France’s Cru Levels

As I have discussed in the past, French wine labels can be rather puzzling since they indicate the region where the wine was produced rather than the grape varietal contained inside the bottle.  Also, the label will often contain such words as “Grand”, “Premier” or “Cru”.  Even though premier means first in French, you will often find grand appearing on the better quality wines.

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The simple translation for cru is growth.  However, in the world of French wine its reference is for the geographic terrain, specifically the soil type, climate and altitude where the grapes are grown.  It gets complicated by the fact that cru is not applied in the same manner throughout all the wine regions of France.  Further complicating things is that the term cru is also used in Germany and Italy where there are additional variations in the meaning.

In the Burgundy region of France, the classification of cru is rather simple.  Cru designates a vineyard as being of a certain level of quality.  The classifications originate back to the 12th century and the Cistercian and Benedictine monks in the Côte d’Or.  Every vineyard in Burgundy is classified in the hierarchy where Grand Cru is at the top followed by Premier Cru and then “village” wines, with the generic Bourgogne category at the bottom.

There are 33 Grand Crus with each having its own appellation.  Only Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are grown here, but most appellations only permit one or the other varietal to be grown; very few allow both. Premier Cru wines are less expensive and are often a better value, though their long-term aging potential is typically less.

Chablis has one Grand Cru appellation that includes seven vineyards. These vineyards overlook the town of Chablis and benefit from a southwest exposure that helps ripen the grapes.

The Bordeaux region applies the term cru in a much different manner. Grand Cru Classé classification system forms the basis of the rating system and it’s tied to a specific chateau or estate, rather than adjacent vineyards. It was created in 1855 and is comprised of only left bank chateaus in Médoc, Graves and Sauternes, ranked from first to fifth growths, based on their value at that time. The first growths are called Premiers Crus, while second through fifth growth crus are called Crus Classes.

On the right bank Pomerol isn’t classified but Saint-Émilion is.  St.-Émilion has three chateau-based quality classifications. At the top is Premier Grands Crus Classés, of which there are 18, followed by Grands Crus Classés which contains 64 chateaus. The appellation’s third category is not tied to a specific ‘classed’ chateau or geographical subzone. Wines labeled “St.-Émilion Grand Cru” merely have more stringent production rules.

The Alsace region uses the term Grand Cru in similar fashion as the Burgundy region. Fifty-one vineyards have been designated superior, or Grand Cru, and wine from those vineyards can use the term on their label. There is a great deal of diversity in Alsace’s Grand Cru wines.  There are four grapes approved for use, as well as a wide variation in soils.

The Beaujolais region is where Gamay grapes are grown. Here cru is applied to villages rather than vineyards. There are 10 villages and the wine produced from these villages is called Cru Beaujolais.

The Champagne region also classifies entire villages as Grand Cru or Premier Cru. The Champenois created a system referred to as échelle des crus, or “ladder of the growths” in the early 20th century to fix grape prices for both farmers and buyers at Champagne houses.

At each harvest a price is set and growers with land in one of Champagne’s grand cru village receives 100% of that price. Grapes from the premier cru villages earns from 90% to 99% of the set price, while the rest receive from 80% to 89%.

There you have it; a little more of the puzzle of French wine resolved.

Sláinte mhaith

An Introduction to Scotch Whisky

Scotch whisky is produced in over 130 distilleries and comes in a wide variety of flavours, types and price points.  It can be overwhelming to be surrounded by similar-looking bottles, only to find that they are very different from each other, particularly in how they taste.  The flavour will be dependent on a variety of factors such as whether the scotch is peated or non-peated; the type of barrel used during the distilling process, whether that be a plain oak cask, sherry cask, bourbon cask, etc.; or whether the Scotch is a malt, blend or single grain.

I have congregated my list of suggestions and recommendations based on my own research acquired from visiting a number of Islay, Highland and Speyside distilleries, as well as from trying a variety of assorted whiskies.

I recommend starting with a less expensive malt or blend but at the same time not the cheapest one on the liquor store shelf.  Keep in mind that you get what you pay for.  Also, I suggest starting with a non-peated Scotch, as the flavour will be less intense and less smoky.

Not all varieties are available all the time.  Some whiskies, especially those from smaller distilleries or special batches, are only available outside of Scotland in limited quantities a few times each year. Therefore, to avoid disappointment when starting off, it may be best to try those whiskies that are more consistently available.

Based on all these criteria, here are my suggestions of whiskies to try when first exploring the world of Scotch:

  1. The Glenlivet 14 Year Old Single Malt ($80 CDN)
  2. Bruichladdich (pronounced “Brook law dee”) The Classic Laddie Scottish Barley ($86 CDN)
  3. Glenmorangie Original Highland Single Malt ($73 CDN)
  4. The Glenlivet 12 Year Old Single Malt ($70 CDN)
  5. Tomatin 12 Year Old Single Malt ($70 CDN)
  6. Glenfiddich (pronounced Glen fiddick) 12 Year Old Single Malt ($70 CDN)
  7. Chivas Regal 12 Year Old blend ($83 CDN)
  8. Johnny Walker Black Label blend ($70 CDN)

As with wine, to enjoy the optimum tasting experience, the whisky should be served in the correct glass.  If drinking your whisky neat or with a splash of water, a tulip-shaped whisky glass is ideal. If you elect to enjoy your whisky with ice, then a rocks glass is optimal.

Have fun exploring the whiskies of Scotland!

Sláinte mhaith

Shining Those Wine Glasses

Streaks and water spots can make your stemware look dirty even when it’s not. It can be frustrating and difficult to get wine glasses clean and worse, if not done properly, odors can penetrate the crystal and interfere with the aroma and flavour of your wine.

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According to many experts it is perfectly safe to put your crystal stemware in the dishwasher.  They claim that the reason people fear doing it is because traditionally crystal often had a gold rim or other decorations that made it unsafe for machine washing and that reputation has stuck.  However, it is still important to remain cognizant of the length of any stems on your glasses.  Many a glass has been “de-stemmed” by either the machine’s rotating spray mechanism or the top of the dishwasher when the tray has been slid back in.

If you do elect to use the dishwasher it is suggested that you wash the stemware on its own to minimize the risk that a dish or utensil may shift during the wash and crack a glass.  Also use the air-dry setting as heat drying can dull glasses over time due to miniscule detergent particles that will be contained in the steam.

Those who oppose cleaning crystal stemware in the dishwasher claim dishwashers can cause hard water stains to appear on the glass.  They also say that some detergents can etch the surface of the glass.  Lastly, there is a possibility that vibration of the dishwasher can cause a piece to shatter.

If you wash your glasses by hand the experts recommend you hold each glass by the bowl, not by the stem, which is the most fragile part of the glass and may easily break.  Using hot water, swirl the water over the whole glass and use only a minuscule amount of dishwashing liquid on the outside, including the rim.  Then rinse inside and out with hot water to remove any soap. 

Once done, dry the glasses immediately in order to avoid water spots.  For best results it is recommended that you use microfibre towels, one in each hand.  This will void any spots, lint or finger marks being left on the glass.  Use two towels; hold onto the glass’s base with one towel-covered hand and the bottom of the glass’s bowl with the other. Then turn gently in one direction and rub lightly on any water spots.

No matter which method you choose for washing your glassware, immediately following use be sure to rinse the glassware in hot water to remove any leftover wine or sediment.

My own experience has been that wine glasses can get broken using either method.  My only word of caution is I would avoid putting any family heirlooms in the dishwasher.  Most of today’s crystal manufacturers will indicate whether their product is dishwasher safe.

Sláinte mhaith