The terminology used in wine selection and tasting is overwhelming, especially when categorisation is based on foreign geography and innumerable grape varieties. French wines are particularly alienating unless drinkers are confident with their knowledge of the regions of France. An understanding of the language is essentially a perquisite to decipher labels- it can be difficult to differentiate the name of a vineyard, style, region or classification without it. When conducting research into what exactly some of the terms used describe, it’s like opening Pandora’s Box; the answer is never succinct and it introduces only further terminology to grapple with.
It’s therefore difficult to compartmentalise our wine education into manageable bitesize nuggets. And if we can’t broach the subject at our own pace, it becomes tedious and detracts from the delight of drinking it. My Vitibox’s subscription service promotes this philosophy by delivering two bottles of meticulously selected wine by their in-house expert, Alain Gousse, which are pertinent to a defined theme. Alain is an acclaimed sommelier with serious pedigree, currently working at the Pavillon de la Rotonde in Lyon and formerly at La Tour D’Argent in Paris. The result is straightforward: subscribers receive two excellent examples of wine and brief education that can be put to immediate use.
July 2016’s Vitibox focuses on the classification of wine- the editor’s note in the information booklet mentions a Cru Bourgeois- but what exactly does ‘cru’ tell us about the wine? The delineation the word is meaningless to me when it comes to choosing a wine- I associate it with more exclusive and costly bottles. Interestingly enough, after digesting the feature, I see how the term can lead to intense confusion and scrutiny- some classifications are limited to specific regions, disregarding others for no other reason than their geography, and the official classification of 1855 hasn’t been modernised since, well, 1855! So a Premier Grand Cru is based on the conditions of the vines from over 160 years ago.
Before I even sampled the two bottles that arrived on my doorstep, I was already examining their labels for clues about the quality and the contents. They were securely packaged in a shockproof cardboard box, coddled by straw and snugly slotted into place inside.
My Vitibox July 2016 Unboxed:
- 1 bottle of Roussanne (La Bastide Saint Dominique, 2015)
- 1 bottle of Malbec (Vignobles Violine du Roy, 2006)
- 1 information booklet
Hailing from the Rhone Valley, this white wine is made from roussanne grapes and is a style that I was unfamiliar with. The bottle decanted a light greenish hue, shimmering in the glass and releasing some nice sweet yellow fruit notes. It slipped down easily with a nice intensity of fruit on the palate- the flavours were powerful but finished on a semi-dry note. This is an easily drinkable wine, perhaps slightly sweet for my personal taste to drink alone, but it would pair excellently with a meal.
Alain recommends that the Roussanne is enjoyed with trout with almonds- perhaps an unusual dish, but there are discernible lingering almond flavours in the body of the wine. Vanilla eclairs are also suggested, and I can see how the light acidity of the wine would work will with a dessert with such a rich filling. I think the liveliness of this wine would pair well with some more savoury dishes too- a tart or quiche, for instance. However, it’s still a very pleasant wine to enjoy by the glass and a good introduction to this region, which is known for its Cru wines.
Switching gears, the Malbec is a red wine from 2006- already, I presumed that this will be an explosively complex example, given the time it’s been aged. It poured deep, rich red and left tears hugging the rim of the glass, which suggested a very tannic wine. The aromas were intense, mostly vegetal and earthy. I was honestly not convinced that this would appeal to me at all, especially given the lack of any fruity notes on the nose- I expected a mouth coating, pungent taste. However, I was impressed with how fluidity the body swilled around the palate- it was lively and not claggy. The flavours lacked any sweetness and the lingering aftertaste was very strong- this is a bold wine in many contexts, but not in body.
Unsurprisingly, the dishes suggested for pairing are as bold and rich as the wine, including blood sausage, camembert and blackberry clafoutis- the robustness of the flavours would naturally pair well with other pungent flavours, but I think I would savour the match with a strong cheese the most. If you have a penchant for heavy, mature cheeses, then this might be very suited as an accompaniment.
Of the two bottles, I’m confident that the latter Malbec would make a great addition to my expanding personal wine cellar for the winter cheese boards and high cocoa content indulgences that I succumb to around Christmas. While both are interesting and quaffable, neither of them stood out as a wine I would drink by the glass alone- one was slightly too fruity and the other too earthy for my palate, but perhaps they will grow on me on their own merits. Part of the journey is developing and refining our taste, after all.
My Vitibox is ideal for a wine aficionado- or merely a wine drinker- looking to improve their understanding of selecting and tasting different styles and regions. The information booklet is light reading and can be pursued while sitting down with a glass- it also challenges subscribers to try to match the wines with food, providing an apt recipe and several suggestions for each bottle. Subscriptions are available to purchase as a gift, a one-off (£22 a month), or a three (£22 per month), six (£21 per month) or 12 month (£20 per month) for the Colours & Flavours box. There is also a Red Passion box that comes with either one or two bottles, starting from £24 (one bottle) and £36 (two) with similar subscription options. Prices exclude shipping, which is £4 per bottle (or £5 for two).
This month was another enjoyable foray into two wines that I would unlikely have come across on my own- I delight in feeling that I’m branching out, however, and I’m confident in leaving the vetting process to the team at My Vitibox and their expert sommelier. I’ve already progressed in leaps and bounds- I haven’t fallen back on my old friend, Pinot Grigio, in months in favour of more ambitious choices thanks to my ongoing tuition.