A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Colombard - Bas-Armagnac, France

In the United States, there was a time where it would have been laughable to consider Colombard a fringe grape.  Until 1991, it was the most planted white grape in California (where it was known as French Colombard), accounting for over 70,000 acres of plantings at its peak.  It formed the base for many jug wines and was allegedly prized for its aromatic profile and its ability to retain acidity in very hot climates (like the Central Valley), but I suspect growers loved it mostly for its massive yields (over 12 tons per acre or over 200 hl/ha).  The Chardonnay revolution in California has displaced most Colombard plantings and what is left is nearly all used in jug wine production. The US also has some plantings in Texas and Alabama, of all places, and it is grown successfully in South Africa and Australia as well due to its ability to tolerate very hot conditions.

Colombard's home, though, is France.  Everyone's best guess seems to be that Colombard is the result of a crossing of Gouais Blanc and Chenin Blanc.  It is thought that it originated in the Charente region of France where it was vinified primarily in order to provide a base for Cognac. That role is being played mostly by Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano) these days, and plantings of Colombard in France have fallen as a result.  It is still permitted in Bordeaux and is planted in some of the less prestigious regions there where it is used primarily as a blending grape.  It is most widely grown in the Gascony region of Southwestern France where there are some varietal Colombard bottlings available.

Today's wine is from Bas-Armagnac in southwestern France (spanning the Landes and Gers départements in Gascony, for those with an intimate knowledge of French political geography), which is one of the three areas where grapes can be cultivated for Armagnac production.  I was able to pick up a bottle of the 2009 Claire de Montesquiou "Espérance" bottling for around $9 from my friends over at Bin Ends.  The wine was a pale lemon color in the glass.  Even with a heavy chill on it, the nose was generous with grapefruit, green apple, lime and some vegetal asparagus aromas and overall was pretty similar to a Sauvignon Blanc.  As the wine warmed up, it opened into more stone fruit and flower aromas, like a nice Viognier.  The palate showed the same kind of thing: more green apple and citrus when very cold with more round peach flavors as it warmed up a bit.  I personally preferred it with just a slight chill on it, but if you want it to taste a little leaner and sharper, throw it in the fridge overnight and keep it ice cold when serving.  There was a nice lingering minerality on the finish which was very refreshing. I imagine this with seafood or other light meat dishes, though it's charming and interesting enough where I wouldn't mind just drinking it on its own.  It's a great warm weather wine that I would love to crack open after mowing the lawn.  I was very surprised at the quality and relative complexity of this wine given its low price.  It seems to be very widely distributed so if you happen to run across it, do yourself a favor and give it a shot.

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