To be Wooed for the First Time

Story and Pictures by Guest Writer Debbie Israel Wines (The Wine Wench)

French Wine Seminar

On a quiet Tuesday afternoon on a balmy fall day near the LA Toy District, while many of you were in an office crunching numbers, yawning through administrative meetings, or teaching kiddies how to add, a few of us had to slave away in a wine tasting seminar…tasting wines and deciphering which cheese paired best.  As the cliché goes, “It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it.”

The wine seminar was led by Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer and spokesperson for the South West Wines of France Council (IVSO).  The fourth largest appellation in France in regards to volume and sales, this is the wine world’s best-kept secret.  Sounds like our own Southern California Temecula Valley’s Wine Region!  This region boasts authentic grape varieties, diversity, great quality to value ratio, and a wide-array of product offerings.  These wines are meant to be savored with food and complement endless food pairing options.

South of France Tasting

Now, wait a minute, some of my readers may be thinking!  We live in the heart of a premiere wine region.  Why would we want to spread the word about French wines?  Why spend time researching and learning about a French wine destination?  Because, my friends, wine is a world-wide community and we are but one aspect.  It is a brother/sisterhood of camaraderie that is ever-changing, evolving, growing, and stretching forward while bridging an illustrious rich history.   As wine enthusiasts, our adventure is never-ending and there is much to learn and share with others around the globe.

The delightful wines from this region are not only food-friendly and produced by talented winemakers; they are being touted as having some of the healthiest benefits of all red wines.  Roger Corder states in his critically acclaimed book, The Red Wine Diet, certain red wines high in tannins, especially hailing from Madiran and Saint-Mont appellations, may be more beneficial to one’s health than other wines.

In addition to the possible added health benefits, this region is endearing because it is a co-op of smaller farms and winemakers (5,000 to be exact!) who have joined together in their efforts to promote themselves and this lesser known South West Wine Region of France.  The region is home to forward thinking yet traditional winemakers.  They are as proud as they are passionate about their art of winemaking.  Be one of the first in your wine circles to impress with your knowledge about this area.

Obvious enough as it may seem, it struck an interesting note when our wine guide for the day, Dexheimer, discussed how wine is subject to fashion and pointed out the trend in Chardonnay that went from heavy oak, to very little, to stainless steel.   The whites that we sampled first embodied these trends.

Wine Tasting Seminar

The 2010 Gascogne with 80% Colombard and 20% Sauvignon et Ugni Blanc spent time in temperature-controlled stainless steel and exhibits this trendy tart, green apple taste that is so apparent when a white wine is made by this method.    The 2007 Gaillac delivered an initial tart, green note, but due to fermentation and time spent in new oak barrels for 8-9 months, this wine comes around to a full, smooth, creamy finish.  Both wines boasted their own personalities and would both be enjoyed as a starter wine to your event pairing nicely with a soft brie, pears, or salted nuts.  With price points of only $10-$15, how can you go wrong?  Perhaps my favorite white of the day was a lovely 2010 Cotes de Gacogne made from 80% Colombard and 20% Gros-Manseng.  Coming in at only $8.95, it was definitely the sleeper hit with a beautiful smooth, apricot aroma and a full-flower bouquet enveloping your tongue while flirting all the way down, I found myself politely polishing off this one and without apologies  avoiding the preferred “sip & spit” method.

Speaking of a Gros-Manseng, it was a happy surprise to stumble upon some new varietals at the seminar which strayed away from the normal Cabs and Merlots (which isn’t surprising since there are 10,000 types of grapes in the world).  The 2009 Marcillac is made with 100% Mansois.  This region is all about authenticity and with the Mansois grape, it’s as real as the region can get!  From a small, terraced winery; this wine is unique to the region and believed to be related to the Malbec.  “This IS terroir!” Dexheimer proudly states.  The temperamental grapes are immediately destemmed to prevent a strong green bell pepper taste and fermented in stainless steel.  It sees no oak.  In spite of their efforts, there is still a beckoning first aroma of green tannins due to the red clay and ashy soil; however, it quickly dissipates into a fine beefy taste that made me crave Beef Wellington.  Retailing for a mere $12, this is definitely a food wine.

Delightful Wines from the South of France

Ok, there’s always one in every crowd, right?  The Wench’s boyfriend.  The 2008 Fronton from Chaeau Le Roc, Le Classique. With 70% Negrette, 20% Syrah, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, this bad boy was aged in a tank for 15 months.  Retailing at only $12, drink it now or lay him down for 2-5 more years.  The first wafts of cinnamon tickles your senses and gives way to luscious tannins and literally melts in your mouth.  The family carefully cultivates their Negrette, Cab, and Syrah and takes pride in their use of traditional grape-growing methods in order to produce their fruit-forward wines.

Not to be overlooked was another delectable creation, the 2008 Gaillac from Domain Rotier and imported by Tru Wines.  The dark purple color comes from the 40% Duras (Father of Malbec), 24% Braucol, and 35% Syrah.  Its black licorice, smoky, (almost charcoal) taste makes a bold statement going in and finishes with a whisper.  This was a fun wine and, again, a great chance to sample some new varieties at only $12.

Be wooed by French wines.  Let go of your inhibitions and flirt with them.  Discover the best kept wine secret from France and travel to the South West, vicariously speaking, through their wines that complement your food, your health, and your sense of value.  Join the scores of other Americans who are exploring French wines and discover this region just south of Bordeaux.  Madiran, Saint-Mont, Fronton, Gaillac, Irouleguy, Gascogne, and Cahors anxiously await your arrival.

Wines can be found at: www.bighammerwines.com  or the Farmer’s Market in LA.