A couple of months back, upon returning from his latest trip to France, Daniel came into the office with a particularly fiendish grin on his face. What had him so excited?

“Smell this,” he said, pulling a small circular package out of a bag.


Just kidding; we love strong cheeses!

It was a camembert, that beloved soft-ripened cheese from Normandy, with its unmistakable aromas reminiscent of ammonia and sweaty gym socks. But this camembert was special — it was made from raw, unpasteurized milk, which meant that the smell coming off this one was particularly pungent.

All of us at Daniel Johnnes Wines are suckers for ripe, stinky cheeses, and we couldn’t wait to taste it (nor did we want to contaminate the inside of our refrigerator for the next thousand years) so we decided to get some good bread and open the camembert at the end of the day, along with some bottles to see what wine would pair best with such strong flavors and aromas.

By three o’clock, the office had gotten very stinky from the cheese that had slowly been softening to the right consistency to eat. An upturned spit bucket was doing little to block the waves of camembert odor streaming from the little wheel.

This does not work.

This does not work.

There were even people from neighboring offices walking by our door and peeking their heads in to see what was causing the smell that had by then permeated the hallway.

Able to wait no longer, we grabbed several bottles from the office Eurocave and finally took the camembert out of its wrapper.

We were eager to taste a variety of wines with the cheese and opened:

  • Champagne Paillard “Cuvée Daniel” Brut Grand Cru
  • Domaine FL Savennières “Chamboureau” 2008
  • Domaine Alain Gras Saint Romain Blanc 2010
  • Domaine Sérol Côte Roannaise “Les Originelles” 2012
  • Hospices de Beaune Volnay-Santenots 1er Cru 2010
  • Château Saint-Dominique Puisseguin Saint-Emilion 2010
  • Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba 2008
Ready to taste

Ready to taste

We slathered the raw-milk camembert on a nice miche from Le Pain Quotidien and devoured a good half of the wheel, alternating with tastes of the various wines.

The winners?

The Paillard “Cuvée Daniel” Champagne made a wonderful pairing — its powerful acidity and high toned, bright fruit were very effective in cutting the fat and pungency of the cheese.

The Sérol “Les Originelles” was also great with the camembert. This wine is 100% Gamay from the Côte Roannaise region that is actually just west of Beaujolais and shares the same granite-laced soil as that more well-known appellation. Domaine Sérol has been championing the terroir of the Côte Roannaise for generations and supplies the house wine to the Troisgros family of chefs, whose restaurant Maison Troisgros in Roanne recently celebrated its 45th consecutive year of three Michelin stars.

An incredibly fresh and vibrant example of Gamay, “Les Originelles” managed to stand up to the cheese in large part to its exuberant and bountiful fruit.

The Domaine FL Savennières “Chamboureau” gets an honorable mention. While the wine (a 2008) was a little too mature and rich to mesh as well with the cheese like the previous two wines, its vibrant acidity still allowed it to hold its own (none of Domaine FL’s wines go through malolactic fermentation, converting the sharper malic acid to the softer lactic acid).

In conclusion:

While the other bottles we opened are all great wines in their own right, none of them stood much of a chance in the face of the camembert’s odoriferous onslaught and their own complexities were lost on the palate. Older, more complex wines in particular will find themselves completely overwhelmed by strong flavors. The lesson we learned is that with such a powerful cheese, a perfect pairing can be made with a wine that has enough freshness and bright acidity to counterbalance strong flavors and aromas. Our favorite way to enjoy the raw-milk camembert was with wines that refreshed our palates, allowing us to savor the complexities innate to the cheese.

What wines or beverage pairings would you suggest with strong cheeses? Let us know in the comments section.

DJ with cheese

Daniel really enjoyed the camembert!


Pierre and Brigitte Van Den Boom

While perusing the French trade magazine Rouge et Blanc, Daniel was intrigued by an article on the new Loire appellation Saumur Puy Notre Dame and one of the properties mentioned was Domaine de l’Enchantoir. Tasting the samples that winemakers Pierre and Brigitte Van Den Boom kindly sent a few months later, we knew that this small domaine’s wines are the real deal — fresh and vibrant Chenin and Cabernet Franc that speak to the region’s terroir.

Pascaline Lepeltier, the Wine Director at New York restaurant Rouge Tomate who is well-known for her passion for Loire wines, explained her take on the difference between Saumur-Champigny and Saumur Puy Notre Dame:

I would say that Saumur Puy Notre Dame is more structured and tannic than Champigny — Champigny’s soil lies almost entirely on Turonian Tuffeau stone [a marine sedimentary rock dating from the late Cretaceous epoch] with Eolian sands, whereas Saumur Puy Notre Dame has more clay and limestone. Also, the winegrowers association in Saumur Puy Notre Dame wants to make denser wines with higher minimum alcohol, more vineyard density, requiring élévage of the wines, etc…

ImageUntil the 1960s, this region was planted in Chenin Blanc for sparkling white wine and in Cabernet d’Anjou, destined to be made into the sweet sparkling rosé that was in fashion at the time. It wasn’t until 1962 (at the end of the Algerian War) when the charismatic winemaker Henri Aupy moved from Algeria to Saumur and saw the potential for profound reds that the production of still red wine in the area saw a renaissance. He began petitioning the INAO to make Saumur Puy-Notre Dame its own appellation in the late sixties.

Recognized as an official French red wine AOC on October 12, 2009, Saumur Puy-Notre Dame is 20 km south of Saumur and can be produced in 17 communes. The vineyards within the new appellation are at an elevation of between 50-150m and the soil is largely ancient limestone. AOC laws stipulate that to qualify as Saumur Puy-Notre-Dame, a minimum of 85% Cabernet Franc must be used; the rest can be Cabernet Sauvignon. At harvest, the grapes must exhibit a potential for a minimum of 12% alcohol. Chaptalisation is not allowed.

ImageDomaine de l’Enchantoir’s Saumur Puy Notre Dame “Le Pied à l’Etrier” is a delicious example of this new appellation with bright, fresh red fruit and a savory twist that is unmistakable old-world Cabernet Franc. (While the appellation allows the blending of up to 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, the Van Den Booms’ Saumur PND is 100% Cab Franc because they own no Sauvignon vines.)

I could drink this wine by the bucketful!

The cuvée name translates to “foot in the stirrup” and both celebrates the Van Den Booms’ excitement with their new lives as winemakers and honors their past as horse breeders.

The Van Den Booms also make a Saumur Blanc that is equally delicious — textbook juicy, exuberant Chenin.

Read on after the break for a short interview with the Van Den Booms —

Read the rest of this entry »

Domaine Saint Préfert

Domaine Saint Préfert

On a scorchingly hot day in early July one’s first sight of Domaine Saint Préfert in Châteauneuf du Pape can seem somewhat like a mirage. The cream colored building with the mirrored “DOMAINE SAINT PREFERT” lettering rises out of the surrounding vineyards with blurred edges, the 35 degree heat (95 Fahrenheit) nearly visible.

The dry heat nearly knocks me off my feet as I get out of the car, but luckily the winery is as cool as can be. I am greeted with the traditional 3-bises (3 cheek kisses) by Isabel Ferrando, who seems happy to see me but a bit pre-occupied. She tells me that she was in the vineyards this morning with her engineer – and although the newly formed grapes are in perfect health, they fear that they may have lost up to 40% of their harvest due to coulure (shattered/un-pollinated flowers). The grenache seems to have been hit the worst, although the vines of Colombis were spared. She thinks this may have been caused by extreme temperature differences between day and night during flowering. She worries about another small harvest in 2013 (2012 is also down by 40/50%).

Although the quantities are down she mentions the outstanding quality of the 2012s, she says they are fresh, lively and have a northerly influence. “I know Daniel will like them”, she says, “as he loves the wines of the Northern Rhone!” The quantities were so low that she was not able to produce a Charles Giraud cuvée in 2012, she remarks, however, that the Auguste Favier cuvée benefited greatly and is absolutely delicious. These wines will be bottled between January and March 2014.

We get to talking about what is happening at the Domaine – 2013 marks Isabel’s 10th anniversary at Domaine Saint Préfert. She reminisces on how quickly the time has passed and how much she has accomplished. In ten years she has doubled her vineyard holdings in Châteauneuf du Pape (which stand at 24 hectares today) and added a Côtes du Rhône to her production made from an enclosed parcel of 4 hectares of vines right at the limit of the Châteauneuf du Pape appellation to the south. The Côtes du Rhône Clos Beatus Ille is actually why I’m here – I’ve bought a few cases for personal consumption every year since she began production (2011)!

Isabel Ferrando in the Clos Beatus Ille

Isabel Ferrando in the Clos Beatus Ille

We talk about her current team – lead by 23-year-old Alexandre – her right-hand man – whom she believes in fervently. He runs things in the vineyards and works alongside her in the cellar. Alexandre is busy at the moment setting up a watering system for the new vines that have just been replanted around the Domaine. They have outfitted a tractor that waters each vine individually as the tractor goes by. With the 35 degree heat, Isabel is anxious to get this going, fearful that the young vines may not survive the summer.  The rest of Alexandre’s team is in the vineyards green harvesting and pulling leaves. There has been lots of rain this year and the vines, leaves and grass are growing quickly!

We get around to talking about her newest acquisition of 2 hectares of vines – 1h on the plateau above the village (adjacent to a parcel of Colombis) and 1 near the Domaine in the Quartier des Serres. She and her team began working in these parcels just two weeks ago and she is anxious to get them cleaned up and begin their conversion to organic agriculture. She also informs me that the Domaine is set to receive their official organic aggregation this year (although the recently acquired Côtes du Rhône vines and 2 new hectares of Châteauneuf du Pape will have to wait 4 years to be accepted). The aggregation will probably not be mentioned on her label, she tells me her efforts are for the safety of her team and out of respect for her vines and the environment.

Old grenache vines of Colombis on the plateau above Chateauneuf du Pape

Old grenache vines of Colombis on the plateau above Chateauneuf du Pape

In 2009, she decided to begin the conversion to organic agriculture and made the decision to become less interventionist in the cellar, striving to make wines that are fresher, leaner and true to their terroir. She is thrilled with the result.

Finally, we get around to discussing her latest project – Isabel de France. A small négociant operation that she is managing with two good oenologist friends with the intent to use her expertise to make and sell wines that are more affordable than the wines of the Domaine. Isabel de France-page-001They are sourcing juice from some of the best sites in the Southern Rhône, following the vinifications step by step and bottling only once Isabel has given her stamp of approval. As her most important client, Isabel chose to give Isabel de France exclusively to Daniel Johnnes and Michael Skurnik Wines.

2013 is shaping up to be an exciting year for Isabel and I look forward to a return visit to taste the 2012s in a few months!

Amanda Goldberg
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