A Quartet of French Wines
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A Quartet of French Wines Tasting Notes

I had the recent misfortune to miss a wine event in Manhattan hosted by Master of Wine Sheri Sauter Morano, but I was given the next best thing, the wines themselves. Of the wines I received, the $20 Lucien Albrecht Crémant D'Alsace Brut Rosé, non-vintage, is the most costly, and it is quite a value as bubbly goes. The term Crémant refers to a French sparkling wine that is not Champagne and that is yet produced in a similar fashion, with in-bottle second fermentation and all the usual Champagne bells and whistles. No matter how good a Crémant may be, and many are superb, the absence of that Champagne cachet will invariably mean a lower price. I enjoyed this wine, as I so often enjoy Champagne, as a mood-builder before a fine meal, and, yes, I was doing the cooking. Produced from 100% Pinot Noir, the wine is a delicate pink (the French term rosé in fact means pink in color), with a nice nose of strawberry and raspberry, more of these berries on the palate, crisp and dry in the mouth with a satisfying slightly tannic and slightly mineral (powdery) finish. I've enjoyed other Pinot Noir rosés, both still and sparkling, and I love the concept, especially when, as with this wine, the approach is dry.

The 2006 Château de La Chaize Brouilly is $13—no I didn't accidentally transpose those two digits—and frankly I don't know how they do it. Brouilly is the southernmost of the ten Beaujolais crus, those distinct granite-soil villages that get the most goodness out of the Gamay grape. Legend has it that a Roman lieutenant named Brulius was stationed in the area some time back, hence the name. Sheri writes in her notes to this wine that “while Beaujolais sometimes has the reputation of being light and soft, this wine most certainly challenges the assumption that Beaujolais is not a serious wine.” I agree, of course, but I need to stress that this “serious” wine is ultimately a lot of fun to drink. Medium bodied, with mid-level tannins and mid-level acidity, the wine is about solid red fruit—cherry and strawberry—with a spicy overlay. The mood it leaves one in, as well made as it is, is decidedly not serious. This is happy wine with a happy fruity finish. Better share this with a friend than philosophize with it by yourself.

The 2007 Laurent Miquel Nord Sud Viognier Vin de Pays d'Oc is also $13. Market forces again come into play here; the difficult-to-vinify Viognier, a Rhône varietal, should be more costly, but this is a Vin de Pays rather than an Appellation Contrôlée; as with the Crémant, less cachet translates to less cash. The wine in glass is a lucid straw-gold, bringing to the nose the peach and apricot notes one expects from Viognier, with a touch of fragrant almond, some honey and a dab of white flowers in the back. The wine is dry but full-bodied, at 13.5% not over-alcoholic as is the case so often with Viognier. Peach leads the parade on the palate, with an element of peach pit and a bit of mulled wine spice: cinnamon, nutmeg, a little clove. The finish is satisfyingly citric, long enough, though not particularly complex. I generally think of Viognier as elegant above all else, yet this manifestation, like the Brouilly before it, is another one of those happy wines. Oh how I wish to see more Viognier on by-the-glass wine lists in the United States, even if it may be a bit tricky to pronounce.

With the 2006 Jean-Luc Colombo Les Abeilles Côtes du Rhône, at $11, you don't need to be concerned with me transposing the numerals; it's simply a true value. The Côtes du Rhône appellation allows a particularly wide latitude in terms of both geographic reach and varietal content, but Grenache, as here, usually leads; this wine fills it all in with Syrah and Mourvedre (a further ten red varietals and eight white varietals could become part of a Côtes du Rhône mix). All these possibilities tend to make Côtes du Rhône something of a quality minefield, if it weren't for the undeniable fact that most, as here, tend to be excellent values. The term “Les Abeilles” simply means “the bees,” those industrious insects who buzz around fragrant fields (it's a winning image, even if the bees are not strictly necessary for grapevine propagation). I believe I have admitted in these pages to being a Grenache lover at least half a dozen times. The profound purple of this wine gave me a good Grenachian start, with good solid ripe strawberry on the nose, but the Syrah brought peppery spice and the Mourvedre expressed itself with leather and meat. (The Aussies have already found out that GSM is a winning combo.) Tannins are soft, acidity workaday, and alcohol in check at 13.5%. Berry fruit and chocolate help this one sound a final cadence with much to enjoy on a surprisingly complex finish. This is a ready-to-drink wine rather than a putting-away wine, which by some token is a shame, since at this price the concept of “case” pushes its way to the front burner.

Verdict: Excellent values from France
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food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award


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Master of Wine Sheri Sauter Morano is spokesperson for Wines of France.

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