France in the Spotlight and the Benefits of Doing Nothing
In order to give our readers more comprehensive coverage of new releases, we’ve tweaked the newsletter format slightly to combine forces. Each month you’ll receive two reports focused on the bi-weekly/monthly themes from both VINTAGES and LCBO listings, with recommendations from several WineAlign critics, as well as two reports highlighting the best of the rest, with multiple critics weighing in. We’d love to hear your thoughts.
France is the theme for this week’s newsletter, focused on the VINTAGES February 15th release and the LCBO February thematic. I’ve selected ten recommended wines in the bubbles, and under and over $25 categories, red and white, from VINTAGES, and David Lawrason has added his list of smart buys from the LCBO. Next week we’ll cover the rest of the release. Read more.
The February 15th release sees a solid collection of wines from across France arriving in Ontario, with a stereotypical north-south price divide. As often seems the case in Mediterranean countries like Spain, Italy and France, household income, cost of living and wine prices increase as one travels north. The flip-side is that the best wine values (and weather, and olive oil) are often in the south. The model holds mostly true in this release.
Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There!
It was inevitable that quality French wines would come back into fashion after several years of slumping sales, posting positive growth in Ontario last year that looks set to continue. The reason is that all truly great and unique wines will eventually find their market. This is not comforting news to corporations who live and die by their quarterly returns, but for generational family-owned operations it’s a fact of life. As a wine grower in the 21st century, sometimes you just have to stay true to your course and what your terroir can offer, and wait for the rest of the world to catch up.
Among the many challenges in the wine business is that while fashions change overnight, wine styles cannot. Producers are usually doomed to failure trying to follow market trends, since by the time they’ve managed to shift their wine style to meet current market demand for what’s “hot” (re-planted or re-grafted vineyards to new varieties or sourced different fruit, re-tooled the cellar with new equipment, barrels, changed grape growing and winemaking protocols, etc.), the market has usually moved on.
A case in point is the aptly named 2010 Château De Gaudou Renaissance Cahors Cuvée Boisée ($22.95). This is a wine, which, from my perspective, has missed the beat on the market. It’s a pure oak infusion, exceedingly boisée, with over ripe fruit that has little or nothing to do with Cahors, or France for that matter, and would be much more at home in a large Mendozan co-op. What’s more, the same style can be had for much less from Argentina, and it’d probably be better, too.
Despite the popularity of malbec, Cahors (which is made from mainly malbec) remains a relatively little-known appellation in southwest France, so I can see the temptation of trying to emulate a commercially popular style. But over oaked, over ripe malbecs from Argentina are already out of their short-lived moment in the spotlight. So why would I want to buy one from France at a premium? I’d be much more interested in an authentically rustic, flavoursome, typically old world style example, the kind that neither Argentina nor any other country can produce. Château de Gaudou has been at it for generations so no doubt they know what traditional Cahors tastes like. Eighteen months in 100% new oak be damned.
But enough about what not to drink. Here are the highlights, the French wines that taste like they come from France.
For inexpensive bubbles, consider the much improved Louis Bouillot Perle d’Aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De Bourgogne ($19.95). Relative to the last shipment, which was tired and oxidized, this bottling (no lot number listed, unfortunately – if only producers would give consumers a clue of what they’re buying) is much fresher and livelier, with a fine mouthful of bright red berry fruit and impressive complexity for the money. Be sure to check with your product consultant that what you’re buying is indeed the latest shipment and not the previous one that’s been sitting on the shelves for months and months.
On the premium side, the number of grower champagnes arriving in the market continues to grow, which is terrific news for drinkers in search of more original cuveés. One to seek out is the attractively priced Pierre Paillard Grand Cru Brut Champagne ($49.95). Pierre Paillard (not to be confused with Bruno Paillard) is a family operation now in its eighth generation, farming 22 hectares of grand cru vineyards in the village of Bouzy. This is an assemblage of 60% pinot noir and 40% chardonnay from 22 separate plots, aged 3.5 years on the lees, greater than the minimum required for vintage champagne. Just seven grams of dosage puts this on the drier side, while the palate balances power and finesse to great effect.
Whites Under $25
I challenge you to find a more genuine and authentic Muscat for less than the 2012 Terres Blanches Muscat Sec ($13.95). Made by the Cave des Vignerons de Frontignan from vineyards bordering the Mediterranean, this delivers all of the pungent, floral, grapey aromatics one could hope for from the variety. It would make a fine afternoon aperitif, or base for spritzers.
Another reliable aromatic white is the 2011 Paul Zinck Portrait Gewürztraminer ($19.95 ). “Portrait” is Zinck’s entry-level range, designed to highlight the characteristics of each grape (rather than a specific terroir), and this 2011 does precisely that. Wondering what a textbook, slightly off-dry Alsatian gewürztraminer tastes like? Try this.
In a similar vein of textbook regionality, Chablis drinkers will find familiarity and comfort in the 2012 Domaine Gautheron Chablis ($24.95). Seven generations in and not much has changed here; this is simply made, solid Chablis.
Whites Over $25
Head to Burgundy for a more premium French white: 2011 Vincent Girardin Vieilles Vignes Chassagne-Montrachet ($55.95). It’s a little tight and sharp at this stage, a touch leaner than the average for the appellation though true to vintage, but it also has a significant dose of wet chalky minerality and well-measured lees influence, plus a long finish, to indicate a very positive future. Try after 2015.
Spirited Reds Under $25
Southern France delivers two attractive red values: 2011 Domaine Lambrusques Esprit Sauvage Pic Saint-Loup ($17.95) and 2011 Domaine De Grangeneuve Esprit De Grenache Côtes Du Rhône Villages ($20.95). Pic St-Loup is one of the top communal crus of the Languedoc in my estimation, and the Esprit Sauvage nicely captures the savage spirit of this craggy, rugged scrubland that sits under the Montagne de l’Hortus and the Pic St. Loup itself. It’s fleshy, ripe and mineral, with the freshness associated with this cooler sub-zone.
The appropriately named Esprit de Grenache is likewise a spirited essence of southern Rhône Grenache, full of warm strawberry pie flavours and the beguilingly soft, voluptuous texture of the grape.
Reds Over $25
It’s back north to Burgundy for a pair of premium reds: 2011 Daniel Rion & Fils Vieilles Vignes Nuits-Saint-Georges ($53.95) and 2010 Champy Les Champs Pimont Beaune 1er Cru ($58.95). While neither is at the pinnacle of what Burgundy has to offer – you have to pay a lot more than $60 for that – both are representative of their respective appellations. Rion’s Nuits St. Georges has the classic firmness and pleasant rusticity of the appellation and is another 2-4 years away from prime enjoyment, while the continually-improving Maison Champy’s Beaune 1er Cru is a fine and elegant, succulent and firm wine from a classic vintage with all of the finesse one hopes for from the appellation. Earlier maturing, this should be drinking nicely by 2015.
That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle. Below, David Lawrason highlights more French wines from the LCBO regular listings – consider these attractively priced suggestions when value and satisfaction are the orders of the day.
John Szabo, Master Sommelier
From the February 15, 2014 Vintages release:
New French Wines on the General List
The LCBO’s general list is also turning the spotlight onto French wines this month and has unveiled an impressive 35 new wines in recent weeks and month. Some of them are very good, authentic well-priced examples of the various regions and appellations. Here my six top picks, but all others are now reviewed on WineAlign as well.
L’Arjolle 2012 Sauvignon Blanc-Viognier ($11.95) is a clever and effective blend of sauvignon and viognier. Great value; think ahead to summer.
Jean Geiler Muscat Reserve Particuliere 2012 ($14.00) is a terrific example of Alsace’s most underrated variety. Great value; bring on a plate of mussels.
Chateau de Vaugelas 2011 Le Prieure Corbieres ($13.95) begins to fill a huge LCBO void in affordable, rustic and intriguing estate grown syrah-based blends from the south of France.
Mas des Montagnes Cotes du Roussillon Villages 2010 ($12.95) is very good value in authentic plummy, peppery red from the sunniest corner of France.
Joseph Drouhin Cote De Beaune-Villages 2010 ($23.75) is a light-weight but classic basic Burgundy with added stature and structure thanks to the excellent 2010 vintage.
Chateau Des Arroucats Sainte Croix Du Mont 2010 ($16.95) is a delicious Sauternes-style dessert wine from a neighbouring appellation. At this price you can’t afford not to test drive one of the world’s great wine styles.
Editors Note: You can find our critics complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!