This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Monday, June 6, 2005.

First taste: 2004 Loire

From the street, L'Absinthe looks like any other Paris cafe. But step inside, open a menu, and Chef Michel Rostang offers unexpected delights.
Greetings from Paris, one of the world's great capital cities, where you'll find great works of art and architecture, historic and cultural institutions and more fine museums than you can shake a Matisse at.

I love Paris, and I really do admire it for all those reasons.

But there's no use trying to fool fellow gourmets and gourmands like you, is there now? Of course we're here for the food. And the wine. And, sure, for all that other stuff too. But let's not lose perspective.

(In fact, I'm here for our annual group tour of a French wine region with our friends at French Wine Explorers. Early tomorrow we'll head for Lyon, then Condrieu and finally Avignon, tasting and dining at wine producers and top restaurants along the way. As noted at the top of today's column, we'll put the remaining editions of this week's 30 Second Wine Advisor on hold, but I'll make every effort to post occasional trip reports and photos ... watch the Front Page and Wine Lovers' Discussion Group for updates.)

I arrived a couple of days early so I could enjoy Paris, meet friends and, of course, check out a little of that high-tone art and culture. Artful wine and food culture, anyway. And a fine dinner we had on Saturday, no gluttonous blowout but a relaxing evening of Chef Michel Rostang's imaginative dishes at his relatively new restaurant, L'Absinthe, at 24, Place de Marché Sainte Honoré, which is not far from the Louvre and the Tuileries gardens.

This is a wine publication, not a restaurant review, so I won't go into detail except to note that Rostang, like a number of other of Paris' top chefs recently, has opened a constellation of relatively casual, reasonably affordable bistro-type restaurants in addition to the high-end, multiply-starred and very pricey restaurant Michel Rostang.

L'Absinthe, one of the newest in the group, looks much like a random Parisian cafe from the street, with its outdoor tables set up across the front of the building, with a black awning bearing the restaurant's name. Inside, though, it's stylish and modern - it's been described as a blend of Paris and New York - with a menu of innovative, slightly Asian-accented French dishes. Our group of four enjoyed a fixed-price menu including appetizers, main courses, desserts and two bottles of wine and walked away for 50 Euros each. This is not a bad way to enjoy a Saturday night in Paris, and I recommend it to your attention. (For more details, see the Rostang Website,, an artful movie-style show in your choice of French or English, a show that, unfortunately, essentially requires both the Flash plug-in and high-speed Internet access.)

For this travel-week edition, let's focus on the wines. As the headline above suggests, a few spanking-fresh 2004 vintage Loire wines had just fallen off the truck, so recently acquired that the L'Absinthe wine list had been updated with carefully handwritten "2004" notations placed over the old 2003 listings.

I haven't seen any 2004 Loires in the U.S. yet, but if these two are representative, I'll be happy to see more. Both were deliciously fresh and fruity, but seemed well balanced between fruit and acid in a more classic style than those typical of the super-hot summer of 2003.

Pierre Riffault 2004 Domaine du Carrior Perrin Sancerre (27 Euro/restaurant price) - This clear, pale brass-color Sauvignon Blanc is so fresh that it's almost like drinking fresh-squeezed, grapefruit juice, if grapefruit could ever be as brilliantly clear and fragrantly complex as this. Crisp citric aromas carry over intact on the palate, with a distinct but not overbearing "grassy" quality that's the trademark of the grape. Balanced and refined, bone-dry over zippy citrus-fruit acidity that lingers in a very long finish. A perfect match with a moderne appetizer, tumblers of cold fennel cream soup topped with an artful swash of asparagus oil.

Domaine Bernard Baudry 2004 "Les Granges" Chinon (27 Euro/restaurant price) - Very dark reddish-purple in color, rather dark for a Chinon. Ripe and juicy strawberry aromas, fresh and true, lead into a load of fruit, fresh red berries built on a good, balanced framework of snappy but not overwhelming acidity. Fruit-forward for a Chinon, perhaps the result of its youth and freshness, but hints of that characteristic Loire minerality lurk just below the surface, especially in its long, fresh finish. Excellent pairing with veal onglet juste roti, bite-size cubes of tender rare veal with an intense confit of sweetly caramelized little shallots.

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