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A QUESTION ABOUT FRENCH WINES

I’ve always considered myself a political moderate, someone who is in the middle on social issues with a conservative bent on the fiscal side.  I am, however, patriotic to the core, and fully supported the position of the WinoStuff staff in boycotting the French during their support for Saddam Hussein a year ago.  Boycotting French wines really didn’t matter too much to me.  Other than a few cases of French Rhones, my cellar is primarily Californian, with overtures to Spain and Italy.  Recently, several articles have surfaced in some of the rags that I read (Wall Street Journal, Forbes, etc.), praising the prices and taste of French wines.

The article that interested me the most was one in Forbes FYI called “France on $20 a Day”.  Richard Nalley recommends 25 French wines priced at under $20 per bottle.  With credit to Nalley and Forbes, I’ll list his recommended wines later.  In advance, I’ll make my first comment.  I challenge WB and WJ and other readers to see how many of these wines they can find in their local establishment.  There are 9,000 plus “chateaux” in Bordeaux alone.  I purchase most of my wine locally from a wine superstore who sends buyers to France to directly purchase case allotments from the vineyards versus through a middleman.  I doubt that I’ll be able to find half of these recommended wines.  But, I’ll try and will scribe a line or two in a subsequent article about my success or lack thereof.

Four wines are listed from Bordeaux.  They are:

  • Chateau Bonnet 2002, Entre-Deux-Mers (white) $10/bottle.  A Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend.

  • Clos la Coutale 2001, Cahors  $14/bottle.  Malbec,

  • Chateau Greysac, Medoc 1999  $17/bottle.  Merlot/Cabernet blend

  • Chateau Bel Air 1999, Haut-Medoc  $12/bottle.

Alsace is my favorite area of France, solely because my maternal grandmother was born in Metz in 1889 when the area was part of Germany (I believe it has traded hands at least 8 times over the centuries).  Nalley says that most Americans ignore Alsace which is too bad given the tendency of these wines to drink well with food.  He recommends three Alsatians.

  • Trimbach 2001 Pinot Blanc  $12/bottle.  Nalley claims this is the number one selling Alsatian wine in the U.S.  He drank his while consuming a fried oyster po’ boy (now that’s a sandwich, Wino Bob).

  • Paul Blanck 2002 Riesling “Classique” $18/bottle.

  • Hugel 2002 “Gentil” $11/bottle.  This wine is based on Gewurztraminer but is a blend of four white grapes.  Nalley likes the spicy note.  My wife hates Gewurz’, so I doubt I’ll be drinking this with her.

Four Burgundies are profiled.

  • Oliver Leflaive 2002 Bourgogne, “Les Setilles”  $15/bottle.  A creamy Chardonnay.

  • Domaine Vocoret 2002 Chablis  $17/bottle.  A very dry Chablis, the “anti-Californian”.

  • Nicolas Potel 2001 Bourgogne, “Maison Dieu”  $17/bottle.  Mainly a Pommard, a red.

  • Phillipe Girard 2001 Savigny-les-Beaune  $17/bottle.  An old vines Pinot Noir.

Beaujolais (ahh, Beaujolais)

Nalley points out that Beujolais is technically part of Burgundy (technically, but note that the producers don’t get the same prices as Burgundy appellations), but states that Beaujolais wines are from the Gamay grape and not the Pinot Noir grape.  He recommends looking for wines from the ten name villages in the area:  Brouilly, Cote de Brouilly, Chenas, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Julienas, Morgon, Moulin-a-Vent, Regnie, and St-Amour. 

He recommends three price values:

  • Domaine Joel Rochette 2002 Brouilly, “Pisse-Vielle”  $12/bottle

  • Domaine Pierre Savoye 2000 Morgon, “Cuvee de Vieilles Vignes”  $14/bottle.

  • Maison Louis Jadot 2002 Beaujolais-Villages, Chateau de Jacques, “Grand Clos de             Loyse”  $14/bottle.  An old vines Chardonnay from Beaujolais.  Token white wine.

Rhone Valley

Who can forget the Rhones when it comes to French wines?  Certainly not our Wino Bob.  Certainly not Wino John.  Certainly not me.  I mentioned earlier that a token case of Rhone is about the only French wine that I stock in my cellar.  Well, maybe a case or two of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Nalley recommends three (and once again, I’m doubting that I’ll find any of them during my shopping spree this weekend).

  • Maison Chapoutier 2001 Crozes-Hermitage “Petite Ruche”  $20/bottle.  A Syrah

  • Domaine Saint Gayan 2001 Cotes-du-Rhone-Villages Rasteau  $17/bottle.  Grenache.

  • Chateau d’Aqueria 2002 Tavel (rose)   $16/bottle.  Great with burgers.  Hmm.  The French like burgers, too?

Loire Valley

Muscadet is probably the most familiar wine to emanate from the Loire region, despite its reputation for fine wines.  No wonder that the others are unfamiliar when you look at names like Bourgueil or Menetou-Salon.  Nalley recommends four:

  • Champalou 2002 Vouvray (sec)  $15/bottle – A dry Chenin Blanc

  • Gratien & Meyer Saumur, “Cuvee Flamme” (non-vintage)  $18/bottle – Rose

  • Chateau de Coulaine 2002 Chinon, “Bonnaventure”  $19/bottle – Cabernet Franc

  • Domaine Vincent Delaporte 2002 Sancerre  $20/bottle – Sauvignon Blanc

South of France

Leave it to the French to butcher up the King’s English.  Why on earth would you call Southern France, the South of France?  If it’s South of France, then it must be Monaco, not another part of France!  With none of the baggage of the more traditional wine areas of France, the experimentation among grape varietals is more notable in the South of France than elsewhere.  Nalley reserves his final four wines from this area.

  • Domaine de Bres 2001 “Cantarelle”  $12/bottle  - a chewy, red blend from four grapes

  • Chateau de Caraguilhes 2000, "Corbieres"  $17/bottle – a briary, spicy red wine

  • Chateau la Roque 2001, Pic St-Loup “Cuvee Mourvedre”  $14/bottle – another red

  • Domaine Saint Martin de la Garrigue 2001, Coteaux du Languedoc, "Bronzinelle"              $18/bottle – such a long name for a red wine

Well, I didn’t intend to turn this article into a lecture on French wines, and neither did Richard Nalley.  As part of my ongoing efforts to achieve that elusive goal of familiarity with all of the world’s wine regions, I thought that looking at 25 moderately-priced wines from France would be a reasonable project.  If successful, I could consume them in 25 days or less (depending on how well my Blue Devils do in the tournament).  However, I doubt that I’ll find half of these wines.  It continues to amaze me that wine writers and wine publications can tout wines that the average Wino cannot find if they had access to all the liquor stores in their state.  In fact, the odds are good that most of these wines are not sold in half of the U.S. states.  Hell, some imports never make it out of New York, depending on the number of cases imported.  If you’re curious, print out this article or cut and past the 25 wines on a single sheet of paper.  Take it to your best retailer and see how many of these can be purchased.  Winos Bob, John, and Mike, let me know how well you do.  If I’m successful, I’ll surface with an article in a few weeks (and this time, it will probably involve golf, travel, that bottle of 1996 Chateau St. Jean, and ….).

Wino Wally
Baltimore, MD
March 27, 2004

 


 

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