France was once the undisputed king of the wine world. Over the past 50 years, however, France has faced expanding market competition as strong new wine regions have been established around the globe and some old wine regions, like those in Italy and Spain, have undergone a production quality renaissance.
As a result, some wine drinkers don’t really know or appreciate many of the great wines France has to offer. The “Tour de France” Somm Series wine tasting event at West Indies Wine Company in May gave guests a taste of three of France’s major wine regions — Loire Valley, Provence and Bordeaux.
All of the six wines tasted were served with canapés prepared by private chef Dylan Benoit, giving guests an idea of the foods that pair well with each wine.
On hand from France to lead the tour was Eve de Saint-Jores, the regional sales manager for Terrisson Wines.
“We represent very small wineries,” she said. “They are all family-owned; there are no multinational companies.”
In addition, de Saint-Jores said all of the wineries presented at the tasting use only the grapes that they grow themselves.
“They don’t buy any grapes, which makes the wines much more interesting,” she said. All of the wines on the menu for the night were “terroir driven,”de Saint-Jores said, meaning they reflected a sense of place as a result of the climate, soil, altitude and position to the sun in their respective growing regions.
The tasting started with a dry rosé sparkling wine from the winery De Chanceny, made in the Loire Valley, about 150 miles south of Paris.
“This wine comes from Saumur, in the middle of the Loire Valley,” said de Saint-Jores. “It is made with Cabernet Franc, which originates from the Loire Valley.”
The De Chanceny Brut Rosé is made by the “cremant” method, in which the bubble-causing secondary fermentation takes place inside the bottle — the same method used to make Champagne. This versatile and affordable sparkling wine will pair well with a wide variety of foods, including almost every seafood dish, white meats, Asian food and salads.
Three of the other five wines tasted also came from the Loire Valley, including a Philippe Girard Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre, a Chenin Blanc from Vouvray and a Rosé from Anjou.
De Saint-Jores said that Sancerre was well known partially because it was one of the first wines heavily exported from France. It’s also become better known because of the growing popularity of Sauvignon Blanc. Sancerre, however, is less fruity than most New World Sauvignon Blancs and displays a sense of minerality that comes from the silica-based silex soil in which it is grown.
The wine also had a refreshing acidity and de Saint-Jores offered a tip when choosing a Sancerre.
“Always look to see if the grapes are estate grown,” she said. “The ones that aren’t can have less acidity and feel fat in the mouth. After you have this one, your mouth waters.”
The other two Loire Valley wines — Lieu-dit Les Fosses d’Harengs Vouvray and Les Gardelles Rosé d’Anjou — were both medium dry, showing some sweetness with a tart finish of acidity.
“It’s not too sweet,” de Saint-Jores said of the Vouvray, which is made entirely of Chenin Blanc. “It’s right in the middle. It’s balanced and shows great harmony in the glass.”
The Rosé d’Anjou was a blend of Gamay, which is best known for creating Beaujolais in southern Burgundy, and Grolleau, which is a red grape that produces light-bodied wines. Fermentation is stopped before all sugars have been converted to alcohol, leaving a semi-sweet wine that is similar in taste to American White Zinfandel, but with more subtlety.
PROVENCE AND BORDEAUX
The other two wines tasted came from farther south in France.
From Provence, Domaine de Paris rosé was served. France is the largest producer of rosé wines in the world and its most famous rosés come from Provence. Like most other Provence rosés, the Domaine de Paris is a blend of several grapes: in this case, Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Carignan. The result is an easy-drinking, pale pink wine that has aromas and flavours of strawberries and raspberries.
“This is the kind of wine French people drink every day during the summer,” said de Saint-Jores.
The tasting ended with a Chateau La Branne red wine from Medoc, one of the regions of Bordeaux.
“Medoc is where you can find the best wine deals in Bordeaux,” said de Saint-Jores. As would be expected form a Left Bank Bordeaux, La Branne is a blend dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot and Petit Verdot round out the blend.
“This is a wine that’s very easy to drink,” said de Saint-Jores, adding that it represented very good value for the cost.