The Empire Strikes Back

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The Empire Strikes Back
This year’s Washington International Wine & Food Festival, held March 9-11 in the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in downtown Washington,  was crowded, well organized, and fun. For me, the Grand Tasting, held in the main exhibition areas, was the highlight, with 280 wineries from around the world pouring a stated total of over 1,100 wines from 13 countries. The weekend began with a pricey innovation, the Friday Evening Grand Cru Wine Lounge, @ $180 a ticket, where an elegant buffet was available, and fourteen wines were poured, only one of which, Gosset’s Grand Rose Champagne, was actually French. There were also Celebrity Chef presentations, and Wine Seminars. It was decidedly not an inexpensive event. Admission was pricey ($65-$80 for one day, another $20 for the second day), with the costs of seminars in addition ($35-$50 per person per seminar). The morning hours were open to the trade (press and other wine and food professionals), and the public was admitted in the afternoon. Saturday was sold out before the weekend started. As is customary, the scale of the show was enormous. It was not possible to taste more than a good sampling of what one preferred or wanted to try. That left well over a thousand other wines untouched, from many countries! I was pleased to see that the organization of wines presented was improved. The wines were grouped quite logically by nation. Thanks probably to the efforts of the Washington chapter of the French Wine Society, whose knowledgeable officers were present to pour several of the French wines and to answer questions about them, the presentation of French wines was greatly improved. This continued the comeback by French wines, which had been neglected in the 2005 Convention Center show, but were better represented in last year’s show at the Omni Shoreham. There were many old friends, some in new guises. Here are some tasting results. Perhaps you might enjoy trying some yourself! Mouton Cadet ($8) Blanc 2005 remains a superior introduction to French white wines. It was excellent, the Muscadelle (10%) being added to the traditional Bordeaux blend of Semillon (50%) and Sauvignon Blanc (40%) to add balance, and flowery notes.  The Mouton Cadet Rouge 2004 ($8) remains the best selling red Bordeaux wine sold here, and for good reason. It is approachable and well flavored. You get the texture and richness of a Bordeaux blended wine at a fraction of the cost of a pricey chateau bottle. The wine is drinkable quite young, probably because of the predominance of the Merlot grape, rather than the more austere Cabernet Sauvignon, still there for backbone and balance. It is 65% Merlot (largely from the Entre deux Mers region), 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Malbec. The Bordeaux table also featured the reliable Chateau Greysac 2003, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc. The wine had good color and flavor, just what you need for a basic wine, not for special events – what we call Chateau Tuesday! The 2001 Chateau Larose Trintaudon ($16), 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, was very pleasant, and smoother than the Chateau Greysac. I was pleased to note a wine that was new to me, Michel Lynch 2004 ($10), a 100% Merlot wine, that was favorful and quite promising, although at this stage its tannins remained somewhat aggressive. A highlight for me was the assortment of rose French wines, poured by the knowledgeable Lisa Airey. This was a good assortment of medium priced wines, about $12 per bottle retail, with one interesting exception.  The Commanderie de la Bargamone Coteaux d’Aix en Provence Rose 2005, Grenache and Syrah, was a fruity wine,  not overly sweet (the usual besetting sin of rose wines). The L’Estandon Provence Rose Cotes de Provence 2004 had more fruit, and was a more pleasant drink, I thought. The Domaines Houchard 2005 was a fine luncheon wine, stylish and well flavored, with no sweet aftertaste. I liked the Chateau Montaud, also at $12, although it would leave no footprints in your memory. I asked Ms. Airey if any rose wines could be candidates for grand cru denomination. She didn’t answer the question directly, but poured me a sample of Domaines Ott 2005. This rose wine was fuller than any tasted so far. It had depth and, I gather, has become something of a trendy wine in New York circles. At $35 a bottle I suspect it is somewhat ovepriced, but I can understand its popularity. It has some Cabernet Sauvigonon grapes for backbone. Flavorful and well balanced, I think it would stand up well to chicken or pork at your summer dinner table, when a tasty, substantial and undemanding wine treat is needed. You would do well then to produce a well chilled bottle of Domaine Ott, your latest wine discovery! I later heard that the American winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle, intends to resume production of its rose wine. Apparently there is an evolving market here for these summer wines, if not too sweet. I have regretted the disappearance of this American wine, which I thought the finest American rose wine, and I look forward to its reappearance. There were several Alsatian wines available, and I was glad to note that the region seems well recovered from the 2003 vintage, which suffered greatly from the excessive summer heat that year, producing unfocussed, rather blowsy wines. The Trimbach Riesling 2004 was good benchmark quality, flavorful and full-boded, and would surely improve over time. The Hugel Gentil 2005 ($8), always a reliable bargain, was excellent. It remains THE entry level Alsatian wine. Spaar’s Pinot Blanc Reserve 2005, from Sigisheim, was very good, a fine harbinger for the 2005 vintage. Unfortunately, their 2005 Gewurztraminer was too warm, and so the tasting was not optimum. I could, however, taste those landmark spicy notes that are the hallmark of this grape varietal.…
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