Please excuse my absence for the past few weeks, all of which will be answered in a different article featuring Korean beverages.
I had an article that I was supposed to come out last Friday in time for Bastille Day… The introduction was such that I was hoping my absence could be forgiven.
Then, Nice happened.
The article (and its introduction) just seemed inappropriate.
I started being aware of France in relation to Paris. During our trips to France, however, I found myself falling in love with the countryside much more than I ever fell in love with Paris.
I understand that this sentiment is bizarre coming from a full-fledged city woman like myself, but who cannot fall in love with gorgeous nature, regionally faithful food, numerous tangible traces of history (from medieval France to evidence of both world wars), accessible regional wines…
Then, there’s the people.
One of the biggest misconceptions about the French is that they’re… Well, snobby.
Having said that, given the idea that wines are a great reflection of the people from the region it comes from, one could imagine how French wines are perceived.
In fact, before I had to scrap my article, I went around and asked non-winos about how they see French wines:
- It’s the most esteemed/coveted wine in the world.
- The best wines of the world come from France.
- You can’t possibly separate a Frenchman and his wine.
- Some of the most luxurious wine brands come from France (top answers include famous Champagne brands, like Dom Perignon and Veuve Cliquot).
- They’re probably going to be good and expensive since they’re French, but for reasons unknown beyond the fact that they’re French.
As I take this time to thank some of my friends for gamely giving their opinions on French wine (some more eloquent than others, but all shall remain nameless), let me also use this as an opportunity to debunk some of them (before I get to the point).
Personally, I think that the aspect of being the most esteemed/coveted/the best can be subjective (search for “Paris Wine Tasting of 1976” or “Judgment of Paris” online, watch the film “Bottle Shock”, or read my article on Stag’s Leap).
Ask a Frenchman (especially the ones who grew up in the wine regions), and they’d probably tell you that there’s more to their wines than the price/luxury (in fact, one of our non-wino French friends told me about how the wines in their supermarkets offer good, affordable options for wine novices).
It’s not all about the labels, either… Granted, I wouldn’t say no to a bottle of Romanée-Conti or a Petrus (preferably in my birth year), but there are a multitude of beautiful options out there that are not necessarily bank-breaking powerhouse names.
I know I’m taking too long to make a point, but here goes: Contrary to how they are perceived, I find that there are more friendly French people out there. I’ve seen many barriers broken by a proper salutation (with apologies for speaking broken French), and a glass of wine. The connections I’ve made (whether professional or personal) are still strong (and the sporadic emails I get consistently touch me to no end).
Here are some of my recent favorites (and their wines):
Alsace has a reputation for being the ultimate source of sweet but elegant white wines. Located near the border of Germany (and whose territory has been passed back and forth between France and Germany during wars), the two countries share similar winemaking procedures and grapes… So it’s not surprising to find the very German-sounding Gewürztraminer grapes in their wines, or the wide use of Alsatian bottles (skinny, tall, dark green ones that I love to call “the ramp model of wine bottles”) in Germany.
The thing is, as with anything mass-produced, some of the easily-accessible Alsace wines can be pretty… Well, boring. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still great (and go famously with Asian food), but they tend to be so homogenous.
Enter Joseph Cattin. I met Jacques Cattin Jr. and his wife, Anaïs Sirop duing the Vinexpo. They specialize in gorgeous, elegant, boutique Alsatian wines.
The beautiful thing about boutique wines is that the production is so small, winemakers can pay attention to every little detail that goes into their winemaking. Such is the case for Joseph Cattin wines. Their wines consistently retain a gorgeous elegance that keeps their wines sophisticated.
Muscat Grand Cru Hatschbourg – Talk about crossing borders, this appellation (geographical origin) is located in the region that shares borders with France, Germany, and Switzerland. The vineyards of Hatschbourg are located on mountainous slopes, which allow ample sunshine and protection from the mountains. Translation: not too ripe but not too unripe grapes, which gives wine the necessary astringency to keep the wine from being too sweet. This particular Muscat has wonderful floral notes typical of the grape, but with enough complimentary acidity.
Riesling and Gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives (late harvest) from the Les Cuvées d’Exception collection – Most wines using the noble rot method (allowing fungus to drill holes on the skin of the grape and letting water evaporate, leaving the grape with residual sugar) have a tendency to be saccharine sweet. The wines from the Les Cuvées d’Exception selection, however, are acerbic enough to keep it from being boring.
Domaine Gérard Tremblay
I (shyly) met Vincent Tremblay, president of Domaine Gérard Tremblay in one of the smaller booths during the Expo.
As evidenced in a lot of my articles in this blog, I have this predilection for boutique wines (wines with a small production), and I figured a formidable looking guy in a diminutive booth from a tiny appellation in one of the French powerhouse regions promised an excellent conversation.
I was right.
He shared his sentiment on how a lot of people over-complicate wines from his region (it’s a lot simpler than people think), his adventures while working in Argentina, the fact that he was the fifth generation winemaker in their family owned domain, and his passionate love of rugby (which explains his build).
“Where I come from, we just (casually) open a bottle of wine for dinner,” Vincent said during our discussion on why some people treat wine too seriously.
Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume “Vieilles Vignes” – Honestly, I don’t know how anyone can go wrong with a Premier Cru from Chablis. Fourchaume as a region is close to the river Serein, which cools down the vineyards during an otherwise scorching summer. Translation: well-balanced grapes producing well-balanced wines. Add that to the fact that the grapes come from “Vieille Vignes” (old vines), and voila, a beautiful Chardonnay with just the right amount of acidity, character, and notes of honey and white flowers… Perfect with food or just lounging around a terrace with friends.
Chablis Grand Cru Vaudésir – Vincent was actually hiding this baby in his booth… Given that there are very limited quantities to these bottles during production, I understood. As with most things rare, this was truly a gem and worthy of its classification, the highest in the region at Chablis Grand Cru. Located in Vaudésir, a tiny location also close to the Serein river, this location has the best Kimmeridgian soils that Chardonnay thrives on. This velvety Chardonnay with notes of honey and ripe fruits was truly breathtaking (and destroyed my palate for other Chardonnays).
Domaine Haute Perche
I never really read up on wines from the Anjou region… Frankly, we don’t have enough of them here to spark an interest.
In comes the effervescent Véronique Papin, Vigneronne of Domaine Haute Perche. Her energy was so much that I had to stop from going around the booths during the expo and have a couple of drinks with her (and she was sweet enough to teach me how to pronounce an element of their vineyard’s soil, schist, in a truly French way).
Anjou as a region is generally known for making sweet wines (although a decline in demand got winemakers from this part of the world to start producing dry wines), and being the only place in France that still produces Grolleau grapes (light, low in alcohol, earthy, dark grapes mostly used in rosé production).
Anjou Blanc “Le Caractere” – A beautifully intense, floral white wine made from Chenin Blanc grapes, this is an excellent showcase of how beautiful white wines from Anjou are supposed to be: rich, with a touch of sweetness, and a fresh finish.
Cremant de Loire Rosé – This was an excellent application of two of the major red grapes of Anjou (Grolleau and Cabernet Franc) as a sparkling wine. It’s fruity but elegant, with notes reminiscent of ripe berries and flowers.
Cabernet d’Anjou – Deemed the best of what Anjou has to offer, as per appellation standards, the Cabernet d’Anjou is a medium-sweet style rosé made from Cabernet Franc and/or Cabernet Sauvignon. Domaine de Haute Perche’s take on this rosé highlights the organoleptic characteristics of the wine, complimented by notes of very ripe red berries.
I had a marginally different ending to this entry, which as I’ve mentioned, is unsuitable given the recent attacks.
So let me end things this way: Intolerance should stop. Intolerance can be as simple as being a wine snob, to generalizing an entire race (which leads to prejudice and hate), to murder en masse for (reasons). When I think of the old and new French friends I’ve made, the frequency of attacks in their beautiful country (and that they’re acts of terrorism) saddens me to no end.
That being said, let me post a message from the French Embassy in Manila for an event in Alliance Française today:
Following the deadly attack that struck Nice last July 14 and that put France in grieving during our National Day, the President of the French Republic has declared three days of national mourning (July 16, 17 and 18) to pay tribute to the victims. The flags of public buildings have been on half-mast since July 15.
A minute of silence will be observed on Monday, July 18 at 12:00pm all over France. To join this tribute to the victims of this tragedy in unity with the Nation, I invite all our compatriots in the Philippines to observe this minute of silence on July 18, 6:00pm (local time). A brief memorial ceremony will be organized at the Alliance Française de Manille. Those who wish to attend are invited to come to the following address: 209, Nicanor Garcia St., Bel Air II, Makati City, no later that 5:45pm.
Thierry Mathou, Ambassador of France to the Philippines