California Wine Club
We're back from France, after a delightful 10 days touring an intriguing variety of wineries and restaurants across the Southern Rhone and Provence, from the villages of the Cotes du Rhone through Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Ventoux and Luberon and on down to Bandol on the Mediterranean coast.
I've come back with a thick notebook full of tasting reports, and will be publishing these over coming weeks. I'm looking forward to sharing it all with you, but under the pressures of returning to home base after 10 days away (and some pressing personal business that we'll discuss another day), it's going to take a while to get it all organized.
So today, with apologies to those of you who've already found this report on WineLoversPage.com where I posted it from France, I'd like to begin my trip reports with an account of a memorable dinner we enjoyed with the French Wine Explorers tour group on our first night in Paris.
The six-course, six-wine meal was put together by Philippe Faure-Brac, a leading wine-and-food expert who was chosen the world's top sommelier in 1992, at his restaurant, Bistrot de Sommelier in Paris. To offer our group a preview of the wines of France, he selected six appealing, not overly pricey wines (including, as it turned out, one non-French "ringer") and paired them with six dishes created to match.
To add a little wine-education fun, he presented the wines "blind," challenging participants to guess each wine and its vintage if they could. As regular readers will know, I encourage this approach as an effective, if challenging, way to learn wine - and in the friendly setting of this group event, with no criticism or teasing for wrong guesses, it worked well.
Here's a summary of the wines tasted, and for better or worse, my guesses as to what they were. For more details and information about the dishes served with each course, visit my trip report page,
The first wine was a very pale straw color wine with a grassy and lightly citric aroma and a crisp, tart flavor. I guessed Sauvignon Blanc and thought it was a young one from France, eventually guessing that it was a 2000 White Bordeaux from Graves. This was a pretty good guess, if not quite a bulls-eye. It was Le Sec 2000 Bordeaux Blanc Sec, a bone-dry white wine from Sauternes, and 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc.
Next was an intriguing and rather odd white, a rich golden color with a highly aromatic scent of toast and hazelnuts. I first thought of something odd like a Savoie or Jurancon, but finally decided it was a youngish French Chardonnay from Burgundy, with an American-style dash of toasted oak. It turned out to be Domaine Anne Gros 1999 Bourgogne Chardonnay, aged in 100 percent new French oak.
Now we turned to reds, and I blew the third one badly. A hazy ruby red, it showed herbal tobacco-leaf and tomato characteristics that absolutely convinced me it was a young Pinot Noir. It was nothing of the sort. It was Chateau le Jurat 1996 St.-Emilion Grand Cru, a Bordeaux blend with Cabernet Franc and Merlot dominant. No excuse, folks!
Course four got me back on track in the grape department, being easy to pick as a Cabernet Sauvignon. But I tripped up on the careless assumption that all the wines at this Parisian eatery would be French, and missed the clear signals of its New World status in its deep, almost blackish purple color and extracted, almost Portlike sweet fruit. I guessed it was a 1999 Médoc. In fact it was from New Zealand: C. J. Pask 1998 Hawkes Bay Cabernet Sauvignon.
The cheese course came with a hearty, peppery red with grapey fruit and tannic fire that clearly spoke of Syrah but seemed almost too complex to be a single variety. Grenache? Mourvedre? But I settled on Northern Rhone and guessed 1998 Hermitage, which was close but just missed the brass ring. It was Yves Cuilleron 1998 Côte Rôtie "Bassenon."
The last round, a dessert wine, was light golden amber in color and breathed scents of fresh, ripe apricots. This one puzzled me a bit, but I guessed Sauternes and got it right, resting on my laurels at that point and not even trying for the vintage. It was Clos L'Abeilley 1997 Sauternes, the usual Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc blend.
The dinner was good and the wines fine, and everyone seemed to enjoy the guess-the-wine game regardless of their level of wine knowledge. Blind tasting can be tough, and it can be daunting even to experts. But Bistrot de Sommelier handled it well, keeping the competition friendly and the attitude light. And that's the wine-tasting tip I offer as the summary of today's story: You can play this game at home, but don't play rough.
For those who'd like to keep up with my French wine reports on
line, I'll be indexing them from a French Wine Diary 2002 page at
which you're welcome to check periodically for updates.
I would also like to announce that I plan to join with French Wine Explorers to lead another wine tour of France next spring. In May 2002 we'll investigate Bordeaux, and we are already putting together some exciting plans for special tastings at some of the region's top producers. I'll keep you posted as plans develop, but you might also wish to bookmark the French Wine Explorers Website,
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Score one for the plastic cork
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Monday, June 17, 2002
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.