The (online) French (connection) Collection
Amazingly, it's bright and really sunny here in Solihull right now! Snowdrops, daffodils and crocuses are all starting to flower. It could almost be spring time. Isn't there a place, far, far away, that's famous for this particular time of year? Yes, you could be crossing the channel to France, to Paris, immersing yourself in French culture; wining and dining in the best Michelin-starred restaurants (Chateau Palmer, 2009, anyone?), or finding a cosy, tucked away bistro with an eclectic wine list that only the locals frequent, or even having a picnic by the River Seine with a bottle of 'Gold Medal' 2017 Bastide 'Les Figues' Cotes du Rhone that you picked up in the quaint wine shop over the road from your hotel, stopping along the way at the boulangerie for baguettes, jambon and fromage (that's a cheese and ham sandwich to us Brits!) and just letting the sights and sounds wash over you while you contemplate going back for another bottle... because that last bite of cheese also needs a drop of red wine to really hit the spot.
On most weekend city breaks, or noticeably if you're taking a full week's holiday, the local wines, consumed in situ, really do seem to taste better than at home. But what if you can't chose to jump on a plane (or train) for that last minute, bargain, foreign visit? What do you do if you have to stay in the UK? Simple! Come to Connolly's and put together a selection from around 300 delicious wines in the “French Collection” that'll perfectly enhance your enjoyment of the next French-inspired meal you carefully prepare in your kitchen at home. Now, where's that old, well used cookery book? Too 'last century' to use a real book, but you still need a recipe idea? Whip out the smart phone and click on the latest 'app' and watch your favourite 'foodie' video on YouTube performed by the 'hippest' chef using all the up-to-the-minute, 'on trend' culinary ingredients and techniques. What did you do before the internet? Maybe, you can't be bothered to even cook at all? There's always Deliveroo to the rescue! Have phone, have instant food and (Connolly's) wines at your fingertips.
As you'll be reading this blog online, you might be mistaken in the idea that shops aren't worth visiting? Nothing could be further from the truth! Wine is all about a 'hands-on' experience. The look of the label, the feel of the bottle, extracting the cork (even twisting off the screwcap), all contribute to the appeal of wine. It's also a combination of the senses; sight, smell and taste, when you drink some, but you need to chose it first. You're allowed to ask questions in a shop, to actually speak to someone who also loves wine as much as you. You can ask for advice, for alternative suggestions, you can often have tastings... you can't do that on a website! A 'virtual reality' tasting? That would be something to achieve. Could it ever be better than the real thing? So, having made it into one of our shops, cornered the friendly assistant, you can then spend as long as you like discussing the merits of having the Loire, 'Petit Bourgeois' Sauvignon Blanc with a Chavignol goat's cheese salad (my ideal!), or whether the langoustines in lemon and pepper butter works best with Bois Joly's Muscadet Sur Lie, or with the new, 2018 vintage of the Languedoc, La Serre Picpoul de Pinet. I know, an almost impossible decision to make, but we're here to help you at Connolly's. The perfect choice, of course, is to have both wines, so that you don't run out during the meal and, if you are persuaded of the advantages of purchasing 3 or 6 bottles, you'll get an extra special price between March and May on a huge range of French wines.
By the way, if you need a true-life “French Connection” experience (a la Marseille), try the local bouillabaisse with some award winning La Suffrene Bandol rosé. Just watch out for le poisson d'avril if you're there on 1st April. It's a fishy tradition.
We don't mind if you decide to shop online with us, or make a personal visit to browse in-store, but the most important and 'life-changing' consideration is to buy your wine at Connolly's!
Make the connection with the “French Collection” this spring. Paris is good, too...
The French Collection
Our favourite half dozen... how can you just pick six from the whole of France?
One of the most renowned wines in the world!
It's how you always imagined a “fairytale” French chateau should look. Palmer has it all.
Technically, only a “Third Growth” or, in French, a “Troisieme Grand Cru Classé”, from the original Bordeaux classification of 1855 but, reputation wise, some of the most acclaimed bottles from the great vintages have rivalled the quality of the “First Growths” (such as neighbouring Chateau Margaux, itself), but the pricing, even though expensive, is considerably less. Great value!
Unusually, for a wine from the Médoc, Palmer has a higher than normal proportion of Merlot in its make-up. Most wines originating from the “Left Bank” are dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon but, don't be alarmed, the 2009 Palmer is a blend (!) of three varieties: 52% Merlot, 41% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Petit Verdot. This is a “very tremendous thing”. A blend is not at all bad, in fact, you get greater complexity of flavours. Over a considerable period of time the grapes used in Bordeaux have been seen to be the most suited to the area and haven't just been planted because the chateau has to have a “red” in its portfolio. Admittedly, you don't get much experimentation in styles in such a classic region, but what you do get (at this level) is generally brilliant wine!
This vintage of Palmer is incredibly concentrated in colour, opulent in texture and, unless you're still a teenager, will probably out live you.
Flavours and aromas include: Black fruits (black cherry/cassis/blackberry jam), pencil lead, cedar wood, liquorice spice, floral notes, chocolate, espresso, caramel and truffles.
Keep it simple and pair a bottle of Palmer with a roast leg of lamb alongside creamy potatoes.
The domaine, originally founded in 1989 by Bernard Boyer has, since 2008, been run by his son, Vincent, who is now the winemaker. The vineyards are located in the commune of Visan, north-east of both Gigondas and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Stylistically, the wines at Bastide use a similar selection of grape varieties to those more famous villages. Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Carignan for the reds and rosé. Viognier, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc for the whites.
All of Vincent's wines represent some of the best value in the Rhone, regularly winning “Gold” medals in France, vintage after vintage, and the 2017 “Les Figues” is no exception!
Syrah is the dominant grape used in this wine (not FIGS!), contributing rich, black fruit flavours and a soft-textured palate. The remaining varieties are 20% each of Grenache and Carignan. The vines at Bastide are all of an age that produce low-yieldng crops, giving concentrated, but elegant structure to the wines.
Avignon is known for its large and diverse range of local sausages and cured meats. There are hundreds! Try the “Les Figues” with a plate of charcuterie or saucisson.
Technically, the 2017 vintage of “Petit Bourgeois” is labelled as a “Vin de France”, so the fruit could come from almost anywhere! In reality, it's sourced from vineyards that are just outside the Sancerre appellation and, as a consequence, the wine is less than half the price of most of the company's Sancerre/Pouilly-Fumé from the more prestigious sites.
Bourgeois' large, modern, five level, 'gravity fed' winery is based in the town of Chavignol (famous for it's Crottin de Chavignol goat's cheese), which is only a stone's throw from the hill-top town of Sancerre itself. Speaking of “stones”, this area is all about flint (silex) and limestone. It imparts that classic smoke/gunflint character to the Sauvignon fruit from this area that is much admired by consumers of Loire wines. Incidentally, Bourgeois also have southern hemisphere connections as they have established the organic “Clos Henri” estate in the Marlborough region of New Zealand... and everyone loves NZ Sauvignon!
All the top offerings from Domaine Henri Bourgeois have been highly rated by many critics around the world and, if you want to try these wines, you certainly won't be disappointed with the quality, although quantities in recent vintages have been small due to some terrible weather conditions.
Connolly's keep a range of their best whites along with some Pinot Noir based rosé and reds, but the “Petit Bourgeois” is our choice for everyday Sauvignon Blanc tippling.
I know, it's not 'politically correct' to have wine everyday, so, maybe every other day?
The 2016 vintage even received a Gold Medal at the Concours Mondial du Sauvignon Blanc, citing:
“A very aromatic white wine with an astonishing freshness.” Tasty.
As for a food pairing, you really can't beat having a fresh, green salad with the local goat's cheese, but substituting a nice, crumbly Cheshire, or even some Greek Feta would still be amazing with a bottle of “PB”.
Wine with cheese? Shouldn't that be a red? Not always!
Muscadet... a throwback to the 1970's?
At the time it was the nation's most popular 'dry white' wine and much of it was incredibly boring and tasteless, but very cheap! Changes in consumer taste, poor quality and new rivals from 'varietal' wines from the 'New World' led to it going out of fashion. It almost disappeared from wine merchants' shelves in the UK. But some producers just kept going because they wanted to produce the best possible wines in their region.
In the Pays Nantais, the commune of Le Pallet is located just south-east of the city of Nantes at the western end of the Loire river where it meets the Atlantic Ocean and Laurent & Nathalie Bouchard's Domaine du Bois Joly has been producing excellent Muscadet here for several generations.
The unique Melon de Bourgogne grape variety is the mainstay of their vineyards and the Bouchard's are very proud that sustainable farming is practised. Some of the vines are up to 60 year's old, producing small amounts of the best quality fruit for their top cuvées.
“Harmonie” is a traditional style of Muscadet that's been made for drinking young and crisp. After fermentation, ageing the wine 'Sur Lie' on its yeast lees until the following March gives extra freshness on the palate which makes it an ideal partner to local seafood: white fish, crustaceans and oysters. You'll find a wine whose nose is redolent of flowers, minerals, peaches, apples and nectarines. The ultra dry palate has a tangy, grapefruit flavour which makes it a mouthwatering aperitif wine.
Is it Picpoul made from piquepoul, or Piquepoul made from picpoul? It gets confusing after the first few glasses! Just to confirm: the grape is piquepoul and the wine is Picpoul de Pinet. Got it now?
In France, the grape is almost unique to the area situated behind the huge, inland lagoon of Etang de Thau (near Sété), although a tiny amount can be found in both Spain and Portugal. Have grape, will travel, can be applied to Picpoul, as it's now been planted on the other side of the world in Australia. Coriole (McLaren Vale) and Charles Melton (Barossa) are two of the best known growers who each have a very small production that, unfortunately for us, does not make it into the UK.
A true wine of the Mediterranean, Picpoul de Pinet is particularly known for its fresh acidity that makes it a really thirst quenching style suitable for summer drinking and is a firm favourite for all seafood and fish dishes. The local oysters are particularly good, or you could have langoustines in a lemon and pepper butter sauce, or a richer, seafood risotto.
La Serre Picpoul has citrus aromas of grapefruit and lemon with a floral note. A surprisingly full bodied and unctuous palate with intense minerality, melon and peach flavours.
Located on the 'right hand side' of the Mediterranean coast of France, Provence is the area of France that's almost too perfect! Super-yachts, full of the rich and famous, fill up the harbours in Nice, St Tropez and Cannes, whilst seafront cafés and restaurants are packed with customers enjoying their meals (with the odd bottle of wine) in the glorious sunshine. Provence is most definitely rosé country. Whether it's made from Mourvedre, Cinsault or Grenache, there are styles and prices to suit everyone. There are film-star (Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie) and rock-star (Jon Bon Jovi) produced wines and wines that have that special combination of flavour/image/reputation that people can't get enough of and will seemingly pay anything to get (Esclan's cult “Whispering Angel” and their £100 a bottle “Garrus”). Then there's the small producer example such as La Suffrene. If you're visiting the area the domaine is situated just to the south of the Paul Ricard GP circuit and close to my favourite red Bandol producer, Chateau Vannieres (No, we don't keep it!).
Cedric Gravier's La Suffrene property produces a delicious, dry, salmon pink coloured rosé which has a blend of 40% Mourvèdre, 30% Cinsault, 20% Grenache and 10% Carignan grape varieties.
Low yields give good concentration of flavour with rose petal, cherry and peach notes and a long, mineral/stony finish. The new 2017 vintage is a recent “Best In Show” Platinum award winner!
A great match with garlicky bouillabaisse, stuffed Mediterranean vegetables, or with local sardines.