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This thing about France
Joseph Phelps 2000 "Pastiche" California Red Table Wine ($13.50)
Chateau Labory 2000 Fronsac ($9.99)

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This thing about France

I somewhat reluctantly address a heated topic today, and I ask your open-minded indulgence as I do.

It would be a whole lot easier for me to let this issue slide quietly past. I don't like to mix wine and politics, and I'm not excited about risking making a few people angry in a time when tempers are already frayed.

But it's becoming difficult to ignore a growing noise from a few wine lovers - most of them in the U.S. - who want to send a message to the leaders of France and Germany by discouraging the purchase of those countries' wines.

"I will not try or buy any French wines," one reader told me in a relatively civil E-mail note. "Nor will I have anything to do with people that support France in any way. You should do the same if you believe in the USA and our government."

I've had quite a few similar notes, and friends in the wine business in France and other countries tell me they're seeing correspondence - some of it alarmingly filled with hate - from Americans angry that French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder haven't signed on to U.S. President George W. Bush's war plans for Iraq.

I won't take public sides on Iraq in this discussion. That, in my mind, goes too far from wine to fall within my realm of competence, and it extends further into politics than I'm willing to go from this pulpit.

But I'm ready to take a stand when it comes to wine and the good people around the world who enjoy it. Rather than breaking new ground, I would like to repeat some thoughts that I shared in these pages on Sept. 12, 2001, the morning after the attack on the World Trade Center:

"I would invite you to pause for just one silent moment, and consider the ties of wine and the Internet that bring us together to share our joy in a common interest, at a time when a handful of extremists would drive us apart.

"As I look over the 20,000 entries on The 30 Second Wine Advisor mailing list I take special pleasure out of seeing the amazing range of home towns and nations that many of you have listed.

"A majority of you are in the United States and Canada, of course, with strong contingents from the other English-speaking nations: More than 1,000 of you in the UK, hundreds more in Australia and New Zealand. More than 200 of you live in India; more than 100 in Ireland and as many in South Africa; well over 100 readers reside in Germany, in the Scandinavian nations, and in Belgium and the Netherlands. Italy and France are well represented, and the former Yugoslavia. Our community of interest spans the globe: We have readers in Japan, in Korea, in China and across Southeast Asia; more than 100 of you are in Malaysia; nearly 200 in Singapore. You've signed on from Israel, from Egypt, from Iran and the United Arab Emirates. With nearly 100 nations represented, I can't list them all, but I mustn't forget to wave at the handful of wine-loving scientists at McMurdo Station in Antarctica who've expanded our community of readers to all seven continents.

"The point to all this is simple: In the aftermath of yesterday's terroristic effort to divide, I'm drawing hope from the way that this amazing Internet has the potential to bring us together."

Our numbers have grown by half since I wrote those words, but my sentiment remains unchanged: Working to bring people together is good. Trying to divide people is not. And I consider this a universal truth, regardless of who's doing it and why.

I know a lot of you would like to comment further on this, just as a lot more of you would like to ignore it and move on. If any of you would like to share your thoughts with me directly, please feel free to write me at, with the following simple caveats: As always, I'll respond to thoughtful comments if I can, but that's not always possible when replies mount to the hundreds. Please be assured that I'll read thoughtful comments with respectful attention; while insults or "flames" will be discarded without further comment.

For fun and interest, I've also set up a special edition of our Wine Lovers' Voting Booth, offering a simple "Yes," "No" or "Don't Care" option, with separate ballots for participants in the U.S. and in other countries. If you have strong feelings, I hope you'll take a moment to cast a vote - it'll be interesting to see how the numbers fall out. Here's the link to the Voting Booth:,
and to the results page:

If you want to read still more on this topic, columnist Dave McIntyre, based in Washington, D.C., recently contributed a humorous column on the issue, "Code Rosé: Terror alert for wine." It's online at:

And our good friend Lauriann Greene with French Wine Explorers, disappointed at some of the E-mail she received from fellow Americans angry with France, wrote a thoughtful editorial on their Website,

Finally, if you're inspired to comment directly to world leaders (or to their offices, anyway), here are a few links. If you write, on any side of the issue, bear in mind that a civil approach is always more effective than angry insults.

To send E-mail to French President Jacques Chirac:

To send E-mail to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder:

British Prime Minister Tony Blair reportedly does not have a public E-mail address. His office may be contacted by postal mail at 10 Downing Street, London SW1, UK.

To send E-mail to U.S. President George W. Bush:

Now, let's move along to the usual tasting notes. In the light of today's discussion, what could I do but dig into my wine-notes log books to find a good wine from the United States and a value find from France?

Pastiche Joseph Phelps 2000 "Pastiche" California Red Table Wine ($13.50)

The wine is American, made in California from grapes grown in Monterey and Napa conties, but the name, the attitude and the grape varieties (50% Grenache, 25% Mourvèdre and 25% Syrah) are French, and to put the international icing on the cake, it's aged in the winery's Napa cellars in a combination of used French oak barrels and large German oak "ovals." The result is an excellent, good-value California wine with a distinct French accent. Dark ruby in color, shading toward the reddish end of the spectrum, it offers plummy, peppery and warm Rhone-style aromas. Mouth-filling and smooth, very ripe fruit is well balanced by crisply appetizing acidity, with pleasant hints of chocolate and black fruit adding complexity in the finish. (Dec. 12, 2002)

FOOD MATCH: Fine with lamb chops pan-grilled with fresh rosemary and garlic.

VALUE: It's still competitive at this local price, but better still if you can find it for less. I've seen it advertised as low as $11 or below in some other markets.

WHEN TO DRINK: Like the Cotes-du-Rhone that it resembles, this wine is ready to drink when you buy it, but won't really be harmed by a year or two of age. There's nothing to be gained from long-term cellaring, though.

WEB LINK: For the Joseph Phelps Website, click to:
The winery's Pastiche fact sheet at

Chateau Labory Chateau Labory 2000 Fronsac ($9.99)

I wasn't able to find much information about this wine on the Web, but Fronsac is a "satellite" region of Bordeaux, near St.-Emilion, and Cabernet Franc predominates in many of its vineyards. I've found it a source for Right Bank Bordeaux of uncommon value, and this one is no exception. Very dark garnet, almost black in the glass, it offers ripe black-fruit aromas with intriguing overtones of black coffee. More fruit and elusive hints of anise come up with swirling. There's plenty of blackcurrant fruit in a flavor that seems light-bodied at first but gains heft on the palate with appropriate acidity; soft tannins show up in the finish. U.S. importer: Ex Cellars Wine Agencies Ltd., Solvang, Calif. (Jan. 7, 2003)

FOOD MATCH: Perfect with filet mignons, pan-roasted medium rare.

VALUE: A very good value indeed at this price.

WHEN TO DRINK: Drinking well now but can certainly be cellared for several years.

WEB LINK: None found for the producer or importer.


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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.

Friday, Feb. 21, 2003
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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