A French Wine Tasting

It's going to be hard to beat the last wine tasting event held by the Arrowhead Wine Enthusiasts. We decided to do a French wine tasting, and charge the unheard of price of $20/person. Normally our tasting fee is anywhere from $10 to $15, but I wanted to show the group how good French wine can be. In the past, a $10 tasting fee for French wine would only get some basic Haut-Medoc Bordeaux, or the oddball Provence wine. But $20....I can do something with that!

When I headed to my favored wine shop, I had in mind what I wanted the group to try, and I knew I would be challenged even at $20/person. I spent an hour and half in the wine shop, reviewing potential candidates for our French wine tasting, and narrowed it down to five wines, that I felt were good representatives of French wine.

When the night arrived, I had 53 people at my house. Each was asked to bring an entree, appetizer or dessert that were in keeping with the French theme. Surprisingly, only one person brought Brie, and only one caviar dish.

As the evening began, each guest had a taste of our first wine, the Heidsieck NV Blue Top Monopole Brut Champagne. This sparkler is the entry level for Heidsieck and Co., but offers that autolytic character (yeastiness) that one expects from Champagne. The wine was dry, with some minerally notes, and a touch of apple and citrus. Nice acidity, structure and a moderately long finish. There was some questions about the word "monopole". This simply means that the winery controls the vineyard and the production. In Champagne, many wineries purchase their grapes from co-op houses.

Our second wine moved a little south and west from the far northern reaches of Champagne. Our least expensive wine of the night came from the Loire, and more specifically from the Touraine region. Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc are the primary white grapes for this region, and I went with a Sauvignon Blanc from Ricard Les Trois Chenes Touraine 2011. This one really surprised some people, not only for its' low price of only $15, but the fact that it is a very good wine. Crisp acidity, with grapefruit, minerals, and only a bit of that vegetal aroma you get with Sauvignon Blanc. This is a great summer wine!

The stars of the evening were to be the three red wines. Our wine group is more red oriented to begin with. So, why not go big? I couldn't find any older vintages on the shelf, so the Vinturi aerators were there to help open up the wines. Our first red wine of the evening was fantastic. We opened with the Mongeard Mugneret Les Petits Monts Vosne Romanee 1er Cru 2009. At $95/bottle, this was "scary good". If only wine could be this good at around $25, I'd be drinking all the time! This is medium plus bodied Pinot Noir, from a vineyard, that is just above one of the best vineyards in Burgundy (Le Romanee). Lots of red cherry, earth, spices, and that all important "funk" you get from Pinot Noir. Nice acidity, and well integrated tannins, with a nice long finish. I could just sit and smell this wine all day, as it changes in the glass.

The second red wine of the evening took us to the southwest of France, in to the left bank of Bordeaux. I wanted a wine that was somewhere between the power of a Paulliac and a Margeaux, and the obvious choice was to go to the commune between the two: Saint Julien. One of the best known Chateau in this region is Leoville Las Cases, but their prices were beyond reach for this tasting. The next best opportunity was to go with their second label: Clos du Marquis Saint Julien 2009. Again, a young wine, from a very good vintage, so it was pretty tight, and needs a lot of air in it. The dark red fruit, and fairly heavy tannins, were a nice contrast to the previous wine. This one really needed more time, but is well worth adding to your cellar...if you can keep your hands off it for 8 to 10 years.

Decanted wine service
Our last planned wine for the evening was from the Northern Rhone, home to Syrah. I chose the Francois Villard Cote Rotie Le Gallet Blanc 2009 to end the evening. This one got some interesting reactions. I didn't realize how many people were used to Australian Shiraz, or California Syrah. This didn't taste anything like those, and that was a pleasant surprise to most of the tasters. This wine was also very young. The color was deep purple, emphasizing the black cherry, and blackberry notes. Very fruit forward, with some hints of oak, meat, and spice. Tight tannins, that should mellow with age. Again, this is one to buy and hold.

While all the wines that were planned for the evening were outstanding, we had a few little "tricks up our sleeves". Two of our members brought some older vintages to share with the group. The first two bottles were purchased at a local charity event, so the provenance was questionable. Both bottles were from Bordeaux, and the 1985 vintage. They were Chateau Mouton-Cadet and Chateau Certan de May (Pomerol). The first was over the hill, The cork broke upon opening and the wine was oxidized. The second wine was from the right bank, and mostly merlot based. It held up surprisingly well. It was a bit "skunky" upon opening, but soon opened up to a little bit of red fruit,and smooth tannins. Medium bodied, with a medium finish.

1966 Latour - empty
The culmination of the evening occurred, when we pulled the cork on the Vin du Chateau Latour 1966. I had opened previous bottles of this wine, and the cork had failed. This time, the cork came out in one piece, but was stained to within 1/4 inch of the end of the cork. I wasn't holding out much hope, but after decanting the wine, the color looked good. The nose was a bit musty (anything corked up for 47 years would be expected to smell the same). Then the taste....it held up! Most of the fruit was gone, but amazingly, the tannins were still there. Nice velvety texture. A real treat, shared among a large group of tasters. We all got a small taste of history this night.

While I was conducting the tasting, some of my friends decided to venture down to my wine cellar. Luckily, I hid the key. But, the joke's on them. After they left, and only a few people remained, I opened up the cellar and pulled out a 1983 Opus One. I know it's not French, but it was a nice way to end the evening.

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