Posts Tagged ‘France

What I Learned at VinExpo

VinExpo, one of the world’s largest wine trade shows, welcomed nearly 50,000 visitors last month — including yours truly. See below for a list, in no particular order, of what I learned from my whirlwind trip.

Warm climate wine producers have the coolest booths.

While the Piedmontese and the Burgundians took a low-key approach to their stands, not so the Corsicans:


Corsica VinExpo

the Lebanese:

Lebanon VinExpo

or the Brazilians:

Brazil VinExpo

Gamay is full of surprises.

I know my way around a cru Beaujolais, but I was still (very pleasantly) surprised to taste the wines of Joseph Burrier. The wines are subtle and focused, and Burrier — a 6th generation winemaker — was chock-full of quotable observations. One of my favorites: “the key with Gamay is to avoid vulgarity.” There was nothing remotely vulgar about these wines. They’re the Audrey Hepburn of cru Beaujolais. Graceful, elegant and unadorned. My favorites were the 2011 Saint-Amour “Côte de Besset,” refined and delicate, and, at the other end of the spectrum the 2001 Fleurie les Colonies de Rochegrès. Here it is, on the right, next to one of its younger compatriots. (You know the tasting starts getting real when the winemaker pulls out the unlabeled bottles.)


The very name Fleurie puts these wines at a disadvantage, says Burrier, as it inevitably prompts drinkers and even writers (ahem) to call these wines floral, charming, and unserious. He uses older vintages like this one to prove that Fleurie has a serious side. The wine is indeed drinking nicely now, and falls into what I think of as “October” wines.

Marketing can’t beat Mother Nature.

The boosterism that pervades events like this was no match for the cold (literally) hard reality of the weather. It was raining cats and dogs — or perhaps just cats if this whimsical sculpture installation was any indication:


In all seriousness, the horrible weather blanketing western France cast a pall on things. It remains to be seen how much the deluge will end up affecting the vintage, but, as they say in PR, “the optics were not good.”

The children are our future.

Tasting and drinking a lot of  wine was great, but the best part of my trip was meeting the next generation of France’s wine professionals, from sommeliers to winemakers and everything in between. A young couple who had abandoned their life in Paris to start a winery in Savoie focusing on indigenous grapes. One sommelier with the extremely quixotic, and extremely worthy, pursuit of introducing French people to wines from around the world. (Not an easy task. One Parisian diner, upon seeing Vega Sicilia on his wine list, asked, “they make wine is Spain?”) A Bordeaux winemaker who took as much pride in his Bordeaux Supérieur as his Pomerol. France’s obsession with rules and bureaucracy has a way of sucking the life out of its brightest young people, so it’s beyond encouraging to see all this dynamism and creativity.



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A Little Something Sweet

I love sweet wines — especially paired with something savory or unexpected. Here’s me holding forth on two of my favorites: a Samos Muscat (that’s Greek to you) and a Rivesaltes from Roussillon, in Southern France. Both are unusual, delicious, and more-affordable-than-champagne ways to begin or end a meal.


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Why The Cool Kids Don’t Like Bordeaux (But I Do)

If you follow wine media, you probably saw this article on Bordeaux from New York Times wine columnist Eric Asimov. If you didn’t, here’s the quick summary: the cool kids don’t like Bordeaux. It’s too Robert Parker. Too corporate. Too expensive. In our quest for the newest, the most “natural,” the most biodynamic, the most idiosyncratic wines, the stodgy châteaux on the banks of the Gironde seem hopelessly passé.

I get it, really I do. But. Wine lovers rejecting Bordeaux is akin to Americans hating on George Washington. It’s an integral part of wine’s history, its mystique, and its hold on our imaginations. Plus a lot of it tastes really, really good.

I was fortunate to experience this first hand a few weeks ago, when Snooth Editor-in-Chief Gregory Dal Piaz opened a few choice Bordeaux for a group of wine writers. The line up included:


1986 Cos d’Estournel (a little stern, but likeable)

1989 Cos d’Estournel (velvety and seductive, if a bit hollow)

1986 Lynch-Bages (corked, alas)

1988 Château Meyney

1989 Château Meyney (my favorite of the bunch – well-balanced, highly drinkable, and remarkably fresh)

1990 Château Meyney

No single wine was perfect, but each offered a snapshot of what Bordeaux can offer: elegance, balance, structure and, of course, longevity. Old-fashioned virtues, I guess, but ones that every wine lover should learn to appreciate.

Besides, without Bordeaux, what would the cool kids have to rebel against?

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Michel Chapoutier and Domaine de Bila-Haut Tasting

In an amazing feat of self-deception, I got through my more or less wine-less pregnancy by telling myself I’d be back in full force once the boys were born. Well, nursing means I’m not doing much drinking these days. (Although I am doing a lot of eating. Good Lord, breastfeeding twins works up an appetite.) And it’s not like I have time for much leisurely wine drinking or tasting or blogging these days. Or much leisurely anything, for that matter.

However. When I got an invitation to meet Michel Chapoutier and taste his Bila-Haut wines two weeks ago, I simply couldn’t pass it up.
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An Evening with Ruinart (Or, Thoughts on Texture and the Competitiveness of Wine Bloggers)

As you may have noticed, I’ve been on a pregnancy-induced blogging sabbatical. It’s been harder to keep up with STBNY during pregnancy than I would have hoped. (In fact, it’s been harder to do everything during pregnancy than I would have hoped, but that’s another matter.) I have made a few exceptions. Late last year I went to a tasting of Tom Seaver’s wines, where I got to meet the great man himself. (Yes, that Tom Seaver. More on him soon, I promise.) And last week I went to a dinner/”sensory experience” for Ruinart champagne. Given that most of my sensory experiences lately have involved discomfort, heart palpitations, back pain, and nausea, a night of champagne tasting seemed like an excellent alternative.

The experience went something like this: following a very pleasant half-hour of chatting with fellow invitees/bloggers and the supremely charming Jean-Marc Gallot, president of Ruinart, we took our places, which were set thusly:

Each of the 8 vials in the box contained a different scent, which, according to the brain trust (nose trust?) over at International Flavors + Fragrances, was present in Ruinart’s Blanc de Blanc champagne. It was our job to identify each of the smells and match them to the correct answer on a pre-printed list of 16 different aromas. Of course, we each had a glass of the Blanc de Blanc to help us along.

With Gallot teasing/encouraging us, we sniffed and scribbled away. Was #2 lemon…or grapefruit? The table arrangements held clues — like this little pot of pink peppercorns:

You’ve heard of blind tastings? This was more of a “blind smelling,” which put our collective olfactory skills to the test.

1. The folks over at LVMH are some damn fine marketers. Ruinart is the oldest continuous champagne house, and one with a slightly below-the-radar profile here in the U.S. This event was the perfect way to position Ruinart as a “boutique” brand, less mainstream than Moët or Veuve-Clicquot, but more accessible than Dom Pérignon or Krug. Gallot is the perfect guy to lead the charge. He has that all-too-rare combination (at least in the wine business) of American openness and French, well, Frenchiness. When I asked him what he liked to drink when he wasn’t drinking champagne he said he loved Bordeaux but…was beginning to really enjoy Burgundy. In New York, where obscurity is often touted as a virtue, and it’s nearly impossible to keep up with whatever the wine hipsters are drinking (“What you mean you’ve never had Grolleau? That was so 2010!”) it’s refreshing to remember that one can very happily stick to the classics. (If one has the budget for it, that is.)

2. Delicacy and simplicity are not the same thing. The chief virtue of Ruinart’s Blanc de Blanc is its finesse. Made from 100% Chardonnay — that’s what “Blanc de Blanc” means — this champagne is definitely on the lighter, crisper, end of the spectrum, which is the style I prefer. I think of champagnes like this as “lacy,” although I’m not sure how helpful that comparison is for anyone else. Nonetheless, it’s fair to argue that most of the smells they gave us were somehow present in the wine itself. I might take issue with the white peach, and I definitely wasn’t buying the pineapple (not coincidentally, the only one I got wrong), but ginger, jasmine, cardamom? Why not? Just because a wine is delicate or subtle, that doesn’t mean it can’t have a lot going on. I think it’s particularly difficult to detect this complexity in champagne, where texture (i.e., those bubbles) rather than aroma/flavor, makes the strongest first impression. Hence my classification of this wine as “lacy.” If that word doesn’t make intuitive sense to you, so be it: but I’d encourage you to pay as much attention to a wine’s texture as to its flavor. This is easiest to do with the extremes — say, sparkling at one end of the continuum and port at the other — but it’s not too hard to detect the silkiness of a good Pinot Noir or the roughness of a too-young Barolo or Bordeaux.

3. Wine bloggers are a competitive bunch. I’ve been to some fancy schools over the years and live in a city filled with Type A personalities, but nothing compares to a roomful of wine writers trying to out-smell and out-taste each other. I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps the subjectivity of wine-tasting makes it all the more important that we state our opinions with authority? Or because an evening of sipping champagne in each other’s pleasant company doesn’t feel enough like work, so we have to be extra-serious in our wine analysis? Whatever the reason, I’ll cop to it as much as the next wine blogger. God knows, I’m still annoyed I only got 7 out of 8 right. Do you think I can turn in an extra-credit assignment?

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Miss Vicky Wine — With Free Shipping No Less

I’ve been pressed for time these days, which is one reason why I’m delighted to kill two birds with one stone in this post: supporting one of my favorite wine peeps and offering all you lovely STBNY readers a nice deal. Miss Vicky Wine, who I’ve written about before, is a super-energetic young Frenchwoman who is on a mission to bring her family’s wine to the world — or, at the very least, the U.S.

The wine in question is Fleurie, one of the cru of Beaujolais. We’re not talking bubblegum fruity Beaujolais Nouveau here. Fleurie, and the other 9 crus (=subregions, more or less) of Beaujolais produce fruity, highly satisfying, and highly undervalued wines. Miss Vicky’s 2007 Fleurie fits squarely in this category. Fresh, with subtle fruit and more than a hint of earthiness, this wine practically screams fall. (Keats’ “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” and all that.) It would be great with roast chicken or any straightforward poultry or light pork dish.

It’s priced at $18.80/bottle, and available only online. And if you email me at sasha@spinthebottleny I will send you the free shipping code. And let me know what you think!

In the meantime, check out this vid Miss Vicky (that’s Anne-Victoire to you) made of this year’s harvest, which looks to have been both exhausting and a pretty kick-ass time.

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Happy Bastille Day!

As my regular STBNY readers (all 4 of you!) know, I’m a Francophile. To paraphrase Chico Escuela, France has been bery bery good to me. I’ve had a lot of great food and wine there over the years, and the French have welcomed me into their homes, restaurants, vineyards–hell, even their school system–with graciousness, good humor, and Frenchy charm. In this era of “small plates” and wearing jeans to four-star restaurants, let us turn to France to guard the sanctity of the appetizer-main course-dessert trinity and dressing like grown-ups for dinner.

France is at its best when it manages to combine this old school adherence to tradition and standards with open-mindedness and energy. I thought of this a few weeks ago when Anne-Victoire Monrozier, aka Miss Vicky, stormed our shores with bottles of her father’s fresh, elegant Fleurie in hand.

I enjoyed the wine, but what really struck me was her aptitude for “le marketing” — not something that comes easily to a lot of smaller French winemakers. She traveled from Walla to Napa to the Lower East Side to promote the wine and deployed a truly impressive social media blitz. (Plus come on, how cute is this label?)

So Miss Vicky, I salute your embodiment of all my favorite French traits–and hope more and more of your compatriots follow your lead.


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Behind the Label: Michel Chapoutier

When a friend suggested I write more about wine labels on STBNY, I immediately thought of Michel Chapoutier. What sets Chapoutier’s labels apart is not their look (elegant fonts, neutral colors, classic crests) but their feel. That’s because Chapoutier prints his labels in Braille. One day, Chapoutier happened to catch a TV interview with his friend Gilbert Montagné, a French singer who has been blind since birth. Montagné described how difficult it was to pick out wine by himself in a wine store. (If you’re interested in the full story, check out this article.) That gave Chapoutier the idea to superimpose Braille over his regular label. Appropriately enough, he started out in 1994 with the label for his Monier de la Sizeranne Hermitage, which comes from a plot of land originally owned by Maurice de la Sizeranne, who invented the first abbreviated version of Braille.

Most of us are probably familiar with Chapoutier from his great value Belleruche Côtes-du-Rhône, both red and white. Usually available for around $10-$12, these are some of the best bang-for-your-buck wines available on the market. You could do worse than to stock up on a few bottles of these for your summer BBQ needs. Chapoutier makes a staggeringly wide variety of wines from the Rhône, Provence, and Languedoc-Roussillon — with some side projects in Australia and Portugal for good measure — and somehow manages to keep the overall quality level high. (Chapoutier might attribute this success, at least in part, to his commitment to biodynamic winemaking.) Chapoutier seems like a bit of a live wire, and I love reading interviews with him.

I’ve had many of Chapoutier’s wines over the years, and tonight Paul and I cracked open this Les Vignes de Bila-Haut. This wine hails from the Roussillon, the hot, sun-drenched region along France’s eastern border with Spain that produces big, ripe wines. This wine is a blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Carignan, all grapes that flourish in the heat. The wine is inky, lip-staining purple, and the aromas are deep, dark, and earthy: blackberries,cocoa, smoke, and dried thyme. On the palate, the Carignan is a little too front-and-center for me: traditionally a low-quality variety used for bulk wines, Carignan can produce good wines when it comes from old vines, as it does here. But even when Carignan rises to the occasion, it still has this rough, rustic edge to it that reminds me of the mediocre, cheap Côtes-du-Rhône that I used to drink way too much of in my misspent youth, to hangover-inducing effect.

Nonetheless, this is really enjoyable wine for a mere $14. On his site, Chapoutier recommends drinking the wine with a “nice piece of beef” or grilled meat, which we interpreted to mean bacon cheeseburgers from the grill. It was a pretty fortuitous match. I think Michel would approve.

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My Brush with Greatness, Pt 2: 1997 La Landonne Côte Rôtie

My dear friend Gary was clearing out his boss’ office and came across a bottle of wine. Would I, he wanted to know, be interested in trying it?

Not since my brother Lee gave me a ticket to the Beastie Boys Hello Nasty show at MSG (3 rows in front of Mike D’s parents, FYI) has so much awesomeness fallen in my lap. This is a 1997 La Landonne Côte Rôtie from Etienne Guigal, one of the greatest wines of the northern Rhône, my hands-down favorite wine region. It’s 100% Syrah and can stand up to many, many years in the cellar. It’s also far north of my usual price range, even when I’m feeling spendy: the going rate for this guy is about $400.

These wines are terrific with deep, earthy, gamey flavors, and in a perfect world I would have whipped up a salmis of squab or venison sausage, but this is not a perfect world and instead we threw some delicious rib eyes on the grill. We decanted the wine 90 minutes before drinking to separate it from its sediment and to open it up a bit. (Again, in a perfect world, this probably should have been closer to 2-3 hours, but the wine, and my guests, were forgiving.)
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Better Know a Grape: Savagnin

There’s obscure, and then there’s obscure. Tannat and Petit Verdot, subjects of my two previous BKAG installments, are a little random, but in terms of insider cult status, they don’t hold a candle to Savagnin.  (And no, that’s not a typo for “Sauvignon” — the grape is actually called Savagnin.) This white wine grape makes its home in the kind of landscapes where you would expect to catch a glimpse of Heidi yodeling and milking a cow: the French and Swiss Alps. The Savagnin-based wines you’re most likely to see in the U.S. — although, sadly, you’re not likely to see very much of them — hail from the Jura, in eastern France.
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