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French wine and other Nice musings

(written by Dave)

Our wine exploration continues…  Before we go too far, it should be noted that a key limiting factor on our wine tasting odyssey is that we drink so little.  This makes research painfully slow.  Our budget is of course also a limitation but our consumption rate is definitely critical path. So far our selection process has not been very robust.  We basically wander into any store that sells wine, look at all the different regions, see nothing that sounds like our Aussie favourites and then pick something from Bordeaux with a chateau on the label.  This could take a long time.  As luck would have it, a good friend of ours and reader of LWOP (John) spotted our ineptitude and offer some basic and helpful advice.  It was so useful that I’ll include the bulk of it here.  John also mentioned a Wikipedia page that was useful – we found it but were again a bit overwhelmed (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_wine).  John’s text is a good beginners starting point, most importantly because he closes with the best advice, “find what you like”.  John’s notes:

Hi Dave – I’ve been drinking French wine lately.  I’ll try to give you a few pointers.  First, Wikipedia has some pretty succinct entries on the various wine regions and info to help decipher the meaning of wine labels.  This useful to understand Regions, Appellations, Producer, Quality, etc.

Have you heard the terms New World and Old World wine styles?  Basically means the difference between California, Australia, Chile, and areas outside Europe but also tends to differentiate a style that is earthy versus a very fruit driven style.  You can see this readily in the difference between a California Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot versus a French Bordeaux (which is made primarily from the same grape varieties).  What I like has changed overtime and I now prefer the earthier styles and drink mostly French, Italian and Spanish wines.

OK, so a French Cabernet is going to be very different from a California or Australian Cab, and a French Burgundy (Bourgogne) will be very different from a California or Oregon Pinot Noir.  Rhone wines are blends of Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre and a couple of others and hard for me to compare.  So the grapes that make up the wine are very important to the flavor and style of the wines.  A Cab Sauvignon based wine will almost always be bigger (more concentrated flavor, thicker mouth feel) and have more alcohol. My favourite French regions are Burgundy and Rhone but some of what I prefer is driven by price.  Bordeaux wine are famous world round and I hear the Chinese are now buying them at extremely high prices and then mixing them with soda – it’s the status not the wine.

Two more aspects of wine to consider.  One is quality and different regions have slightly different scales but generally there is Grand Cru, Premier Cru (I think also called 1er Cru), Regional. Crus will be more expensive but depending on the region can still be affordable.  An example is Beaujolais where the high volume Beaujolais Villages wines are pretty cheap and reasonable table wines drunk young; then there the Crus such as Morgon, Fleurie, Moulin a Vent that come from specific areas and are bigger wines that age well and are a lot more interesting but still affordable. I picked up 2009 (which has been called the vintage of a life time – I don’t know whose lifetime) Beaujolais Crus for $15-25. This brings me to the last consideration which is vintage and age.

I guess this is two aspects.  All growing and harvesting seasons are not the same. 2009 was a great year in France as was 2010 I believe.  There are vintage charts readily available on the web.  So one vintage of the same wine from the same producer but different years can be noticeably different.  But age matters a lot too.  With wines that age well it makes an big different to the flavor.  Overtime in the bottle sugars, acid, tannins will go through changes that will affect smell, taste, mouth feel, etc. I’ve had opportunities to taste wines from the same producer from different vintages (10-15 years apart) and they seemed like completely different wines.  The Cotes du Rhone you had probably had quite a bit of tannin (feels like your mouth is being dried out) which give another 5-10 years would mellow out to a softer wine. Unfortunately wines tend to get more expensive with age, quite depressing, unless you have the time money and inclination to cellar wine.

In general I look for wines based on what I like but also what I can afford.  I really like going to wine tastings since what I read about wines almost never makes sense to me, what sounds great from a description rarely matches what I smell and taste.  Currently I’m really enjoying Burgundies, Gigondas, Chateau neuf du Papes, Cru Beaujolais and Cotes du Rhone.  There is a very large wine production region Languedoc-Rousillon that is a lesser known area that I often find great values.

Armed with this info, today we visited a proper wine shop.  We didn’t see a lot of Crus as they were on a shelf that contained too many digits in the price.  Sticking to the top three shelves kept us under 10 EUD per bottle. I don’t how these wines would be priced in the US but we’re going with “local has to be better value”.  Boldly branching out from Bordeaux, we have e decided to try a different region.  Based on John’s advice we picked up a couple bottles from Cotes du Rhone.  They were less than $10 USD each but they should be good, given how many bottles fell in this price range.  We’ll try one for dinner tonight and report results.

Today was Saturday so we played tourists again.  We were going to try heading to Monaco but I’ve picked up a bit of a cold so we decided to stay local.  Instead we walked to the top of the Castle Hill (La colline du Chateau), the hill looking over Nice and the port.  There used to be a castle on it but it no longer exists – Louis the 14th had it destroyed in 1706.  I guess that he and all the other French Kings were tired of taking over the city, only to have the Savoy folks re-arm, take the chateau and be able to defend the city for the next 20 years.  By tearing down the chateau there was no safe place from which to defend the city and the French were are able to maintain control.  There is a lift and some stairs to reach the top.  Nancy and I walked up, Jan saved her energy and took the lift.

We had yet another picture perfect French Riviera blue sky day.  From the top of the hill you can see the port and some pretty swanky yachts.  Hard to think what they would cost, especially coming from Cambodia and Laos most recently, where GDP would barely buy a proper 2 hour lunch here in France.  Speaking of culture shock, even this morning I found myself hesitating before running my toothbrush under the tap.  Having spent six months rinsing from a bottle, it still feels strange to use the faucet.

We found more glazed fruit on our wanderings today. I’m not sure what it is with glazed fruit.  I’ve never seen anyone purchasing it and I am not sure how you eat it but there seems to be a lot for sale.  I was thinking that it was a French Riviera thing but checked Wikipedia on returning to the apartment and found that it is was Arabic in origin and is common in southern Europe where Arab influence through the years has been strongest.  Perhaps it is the Mediterranean version of cotton candy or saltwater taffy.  Anyway, it makes for some interesting photos.

Off to do some French study – perhaps if we have a glass of wine or two it will help with our pronunciation practice.  Thanks again to John for his advice.

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7 responses to “French wine and other Nice musings

  1. Amusing to see all the heavy clothing the sunseekers have shed, and that they are up against a thermal mass. Vit D therapy!

    • I will admit that label art is worth points in Aussie wine. Here in France where they simply put a pen drawing of the chateau on the label, you have to look elsewhere 🙂

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  2. I often pick my wine solely on the label; art is art. Sometimes it works out sometimes it doesn’t. But I don’t consider myself a wine-snob either and have been known to drink it out of the box as well. Mats and G-ma are gearing up; she is packed, he for the life of him can’t understand why you would pack for a trip so soon. He thought, perhaps she was taking a trip prior to her trip to France when he saw the suitcase out already. Generation gap???

  3. Hi guys im still wishing I was there…. thanks for the tips on reds I will look out for a wine from Cotes du Rhone next time and close my eyes and dream on….

  4. Any red wines were good wines when i visited france..- i have no shame…. I believe the glazed fruit is a fruit confit as duck confit (confit de canard). Takes forever to make. Enjoy..

    • Thanks, pretty sure that we won’t making any on our camp stove (duck or fruit) 🙂 We are with you on the wine. Though Becki’s note on the label art is worth a few points as well.

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