Sampling Wines of France

Sampling Wines of France

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After so many overcrowded indoor wine venues, it was a pleasure to attend this event at Meridian House in Washington, D.C., which was arranged by Laurent Guinand of GiraMonde Wine Associates. There was not a wine scorecard in sight, and the presence of the interim French Ambassador, a Bordelais named Francois Rivasseau, who greeted the company, gave a gracious beginning to the evening.

      There were cheeses and French crackers and grapes with carafes of water to refresh the palate, and after the tasting, a nice buffet. The arrangements included not only a folder where notes on the tasting could be kept, but also ballpoint pens for the writing. It was a pleasant introduction to good wines, and for many a painless learning experience at the same time. There was a power point presentation, which yielded to questions and answers about the wines and vintages.

      I’ll list the wines served and approximate retail prices, and some tasting notes.

      We began with nonvintage Nicolas Feuillate champagne from Epernay ($29.99), a blend made as customary from pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay grapes. I found it satisfying rather than refreshing, as it was medium to full-bodied. Although  said to be brut or rather dry, I found it more on the extra dry or sweetish side. If so, that comports to the evolving American taste for sweeter champagnes. It was a good champagne, not outstanding.

      The 2005 Domaine de Chevilly AOC Quincy, a wine from the Loire Valley near Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume ($13.99), 100% sauvignon blanc, was a pleasant surprise and would be a good buy for your summer luncheons. It had more body than expected, and was not grassy, as this varietal often can be. It had a nice touch of grapefruit in its aroma and taste. A clear success.

      The 2005 Trimbach Riesling Reserve AOC Alsace was further proof of the excellence of the 2005 vintage, even beyond Bordeaux and Burgundy, but I think overpriced at $25.99. Dr. Guinand told us that French Rieslings, although full wines, tend to be drier than their German counterparts. I suspect that is true, for German Rieslings are even graded and appreciated according to degrees of sweetness. It has even been noted that recent vintages in Germany have been far better than usual due to the heat wave which has made the grapes there riper than usual, with a higher sugar content. See your wine retailer for further details on recent German Rieslings. Dr. Guinand also reminded us that Alsace may be the only French region whose wines are sold as varietals. I liked this wine, if not its price. It had far better structure than the failed 2003 vintage, so will stand up well to some aging. There was a hint of green apple in the taste, and in a few years, it may be just the beverage to accompany your Thanksgiving turkey.

      A 2006 Domaine de la Begude AOC Bandol rose ($18.99) was next. This wine, curiously enough, has four of the grapes that can be the basis for Chateauneuf du Pape (40% Mourvedre, 20% Cinsault, 25% Grenache, 15% Carignan), with none of its complexity. It was a pleasant wine with few tannins, so drink it now. There is no point in keeping it on the shelf.

      The 2005 Domaine du Chateau de Chorey Vieilles Vignes AOC Bourgogne ($19.99), 100% pinot noir, was very promising indeed. If this is a basic AOC, just imagine what the classified wines from this vintage are going to be like!

      Next we tasted a 2005 Domaine Bouland AOC Morgon from Beaujolais ($19.99), 100% Gamay, as is the case with all Beaujolais wines. It is interesting that after the use of Gamay grapes was made illegal in Burgundy in the Middle Ages in order to promote the more substantial pinot noir varietal, the use of Gamay regrouped in Beaujolais to afford the world a pleasant and unpretentious wine. This one had a very nice raspberry aroma.

      The 2005 Domaine Montirius Le Cadet ($11.99), a biodynamic wine from the Vaucluse, was good and rather full-bodied, a promising wine. It is a blend of 50% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 20% Cinsault. It may annoy purists, but I would cut this wine with soda, add some sugar and lime juice, garnish with lime or lemon peel, and serve with lots of ice as a seasonal sangria punch! You never know until you try how smooth and delicious these punches can be.

      Dr. Guinand served last a 2000 Chateau Les Hauts de Pontet, AOC Pauillac from the Medoc region of Bordeaux ($33.99). This is the second wine of Chateau Pontet Canet, the Tesseron classified wine from the Medoc, and is a Bordeaux blend (62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot). It was rounded and pleasant, a good wine from a fine vintage, and by far the best wine served.

      And so concluded a very pleasant wine tasting and introduction to several wine regions of France. Dr. Guinand’s overview of the French wine industry was also interesting, as was his placement of varietals by region. If only the portions had been a bit more generous, we’d all applaud. They will be scheduling more events in the Washington area this fall (see

      The formula for a successful large attendance event seems to be solid. Pick a large open area (the Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds), add live music and a grape stomping, mix well with hundreds of wine samples, and people won’t really mind the heat of the day. The Great Grapes Festival was held July 28-29, and I gave one of the wine lectures, on the Great Wine Regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy. They had over a hundred tasting samples, and bottles of wine were also available for sale at the event.

      That was a good experience. About half of the audience, I suspect, was there at the speakers’ pavillon not to hear the speaker, but to have a shaded seat for luncheon. But they became interested in how wine evolves, what vintages age well, what wine regions are famous and why, and how to form one’s own views about wine. At least, they will not soon look at wine point scores without a very critical eye!

      Here are some of the wines that I tasted at the event. The Ste. Michelle Riesling 2005 was smooth and good. That is to expected from this excellent American winery, whose varietal wines have shown excellent quality for years. Another white wine, the Domaine La Bastide Viognier 2006 was a bit sweeter. This may be one of those wines where a touch of creme de cassis would help, transforming an ordinary white into a pleasant kir aperitif! The Chateau Souvenir 2003 Bordeaux Superieur was a good choice. My audience was interested to learn that the “superieur” designation only means that there is an additional 1/2% of alcohol in the wine, not that it is a qualitatively superior wine.

      The Domaine Chandon unoaked Chardonnay ($28) was an interesting wine. I am not quite sure of the virtue in not aging chardonnay in oak, which seems to bring forth a natural complexity in the wine, unless one wants to make something else entirely, for example, a fine and lighter Chablis. That didn’t seem to be the focus here. The Domaine Chandon Pinot Noir rose 2006 ($28) had body and was suitably dry, a successful wine. The Chalone Monterey Chardonnay 2005 ($16) was light and flavorful, a good entry level Chardonnay.

      Two French wines concluded my tasting. The Domaine Grande Cassagne 2005 from Nimes ($11) was a good hearty wine, just the thing to go with a pleasant simmered beef stew in the cold weather (if it ever gets here). The Andre Brunel Les Cailloux 2006 Chateauneuf du Pape ($48) was the clear hit of the tasting, I thought, as well as one of the priciest wines offered. It was brooding, heavy, and full of layers of flavor. It should age very well indeed. Perhaps despite the intense heat in July, 2006, that vintage in Chateaunmeuf du Pape will succeed well there, as did the 2003 vintage. It is said that was the case in 2003 because the vieilles vignes in the region have extensive and very deep root systems, which enable the plants to sustain themselves on subsoil water despite the summer dought. It did seem to be the case in 2003: this wine may augur well for the 2006 vintage.

      WINE OF THE MONTH.  We enjoyed a 1988 Domaine Dujac Clos la Roche Burgundy grand cru that has been cellared for many years. This unfiltered wine was deep and flavorful. Interestingly enough, since the region lies between Gevrey-Chambertin and Chambolle-Musigny, the wine is supposed to be somewhat in between the two in terms of depth and flavor. Tht seemed to be the case. If it fell somewhat short of being the “wine of the vintage” for Burgundy, as was said in 1989, it still had good structure and there was a middle taste of cherries, rather like Griotte-Chambertin. Drinking this wine was a reminder to stock up on some of the Burgundies from the fine 2005 vintage, which are now becoming available. Get them now while they are available, and you’ll have the pleasure of anticipating for years to come their taste at a fine dinner.