru Selections


The sauce used here is not the typical BBQ sauce often used in meatball recipes.  There is no vinegar to offset the sweetness of the peppers and tomatoes – instead, the counter-balance is provided by the lamb’s natural richness, and the onion/garlic/herb combo.  I think you’ll agree it works well with a softer, elegant Syrah – I partnered this dish with the cool Sonoma Coast syrah from Peay Vineyards, their 2006 “La Bruma” ($47).  See other syrah choices here.

Meatball Ingredients

1 1/2 Lbs. ground lamb 1 Cloves minced garlic
1/2 Cup breadcrumbs 3 Tbsp chopped parsley
1 Egg, lightly beaten 1 tsp Coriander
1/2 Cup minced onion 1/4 tsp Kosher salt
1/3 Cup diced red pepper

Meatball Procedure
Preheat oven to 400°F.  Combine all ingredients in a large bowl – minimal handling assures better texture in the finished meatball, so mix gently and stop as soon as ingredients are combined.

Using a small (1 Tbsp) scoop or a soup spoon, form about 48 small, roughly-shaped  meatballs, placing each in a baking pan (with sides).  It’s best if they don’t touch.  Bake for 12 minutes, remove and turn off oven.

Sauce Ingredients

1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil ¼ tsp fresh ground black pepper
½ Cup diced onion 28 Oz. can of diced tomatoes
1 Clove minced garlic 3 Tbsp minced parsley
½ Cup dry red wine

Sauce Procedure
While meatballs bake, heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add onion and stir until lightly golden, ~5 minutes.  Stir in the garlic, wine, and black pepper. Simmer over medium-low heat until the wine reduces by half.

Add the tomatoes and simmer on low for 12- 15 minutes more.  Add the meatballs and heat through, then add the parsley just before serving.  A handful of short bamboo skewers turn this potentially messy dish into an easy stand-up meal.

Dave the Wine Merchant