French Wine Class: Session One

March 9, 2009 at 3:36 pm (class, French Wine) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Last night we taught the first in our series of three classes on French wine. The focus of the first class was the wines of Alsace, Loire, Languedoc, and the Madiran. These are some of my favorite regions in all of France (hell, all of the world!). So many delicious wines, different terroirs, and exciting winemakers. We chose to group these regions together because of some similarities in winemaking mentality and aesthetics. These are smaller regions, for the most part (okay, the Loire Valley is about 700 miles long!), with the best producers being small, family owned wineries. A lot of these producers are proponents of non-interventionist and biodynamic winemaking, really fulfilling the legacy of terroir so painstakingly implemented by the AOC system.

The AOC system may seem confusing to us, but it is a triumph in protecting the viticultural land of France. The word “Savennieres” or “Morey St. Denis” means something to us because of French wine law. This was the first topic of discussion for the class: French wine law and the AOC system. We went over the four different classifications of wine, spending time discussing the two most important ones: AOC and Vin de Pays.

We then moved on to the regions, discussing each one as we tasted wines that were made there. Here is a list of the wines that we opened (aren’t you sad you weren’t there!?):

Alsace –
2002 Marcel Deiss ‘Engelgarten’, Pinot Beurot/Pinot Noir/Riesling/Muscat/Pinot Gris
2005 Jean-Marc Bernhard Grand Cru Mambourg, Gewurztraminer

Loire –
2003 Beatrice et Pascal Lambert ‘Cuvee Danae’ Chinon, Cabernet Franc
2005 Baumard ‘Clos du Papillon’, Savennieres, Chenin Blanc

Languedoc –
2005 Domaine D’Or et de Gueles ‘La Bolida’, Mourvedre
2007 Domaine Petite Cassagne Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Rolle (Vermentino)

Madiran –
2001 Montus Parherenc du Vic-Bilh Sec, Petit Corbu
2005 Alain Brumont, Tannat/Merlot

What I loved most about our class was that everyone had a different favorite. Some people loved the rich fruit, meatiness, and spice of ‘La Bolida’. A surprise favorite was the Montus Parherenc du Vic-Bilh Sec: a crazy Petit Corbu that is aged in new French oak for 2-3 years! The Baumard Papillon also kept people coming back for more (perhaps because I could not contain my excitement for the wine!), with its fat, rich stoniness and subtle pear and almond flavors.

Personally, I was most blown away by the 2002 Marcel Deiss ‘Engelgarten’. This is a wine that we don’t carry at LUSH (yet!), but we brought it in specifically for this class, to make manifest the idea of ‘complantation’ (and, yes, that ‘m’ is supposed to be there). This is a practice of which Deiss has been an outspoken proponent: planting a variety of grapes in a given plot of land, rather than just one grape variety, as the tradition in Alsace has been (85% of all bottlings in Alsace are varietal!). Deiss believes that the terroir of the land can be better conveyed through the combination a variety of grapes (he makes the comparison to a piece of music needing a variety of instruments to be best performed).

This particular blend is Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Muscat, and Pinot Beurot (an indigenous variety believed to be almost identical to Pinot Gris), although the amounts are not specified (Deiss would say — who cares what the exact percentages are?). After a tumultuous battle removing the frail cork, the wine emerged beautifully. Surprisingly dark and golden in the glass, with a nose of petrol, tropical fruits, green apples, a minerals. Yumm. So expressive and rich, even on the nose. The palate had a little bit of residual CO2, which I find delightful and fresh. Beautiful acidity, yet a with richness that bespoke its age and pedigree. I really liked that I wasn’t thinking of the wine as a ‘Riesling’ or a ‘Pinot Gris’, but rather as an expression of Alsace and of Deiss as a winemaker. I look forward to trying more of Deiss’s wines, and hopefully seeing more Alsacien winemakers adopting the practice of complantation in the future.

Next up: Rhone, Burgundy, and Beaujolais. Can’t wait!

posted by Jane



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