Tasting European Classics

Enthusiastic wine lovers recently crowded into the Boiler Room’s wine cellar in Omaha for a tasting of European classics. Hosted by Paul Kulik, Executive Chef of the Boiler Room and yours truly, we broke the ice with a rosé sparkling wine, “La Cueille”, from Patrick Bottex, a well-regarded winemaker in Savoie, France. A blend of two red grapes, Gamay and Poulsard, this medium-sweet, low alcohol bubbly remains the quintessential unique style of the region.  The wine is bottled with active yeast and sugar, left to ferment, and, unlike the traditional method of Champagne, is not disgorged.  Upon popping the cork and pouring it, inviting aromas of strawberries and cherry cream tickled our nostrils while a refreshing fruitiness claimed our palates.  Paired with this was Paul’s creative version of cod Brandade made with potatoes, cream, rosemary, garlic and truffle oil served with a spicy tomato coulis.

We had a change of plans with our next wine but were pleasantly surprised with Jean Thévenet’s 2006 Domaine Emilian Gillet.  Thought by some to be the birthplace of chardonnay, the Macon region in Burgundy contains the ancient jurassic limestone soil in which the chardonnay vine thrives so well. Thévenet, member of “Les Artisans Vignerons de Bourgogne du Sud” (Artisan winemakers of Southern Burgundy) is one of the few trailblazers in the region committed to organic farming methods and boasts vines that are 55 years old. This classic white Burgundy introduced itself with a lovely floral bouquet, grapefruit and peach aromas followed on the palate with a crisp natural acidity and delicious minerality which was a perfect match to the duck Gallantine (paté) made from locally raised ducks (Amish, but of course…) served on toasty house-made crackers (when was the last time you had that?) and garnished with watermelon radish.

At this point I knew things were going well because not one crumb was left of the hors d’ouevres and guests were eagerly holding out their glasses, each hoping to get lucky and get the last 2 ounces left in the bottle.

This was a cue to quickly move on to the first red of the evening, the classic from Rioja, Spain, Muga’s 2006 Unfiltered Reserva.  Bodegas Muga goes back all the way to the 17th century and prides itself on carrying on traditional winemaking methods and adheres to strict ageing requirements.  “Reserva” on a Spanish wine label means that, by law, the wine must have been aged at least three years with minimum of one year in barrel. Made with 70% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha, and 10% Mazuelo/Graciano, a veritable Spanish cuvée. True to its winemaking traditions this medium-bodied ruby colored wine tempts us with its dark cherry, toasty aromas not to mention a little vanilla and cigar box.  Nowhere could we find a better pairing than dry-aged chorizo (the pork which, you guessed it, comes from a local farmer made by Chef Paul himself) topped with butter-poached shrimp.

Finally, a tasting of J.L. Chave’s 2007 Offerus from Saint-Joseph in the Northern Rhone.  With father Gérard, the Chaves produce high quality reds and whites from syrah, marsanne and roussane.  Father and son not only farmed organically but believe in letting nature taking its course as much as possible including minimal intervention in the cellar.  The Offerus vineyard include the communities of Mauve, Tournon and St. Jean de Muzols in Southern  St. Joseph.  Not only were we lucky to taste a wine from an excellent vintage but the expression of this wine’s character left us wanting more.  Dark ruby with aromas of black currant, black cherry olives and a wonderful undertone of that smokiness and meatiness so typical of this style of wine.  As the wine opened perfumed violets and dark chocolate carried us to a long and lingering finish.  Though the wines of St. Joseph tend to be a bit more rustic than those in the more refined region up the way in Hermitage, the Offerus did not disappoint and was a perfect pairing with the beef tongue served on crostini.

I end this social gathering with a quote from Robert Louis Stevenson, “Wine is bottled poetry.”  So true.



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