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Solune Winery
Our mission: Distinctive wines with intensity, complexity, balance and varietal clarity.
Our mission: Distinctive wines with intensity, complexity, balance and varietal clarity.
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EASTER WEEKEND @ SOLUNE:
Open on Saturday(12-5). Drop by and taste a preview of our new 2013 Barbera Rosé (picture below), even better than last year's Gold Medal Winner !
Closed on Sunday
Happy Easter everybody !
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Vinalies 2014 - Northern Rhône - 2: Guigal

I think I've seen the Guigal label in just about any wine store I've ever been in.  Not surprising since they produce about 8 million bottles per year and sell to 105 countries(see http://www.guigal.com/en/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guigal).  
Despite their enormous production, they are also renowned for creating some of the best wines in their region, a sometimes conflicting business trajectory.  
For this visit, we were privileged to have Philippe Guigal (the grand-son of founder Etienne Guigal) and current head winemaker, as a most congenial and inspiring guide.  
He took us through the historical arc of his family winery and explained the vision/genius of his grand-father Etienne.  Quite a remarkable story !
We then toured the various sections of the winery where, despite the large scale of operations, quality is always the prime objective.
The bottling line was worth "the admission price" all on its own (3 people, 7 robots, operating 24/7 - see the videos).
Of course, the crowning jewel at the end of the visit was Philippe taking us through the tasting of some superb Guigal creations (a few top-notch Syrahs and Viogniers, as well as a "Hermitage Blanc", which is a blend of 95% Marsanne and 5% Roussanne).  One of the Syrahs was actually a blend of 85% Syrah and 15% Viognier, added to enhance the aroma.
A very impressive visit ! (have a look at the photos/videos).
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Upcoming posts:  Chapoutier (the other area giant), La Cité du Chocolat (Valrhona), Syrah & Chocolate Pairing. 
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If you like these travel blogs, don't be shy about liking/+1 and sharing with others you think might be interested.
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Vinalies 2014 - Northern Rhône - 2
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Welcome to Solune's new Google+ page !
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This new home is more amenable for small businesses like ours to stay in touch with our followers (g+ word for likes/fans), as we explain at the bottom of this post.
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Just to have a look at our posts, you don't need a Google+ account. However, if you want to become a follower (i.e., have the posts show up in your  stream - equivalent of FB wall), you will need an account (just like for Facebook).  
If you already have a google account (a gmail account will work), just sign in (upper right) or, if not, you can join Google+ (center top - red buttom).  
Once signed in, you can become a follower of our page, by just hovering over the red "Follow" button (left) and selecting "Following".
For Google +, the equivalent of  the FB "Like", is +1 (also called "plussing"), which can be done for the Solune page (right of the red "Follow" button) or for each post (bottom of post).
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We hope you will transition to our new home and stay in touch, starting with the rest of Jacques' recent trip to the Northern Rhône region ! (see previous post)
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Why are we migrating from FB to Google+ ?
The Solune Facebook page has close to 400 "fans", yet whenever we post something, it makes it to the wall of only about 10-15% of these fans, chosen according to a FB selection engine (this only applies to business fan pages, not to personal FB pages). To reach all our 400 fans, FB requires us to "boost" ($) the post. This will mean that businesses, especially smaller ones like ours, will gradually limit their posts to promotional content posts and there will be less and less non-promotional post, like the Paris travel blog or harvest updates, etc. In other words, for business posts, FB will become more and more like an ad streaming machine for larger companies. As a result, many small business are migrating to other social media platforms (many to Google+) to be able to continue the non-promotional posts they prefer, to maintain a relationship with their fans.

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Vinalies 2014 - Northern Rhône - 1: Getting There and Déjeuner/Dégustation à L'Orangerie
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With the judging mission accomplished, we all hopped on the TGV (high speed train) early next morning, to get to the Northern Rhône region (2 hrs to cover the equivalent of about SF-LA !), starting with a lunch at l'Orangerie, a restaurant "campagnard" in Tain l'Hermitage (Northern Rhône's "chef-lieu" or main center & our operation base).  
We had chorizo for lunch and tasted a great collection of area wines (Syrah, Viognier, Marsanne & Roussanne - see label pictures) from small producers in neighboring AOC's (Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Saint Joseph, Condrieu, Côte-Rôtie).
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When I say tasted, I really mean it.  Being judges, we are conditioned to tasting small portions (~1/2 ounce).  I have to say that during my whole trip I have not seen anybody even slightly intoxicated (of course, not during the judging, because we spit, but even at meals or evening tastings - we are all very moderate drinkers).
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Of all of France's regions, the Rhône is probably the closest to California, in weather and in style.  Because of the reliably warm/hot weather, fully ripened fruit here is par, just like in California, producing a rich fruit palette (and the higher alcohol we have become accustomed to here too).
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We then headed to Guigal,  where Philippe Guigal (3rd generation - was founded in 1947) treated us to a great visit of their operations (next post).
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Vinalies 2014 - Northern Rhône - 1
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Vinalies 2014 - Day 5: French Sauvignon Blancs, Lots of Merlots & "Closing Ceremonies"
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Already the home stretch of what has been a very tasty week (seems like just yesterday we were tasting our first wines!).
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First series were French Sauvignon Blancs, about 1/3 white Bordaux (also contain some Semillon) and the rest from the Loire Valley (mostly Pouilly Fumé & Sancerre). Second time that well-known regions under-perform (other one was Champagne - see day 3), with only 4 silvers (the international SB series we had yesterday, on day 4, did much better).
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Second series were all Merlots, from 9 different countries: Brazil/3, Mexico/1, Uruguay/2(both gold), Armenia/1, Canada/3(2 gold), Portugal/1(gold), Japan/4, Bulgaria/1(gold), Portugal/1, USA/1(a sweet red?!). A lot smoother and less tannic, this was a "binary" series (either no medal, or gold - 6 of them). Now you know that Japan makes Merlots, and how about that sweet red from the US ?
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In the evening, we went to the medal ceremony at the Shangri-La hôtel (a new hotel located in the former home of Napoleon Bonaparte’s grand nephew, Prince Roland Bonaparte - see http://tinyurl.com/madj63j). Excellent meal (delicious pigeon as a main course - see attached picture for the rest of the menu) and an all star wine line-up (Puligny-Montrachet from Jacques Prieur, with winemaker Nadine Gublin sitting at the next table, and Guigal's Château d'Ampuis Côté-Rôtie Syrah - see pictures for rest of line-up).
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As for the major awards, the Languedoc region was a double winner this year (Best Rosé and Best red - the red to which our panel gave such a high score on day 3):
Best Whites (tie): Spain & Switzerland. 
Best Rosé: Languedoc (Pays d'Oc). 
Best Reds (tie): France Languedoc again) & Argentina. 
Best Sparkling: France (Champagne, what else !). 
Best Fortified: Spain. 
Best Dessert: Luxembourg.
Best Non-Grape: Canada (Apple Cider Cream, from a friend of mine). 
Best "Eau-de-Vie": Peru.
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Vinalies 2014 - Day 5
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Vinalies 2014 - Day 4: Sauvignon Babel & Douro
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I just realized that I had not talked about my tasting panel colleagues. So, here goes: There are 5 of us, 2 from France (1 from Languedoc & 1 from Champagne), 1 from China (now the country with the largest total wine consumption in the world, even if the per capita is very small) and 1 from Switzerland.
Interesting is that each of us are shaped by what is popular in each of our home region. For example, what is very oaky to some is not oaky enough for others. Same for acidity, sweetness, tannin, etc. Despite all of these differences, we were surprisingly tight as a panel, more often than not identifying the same wines as superior (or inferior). Of course, there were unavoidable disagreements from time to time, but we were able to discuss/understand these and come to a consensus.
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The first series were Sauvignon Blancs from a veritable Babel tower of origins: Greece, Spain, Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Switzerland & South Africa. Again, a very good flight, where 4 golds were awarded, 2 from Bulgaria (my 2 favorite ones - both very New Zealand in style, with asparagus notes), one from Spain and one from Switzerland, and 6 Silvers.
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At this point, I have to say that our panel has been pretty lucky with the quality of the series we were given to judge this year (in past years, series with no medals at all were not infrequent). For awhile, we thought we were being too generous, but no, we were just given high quality series deserving medals.
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The second series, were excellent reds from Portugal (Douro region), most of them blends involving Touriga, their flagship red, also a Port varietal (with port sales decreasing, Portugal has been diversifying their production to table wines, but using Port varietals). We gave 6 gold medals and 7 silvers, again an unusually high number, but they were all well deserved, with a few of them absolutely outstanding.
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No special activities were planned for the group today, a welcomed break, however interesting they might be. I took advantage of this to find a restaurant where I could indulge one of my favorite dish, "Rognons de Veau" (veal kidneys), enjoyed with a Malbec from the Cahors region, a real treat together.
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Vinalies 2014 - Day 4
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Vinalies 2014 - Day 3: Bubbles, Syrah and a bistro étoilé
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First series were sparking wines from the Champagne region. A bit disappointing, given the pedigree, even to the palate of one of our judges, who is from the Champagne region. This time I was tougher than the group (gave no gold medals and 3 silvers, while the group gave 2 golds and 2 silvers). May be it's because I'm not a huge Champagne fan to start with, especially the less expensive ones which I often find too bitter. However, for Champagne, you get what you pay for and the closer a bottle gets to $100, the more I start to like it (it gets smoother), so may be (just guessing here) this series was mostly lower priece range bottles.
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Second series were exceptional reds from the Languedoc and the Rhône region, so probably a lot of Syrahs. Languedoc (South of France) has been know up to a few years ago as a mostly bulk wine producing regions, but has started to produce some stunning wines. Actually, as a group, we gave a 93 to one wine form that region (I gave it a 91), our highest score all week. The group gave 2 more golds and 4 silvers (my count was 4 golds and 3 silvers). An excellent series. so pretty spoiled so far !
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Later in the evening we went to a restaurant within sight of the Arc de Triomphe, called Le Citrus Etoile (see http://www.citrusetoile.com/), where we had a combination of great wines (see pictures) and nouvelle cuisine (large plates, small but delicious portions - I needed to cut down on quantity anyway, so this was perfect). Two of our judges then each grabbed a guitar to turn the place into a bistro and then sang wine-related sing-along songs.
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A fun and relaxing evening !
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Vinalies 2014 - Day 3
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Vinalies 2014 - Day 2: Provence Rosés, Tannic Toreadors & Hunting Dogs & Horns
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In case some of you are wondering, the competition is taking place at the Marriott Rive Gauche (south of the Seine), located in the 14th arrondissement near Montparnasse (see http://tinyurl.com/3x9hkp), on rue St-Jacques (not named after me).
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First series were Rosés from Provence, most surprisingly pale, but bone dry and pretty "croquant" (crisp). Wines (and results) were not as impressive as for Day 1, but I still managed to rate 2 golds and 3 silvers, while as a group we gave 1 gold and 4 silvers. May be we needed to be in Provence under the hot sun to fully appreciate them.
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Second series are probably the wines matadors drink just before strutting into the arena to face charging bulls. They were all brooding tannic monster Tempranillos from the Ribera del Duero (the up and coming wine region in Spain, slowly overtaking Rioja). But what fruit concentration and complexity ! Again we had to forage through a lot of rough tannin to ferret out the smooth ones and we came out with 2 golds and 6 silvers (I rated 3 golds and 4 silvers), The 2 golds were absolutely stunning wines, prime examples that generous tannins can be as smooth as silk and mouth filling (aka, chewy) at the same time.
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We then all jumped into a bus to visit Château de Rambouillet, currently the Presidential Summer Residence, which include hunting grounds (pheasants and red deer). The château itself has great historical significance with many famous characters being associated with the place (Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette, Napoleon, Charles X, Charles de Gaulle, first G6 summit and many more). See here for more information:http://tinyurl.com/6p44ln7
We then went to see the presidential hunting dogs, all very friendly and trained for to flush out pheasants and corral red deer (the largest deer species), including how to counter-act typical deer evasion tricks. Even though it is a large pack, the trainers know each individual dog by name. Here is a video I took of these pretty amazing dogs: http://tinyurl.com/npp4uju
We were then taken to the Abbaye des Vaux de Cernay (see http://www.abbayedecernay.com/en), where we had dinner (tender and juicy Magret de Canard) and were entertained by a French Hunting Horn sextet. Great music, once you get used to how loud these are (they also sang beautifully). First musicians I've ever seen who have to turn their back on their audience (see videos below).
Dinner call (pretty loud, turn your volume down a bit): http://tinyurl.com/klx4ev2
Hunting Horn Serenade: http://tinyurl.com/lvlvlzd
They Can Sing Too: http://tinyurl.com/lrnwf7v
Glou Glou (drinking song): http://tinyurl.com/k4tb4uq
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Again, a pretty full day.
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Vinalies 2014 - Day 2
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Vinalies 2014 - Day 1: International Chardonnays, Muscle Cabs and Ballet
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First series were all Chardonnays in a variety of styles, from the fruit cocktail style to the dessert style, without forgetting the oaky style.
Not surprising since these wines came 4 different countries (Czech Republic/9, Roumania/2, USA/2 & Slovakia/4). Results were also all over the place, from the sublime to the, shall we say, "challenged". I personally "awarded" 3 Silver medals and 6 Gold medals, probably the most I've ever given in any flight I can remember. Our panel gave 4 Golds & 5 Silvers (panels are typically less generous than individual judges, because a convergence of opinion is needed for each medal), with Slovakia getting 3 of the Golds and the Czech Republic getting the 4th one.
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Second series were a flight of "vins musclés", all Cabernet Sauvignons from Portugal and Israel, all with massive tannins and inky deep color. Here the judging challenge was to be able to find the wines with "tannins généreux, mais fondus, enrobés et intégrés" (basically generous but smooth tannins without bitterness and astringency). These were hidden among the other wines whith pretty rough and aggressive (actually, bordering on mouth abuse) tannins playing havoc with your tasting buds. In the end, I gave 4 Golds and 4 Silvers and the group 2 Golds (both from Israel) and 4 Silvers (2 Portugal and 2 Israel), again a pretty good total, given that sometimes you get series where no medals are given at all.
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If that was not excitement enough for the day, in the evening the group was taken to the Gala des Etoiles, a pas-de-deux collection ballet concert featuring premier dancers from ballet companies from all over Europe (Paris, London, Bolshoï, Vienna, Stuttgart, Hamburg, Madrid), a virtuoso display of dance artistry (see http://tinyurl.com/oyn3ta2 for the program). Although I enjoyed the classical ballet pieces for the sheer execution skill displayed by those top dancers, they alternated with more contemporary pieces (each dancer performed one classical piece and one contemporary piece), which I found more creative and edgy (see following 2 video links for extracts from 2 of these numbers: http://tinyurl.com/ostqxuj & http://vimeo.com/87757562).
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Over all, a pretty eventful first day I would say.
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Vinalies 2014 - Day 1
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Vinalies 2014 - Day 0: Getting ready
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Just flew into Paris, followed by a bit of down time, then on to the judge's meeting, followed by a meet&greet dinner, to renew with old acquaintances and make new ones.
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First a few numbers: This is the 20th edition of this competition and a total of 3503 wines from 42 countries will be judged individually (i.e., one-by-one, no flights) by 145 judges from 37 countries. 48% of the wines are from France with the rest (35%) coming mostly from Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Chili, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Italy (in that order) and the remaining 17% coming from 33 other countries.
So, an incredibly enriching and unique exposure to wines (judging) & wine cultures (judges) from all over the world !
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At the meeting, we first had a recap of the tasting guidelines (including going over the latest version of the "Manuel du Dégustateur" which, as they said, we can review overnight, before the judging starts the next day). 
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We then tasted a few calibrating wines, followed by open comments/discussion (arguments ? - a national sport here, besides pétanque, which is really just a pretext for more arguments, actually !) on each wine by judges to exercise the scoring guidelines (they encourage us to not just sit in the middle but to use the extremes of the scoring ranges for wines we adore/despise - they like to use dramatic words).
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One of these wines turned out be a white varietal most of us had never heard of, called Terret Bourret (literally, "stuffed with soil", a very "terroir"-rich name). Most of us rated it a silver, but a few went as far as gold (but a few also gave it no medal). In these competition, only Silver & Gold medals are awarded, so just the "crème de la crème" get recognized, with no "consolation" prizes .
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After our first day of tasting on Saturday, to reward us for our hard "labor", we will be treated to an evening of ballet at the "Gala des Etoiles" (see http://www.franceconcert.fr/category/portfolio/le-gala-des-etoiles-2eme-edition/).
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We were also told of the top-shelf wineries we will be visiting in the Rhône region after the tastings are finished next week. I thought it would be hard to top last year (see link below for last year's Vinalies blog) in Bordeaux (Château Margaux, Château d'Yquem and Château Pape-Clement), but this year looks just as promising (Tain l'Hermitage, Guigal (Château d'Ampuis) & Maison Chapoutier).
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Better get to bed to make up for my 9-hour jet lag, but only after reviewing the "Manuel du Dégustateur", of course.
A+ (means "à plust tard", French equivalent to l8r or "later")

Jacques
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P.S. Last year's Paris blog starts here: 
https://www.facebook.com/410148490012/photos/a.10150093669015013.393332.410148490012/10152615313410013/?type=1&stream_ref=10
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