Monthly Archives: January 2015

Saint Emilion Chronicles #7, Part I: A Visit to Chateau Figeac

FRANCE, Saint Emilion
 – Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

For those of you who remember our Saint Emilion series, this is its next installment: after our post on Chateau de Ferrand, today we will talk about another Chateau that we visited – Chateau Figeac.

On a previous post, I have provided a general overview of the Saint Emilion wine region and its wine classification system: if necessary, take a look at it for a refresher.

History

Chateau Figeac’s origins date back to the II century AD, when it comprised a Gallo-Roman villa and a large estate which were owned by the Figeacus family after whom it has been named.

By the XV century, Figeac became one of five noble houses in Saint Emilion and there is evidence that in the XVI century (when Chateau Figeac was rebuilt in a Renaissance architectural style) grapevines were grown and wine was made at the estate. Documents dating back to the XVIII century confirm that Figeac wines were already being shipped overseas.

However, it was not until the late XIX century/early XX century that Chateau Figeac primarily became a wine estate and marketed its wine under the “Chateau Figeac” label. The turning point was the acquisition of the estate in 1892 by the Manoncourt family, who hired a preeminent agricultural engineer by the name of Albert Macquin, who brought a scientific approach to the vineyard and winemaking process and equipped the cellars with oak vats.

In 1955, Chateau Figeac was ranked as a “Premier Grand Cru Classé B” in the 1955 Saint Emilion classification (for more information about the 1955 classification, see our previous post about Saint Emilion and its wine appellations). It was also around that time that, in Merlot-dominated Saint Emilion, Chateau Figeac settled for a wine with quite a unique Bordeaux blend of grapes (approximately, 30% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Franc and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon) which became known as “Figeac style”.

For more information about the grape varieties making up Figeac’s blend, please check out our Grape Variety Archive

FRANCE, Saint Emilion
 – The stunning tasting room at Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

The Estate and Its Terroir

With almost 100 acres (40 hectares) where over 240,000 vines are grown, Chateau Figeac is the largest property in Saint-Emilion. It is located to the west of Saint-Emilion, bordering Pomerol.

Its soils are mostly composed of sand and gravel, with some relatively deep clay layer. Gravel in particular is the typical feature of Figeac’s topsoil, which favors the retention of heat creating a favorable environment for the ripening of the grapes.

As previously mentioned, three main grape varieties are grown in nearly equal proportions at Chateau Figeac’s estate which form the blend for its wine: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon, which is something fairly unique in the Bordeaux area.

Lately, massal selection has been implemented at Chateau Figeac, resulting in the selection of the best of the estate’s oldest vines (some of which are almost 100 years old) for grafting newly planted vines so as to preserve the distinctive features of the Figeac vineyards.

FRANCE, Saint Emilion 
- The vineyards at Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

Winemaking Process

The winemaking process at Chateau Figeac combines traditional methods with modern techniques: during the visit of the winery, I have had the pleasure to speak with an extremely competent employee of the Chateau with whom I had an opportunity to discuss many aspects of their production process.

This is a summary of the main steps in Chateau Figeac’s winemaking process:

FRANCE, Saint Emilion 
- The barrique cellar at Chateau Figeac

1. Harvesting. Given the three varieties that are grown at the estate and make up Chateau Figeac’s blend, unsurprisingly the harvesting of the grapes is staggered based on the desired ripening point of each variety.

2. Destemming and Sorting. The harvested grapes of each variety are separately destemmed and sorted using an optical scanner capable of sorting 5 tons of grapes per hour! For more information about destemmers and optical grape sorting machines, go back to our post about Chateau de Ferrand which has an image and a video about such prodigious piece of equipment.

3. Crushing and Treatments. The sorted grapes are then crushed and pumped into small-sized fermentation vats along with their juice, skins and seeds, and sulfur dioxide (AKA SO2) is applied to the must. This enological treatment is essentially an antiseptic, an antioxidant and it facilitates the dissolution of the pigments (AKA anthocyanins) from the skins of the berries. For more information about sulphur dioxide, refer to our previous post on sulfites and wine.

4. Cold Maceration. The must then undergoes a cold maceration phase (i.e., a short, low-temperature, pre-fermentation maceration) of about three days in order to maximize the extraction of the primary aromas that reside in the skins of the grapes and therefore enhance the wine’s bouquet.

FRANCE, Saint Emilion 
- Oak Fermenters at Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

5. Fermentation and Maceration. Chateau Figeac utilizes both ten open-topped oak vats and twelve stainless steel vats to ferment its wine. Here the must ferments for about one week at controlled temperature using the grapes’ natural yeast (i.e., without adding selected yeasts) and macerates for about three weeks with regular pump-overs and rackings.

6. Malolactic Fermentation. The wine then undergoes full malolactic fermentation that is started by means of the addition of lactic acid bacteria to the wine.

7. Pressing. After the malolactic fermentation, the free run wine (the one that flows freely out of the fermentation vat) is transferred to the aging barrels, while the cap gets pressed and the resulting press wine is reblended with the free run wine.

FRANCE, Saint Emilion
 – Automated basket grape press at Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

8. Aging. The Grand Vin then ages for 15 to 18 months in 100% new French oak, medium-charred barrique casks, while the Second Vin is aged 80% in second-fill French oak barriques and 20% in new French oak barriques.

9. Fining and Bottling. After appropriate aging, the wine is fined for clarity, stability and reduced astringency by using egg whites and finally bottled, capsuled and labeled.

FRANCE, Saint Emilion -
 Capsuling and labeling machine at Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

Chateau Figeac has an average annual production of about 100,000 bottles of the Grand Vin (“Chateau Figeac“) and 40,000 bottles of the Second Vin (“Petit Figeac“).

This is it for today: I hope you enjoyed this virtual visit to Chateau Figeac. The next post will focus on a wine tasting of a bottle of Chateau Figeac’s Grand Vin, vintage… 1988! Stay tuned! 🙂

Tasting Notes from the Benvenuto Brunello 2015, NYC Event

Consorzio Brunello di MontalcinoLast week I had the opportunity to attend the Benvenuto Brunello USA 2015 event which was organized and sponsored by the Brunello di Montalcino Wine Consortium at the gorgeous location of Gotham Hall in New York City in order to unveil to the press and trade the 2010 vintage of Brunello di Montalcino wines made by 44 selected producers.

I definitely enjoyed attending the event and the related seminar about Montalcino and its exceptional 2010 vintage, despite a few problems marring the seminar – namely:

  1. The organizers failing to give preferential seating to those who had pre-registered (what is the point of pre-registering then?)
  2. The seminar starting 30 minutes late because of technical difficulties setting up the slideshow (setting it up ahead of time, perhaps?…)
  3. The seminar taking place on an open space overlooking the hall where the main walk around tasting was underway, which resulted in considerable background noise making it difficult for seminar attendees to listen to the speakers.

A Few Words About Brunello di Montalcino DOCG

Benvenuto Brunello 2015 at Gotham Hall, NYC

Brunello di Montalcino is a very well-known, quality red wine made in Italy’s Tuscany region based on strict rules set forth in the regulations of the homonymous DOCG appellation. Brunello di Montalcino was established as a DOC appellation in 1966 and was upgraded to DOCG status in 1980.

Pursuant to the DOCG regulations, Brunello di Montalcino wines must be made from 100% Sangiovese grapes grown in the area of the town of Montalcino (in the Siena district) and must have a minimum aging of 24 months in oak barrels (72 months for Riserva wines) and 4 additional months of in bottle aging (6 months for Riserva wines). Nowadays, there are about 5,000 acres of Brunello di Montalcino vineyards.

For more information about Sangiovese, please check out our Grape Variety Archive

My Tasting Notes from the Seminar and the Walk Around Tasting

Without further ado, let’s move on to my tasting notes of my personal top ten Brunello’s among those that I tasted at the event (here is an explanation of our Rating System) – note that, of course, all these wines are very young and would all improve if tasted after a few years of cellaring:

1. Uccelliera, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2010: in a nutshell, outstanding to spectacular – best in show to me. Garnet and viscous in the glass, with an intense and exciting bouquet of cherry, cigar box, potpourri, cocoa, licorice, ground coffee and hints of barnyard. When tasted, it displayed a powerful mouthfeel suggesting high ABV and nice smoothness, counterbalanced by a lively acidity and slightly astringent, muscular tannins. The mouth flavors were intense and refined, reminiscent of cherry, coffee and extra dark chocolate (think like an 85% cocoa). A wine that, despite its very young age, is already so coherent, balanced and elegant – one can only imagine how wonderful it may become after a few more years of judicious cellaring. Rating: Outstanding+ Outstanding

2. Le Macioche, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2010: outstanding wine, with a very interesting and intense bouquet of wild red berries, cherry, nettle, mint, soil and mineral hints (granite?) and a wonderfully smooth mouthfeel with already supple tannins and intense flavors of mint, black cherry and licorice. Rating: Outstanding Outstanding

3. Lisini, Brunello di Montalcino “Ugolaia” DOCG 2009: an outstanding single vineyard Brunello, with intense and pleasant aromas of tart cherry, leather, underbrush, moss, tobacco and barnyard notes, coupled with intense mouth flavors of cherry, licorice and chocolate and a long finish. Rating: Outstanding Outstanding

Benvenuto Brunello 2015 at Gotham Hall, NYC4. La Poderina, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2010: very good, with an intense and moderately complex bouquet of cherry, red currant, leather and chocolate, as well as intense mouth flavors of cherry, raspberry, vanilla and chocolate, complementing a smooth mouthfeel with well controlled tannins and a long finish. Very enjoyable and expressive. Rating: Very Good Very Good

5. Val di Suga, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2010: very good and bold, with intense and moderately complex aromas of cherry, red fruit candy, roses in bloom, black pepper and slight hints of enamel, along with a powerful mouthfeel and young, astringent tannins ending in a slightly bitter note, with intense flavors of cherry, licorice, coffee and quinine, and a long finish. Rating: Very Good Very Good

6. Lisini, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2010: very good, with intense aromas of cranberry, violet, underbrush, black pepper and barnyard notes, and a powerful mouthfeel underscoring a high ABV and noticeable yet well controlled tannins, complemented by intense flavors of cherry, coffee and rhubarb. Rating: Very Good Very Good 

7. Banfi, Brunello di Montalcino “Poggio alle Mura” DOCG 2010: a solid Brunello made from a clonal selection of Banfi’s Sangiovese grapes with intense and moderately complex aromas of cherry, strawberry, tobacco and barnyard notes, complementing a pleasing, smooth mouthfeel with supple tannins and intense flavors cherry, chocolate and dark coffee. Still very young. Rating: Good to Very Good Good to Very Good

8. Argiano, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2010: good to very good, with intense, moderately complex aromas slightly veered to the tertiaries, reminiscent of ground coffee, cocoa, cherry and tobacco, along with a smooth mouthfeel delivering intense flavors of cherry and licorice, and a long finish. Rating: Good to Very Good Good to Very Good

9. Il Marroneto, Brunello di Montalcino “Madonna delle Grazie” DOCG 2010: a good, solid Brunello, with moderately intense aromas of ripe cherry, licorice, wet soil and coffee, as well as intense a smooth mouth flavors of cherry, dark chocolate and juniper, and a long finish. Very good despite the bouquet lacking a bit in intensity – its great mouthfeel makes up for it. Rating: Good to Very Good Good to Very Good 

10. Barbi, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2010: good to very good, with intense and moderately complex aromas of cherry, cocoa, ground coffee, cigar box and camphor notes, and a smooth mouthfeel with supple tannins and intense flavors of cherry, dark chocolate, licorice, coffee and peppery notes. Good, still very young – needs time to become fully coherent. Rating: Good to Very Good Good to Very Good 

In wrapping things up with my account of the Benvenuto Brunello 2015 event, I want to add my tasting notes of an interesting sweet white wine that I got to taste at the Banfi stand:

Banfi, Moscadello di Montalcino Late Harvest “Florus” DOC 2012: this is a very interesting sweet white wine made in the Montalcino area from 100% Moscadello (or Moscato Bianco) grapes, that I had never tasted before. The one I tried was good to very good, with an intense and expressive bouquet of dried apricots, honey and orange blossoms, complemented by a sweet mouthfeel and just enough acidity and sapidity to counterbalance the sweetness. A very interesting tasting of a wine to be enjoyed young. Rating: Good to Very Good Good to Very Good

Have I been chopped? Speck, Pea Shoots and Marsala Meatballs

Speck and pea shoot meatballs

Don’t you get tired to always cook the same dishes? During the last years, I have mastered some recipes that have become my signature dishes. I always have the essential ingredients for them in my refrigerator and I can cook them with my eyes closed. And, of course, I always shoot for one of those dishes for a weeknight meal.

Unfortunately, Her Majesty does not always agree upon my… menu choices. She is starting going through that phase where changes are exciting and routines are boring and she always wants to experiment something new. So, to put an end to her complaints, I decided to change my basic meatball recipe and give it a twist.

The version that I cooked for Her Majesty did not have any Marsala. Nonetheless, her critique was quite brutal. She told me that the taste was not that great and that the meatballs were… kind of chewy! Seriously!!! Not the feedback that I was expecting!

Since I thought that this dish was quite delicious, I decided not to give up and to test the other “mouth” of the house. My beloved husband is never eager to pay me a compliment. He says that he does not sugarcoat his comments for my own sake so that I keep pushing myself striving to always get better at what I do. Lucky me!!! 😉

Anyway, instead of crucifying me like her Majesty, the oracle’s response was positive and flattering so I will keep making these meatballs for me and Stefano over and over. Who knows? Changing her mind is a girl’s prerogative. Maybe Her Majesty will learn to appreciate this recipe when she gets older. At least, that’s what happened to me with some of my family’s recipes.

Speck and pea shoot meatballs

Ingredients:

1 lb, Ground Meat of your choice
1 slice, Speck (¼ inch thick)
2 eggs
6 Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese
2 slices, White Bread
2 Tbsp, Milk
Some leaves of Pea Shoots, chopped
3 Tbsp, Flour
2 Tbsp, Extravirgin Olive Oil
1 and 1/2 Tbsp, butter
Juice, half lemon
2 Tbsp, Marsala wine
Salt
Ground black pepper

Directions:

Speck and pea shoot meatballsCut the speck into cubes and set aside.

In a bowl, pour the milk and soak the bread into the milk.

In a large mixing bowl, using your hands combine the ground beef, the eggs, the chopped pea shoots’ leaves, the speck cubes and the Parmesan cheese. With your hands, squeeze the bread and add it to the meat mixture. Add some salt and pepper (to taste) and combine with your hands. Shape the mixture into meatballs.

In a large non-stick skillet, pour the olive oil and add 1 Tbsp of butter. When the butter is completely melted, add the meatballs and cook them until they brown. Add the lemon juice and cook for a couple of minutes. Pour the Marsala wine and keep cooking until the Marsala evaporates. Remove from the stove and add 1/2 Tbsp of butter. Toss to coat until the butter is completely melted. Serve immediately.

Have a wonderful weekend!

F. Xx

PS: In case you are wondering what Pea Shoots are, they are the young leaves and tendrils of pea plants. I didn’t even know they existed before using them for this recipe. They are delicious and their scent is so delicate. The perfect addition to many, many dishes. 😋

Downoladable FsT Wine Tasting Chart!

StefanoExactly two years ago, I had published a post on this blog providing a general overview of the Italian Sommelier Association wine tasting protocol and the steps it entails.

Over time I have kept giving some thought about wine tasting and how the use of a common procedure and a common vocabulary may help making different people’s tasting experiences more comparable and convey information about a wine that readers can more precisely appreciate.

As a result, I have developed a one-sheet wine tasting chart that is based on a simplified and adapted version of the Italian Sommelier Association wine tasting protocol that I have been using in the wine reviews that have been published on this blog over the last two years.

After much work, consideration and fine tuning, I am quite happy with it and I am pleased to make it available as a free download through the link below to those wine enthusiasts out there who are prepared to take a more structured and disciplined approach in their tasting experiences, want to categorize their tasting notes in a standardized format or maybe just want to have fun with a few buddy wine aficionados in a blind tasting and then compare notes.

One caveat: the attached wine tasting sheet is loosely inspired by the wine tasting protocol of one of the several organizations out there which promote their own takes of wine tasting and its principles and criteria. As such, it is not intended to be the Holy Grail, the “ultimate oenophile bible” or “the one and only way to conduct a wine tasting”. Far from it. What it aims to be is a reasoned, structured way for non-professional wine tasters to keep track of their tasting experiences and organize and share their tasting notes in a standardized format.

A few words about the FsT Wine Tasting Chart:

  1. The tasting process is divided into four macro-phases: Sight, ScentTaste and Overall
  2. Each of such macro-phases is divided into a number of steps to guide you in your tasting and assessment of the wine
  3. Those steps are organized in a progressive numerical order which should be followed during the tasting process
  4. Most of the steps only require that you check the box of the most appropriate assessment/option for the wine that you are tasting
  5. Most of the assessments are structured in this way: you will find an adjective that describes a quality of the wine to its fullest extent (meaning, when such quality is distinctly perceivable – for instance, “intense” in the scent analysis), and then two more choices that describe such quality in a less discernible manner by using the qualifiers “moderately” and “scarcely” (following the same example, a wine whose aromas are not very intense would be “moderately intense” and one with weak aromas would be “scarcely intense”)
  6. Color, Viscosity, Alcohol, Quality and Life Cycle are the only steps with four choices instead of the usual three
  7. The only open-ended, descriptive parts of the chart are those referring to the descriptors of the aromatic and taste profiles of the wine, where the taster should describe the aromas and the flavors that he or she identifies in that wine
  8. For an explanation of the meaning of the various steps, please refer to my post on the ISA wine tasting protocol

So, if you like the goal of this project and you have not had professional wine tasting training, feel free to

 Download the FsT Wine Tasting Chart

and then give it a shot the next time you taste a wine and see how you like it!

After you do, please make sure to come back here and share your comments (good or bad!), suggestions or questions about the FsT Wine Tasting Chart through the comment box below.

The FsT Wine Tasting Chart is a free download for all, but please (i) refrain from using it for commercial purposes without asking for our prior consent and (ii) if you want to share it via social media or your own website or blog, feel free to do so but give proper credit to the author (Stefano Crosio, Flora’s Table, LLC) and the source by linking to this post.

Have fun and enjoy some good wine in the process! 🙂