Everyone knows the big guns in France. There is no shortage of representation for wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Rhone. Somehow the classic regions of Alsace and the Loire get overlooked by most people. Over the next couple of months, we are going to explore some of the odd varieties and regions that are shamefully missed by people in favor simply saying, "I'll take your house wine." That is even sad to say.....
We have a short list of wines with a sense of time and place. They represent grapes that are regional specialties, often to match the food of the region. More and more importers are thankfully championing these wines. We are looking forward to pouring these as summer approaches!
Jacky Pres, Fie Gris, Touraine - You've never had a Fie Gris? You don't know what you have been missing. If you trace the history of the grape (and there are people who actually do), you'll find it is thought to be the ancestor to Sauvignon Blanc. Believe me, it is another world away from the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc everyone and their mother seems to be drinking. It is light and refreshing, but has a chalky minerality. It stays on the right side of the citrus flavor and doesn't overwhelm you like some Sauv Blancs do. It has depth. It has expression. It actually takes a second or two to reflect on instead of finishing the whole bottle without even noticing you have been drinking wine. In short, it is a great wine to have with a small group of friends so you can understand wine can still be new and cool, but not be too cerebral and nerdy. Did I mention it is just plain good too?
Jean Francois Merieau Rose, Pineau d'Aunis, Touraine- Ok, so Pineau d'Aunis may not be as popular as Pinot Noir, but maybe someone will build a movie around it someday. Or maybe not, since I have only seen two or three producers ever. Having a Rose version of it may be one of the coolest wines we have ever had in ENO. We don't try to find odd wines just to have odd wines. We look for wines that are cool and pair well with our cheeses and charcuterie. This one just happens to fit each of these categories. It has a nice light strawberry note but more structure than most Rose. Jean is in the process of converting his entire production to organic as well. Can you have a more "French wine" than one made by a guy named Francois in the home of Joan of Arc? I think not.
Domaine des Huarts, Romorantin, Cour Cheverny, Loire- We have all seen the bottles of Chablis are your local shop, ranging from $10 jug wine to the untra expensive Raveneau. Trust me, these wines have nothing in common with each other. The name Chablis is extrememely ubiquitous. In general it should refer to the region of France at the top of Burgundy. These Chardonnay wines are usually unoaked, except at the higher end. Even the Raveneau wines only see older oak. You are looking for the steely quality that sets Chablis apart from the jug wine your grandmother kept around. What if you could get that same flavor profile at a lower price? If you see a bottle with Romorantin on the label, GRAB IT! It is a sister grape to Chardonnay only seen in the Loire (and rarely enough there). There is one vineyard with vines dating back over 100 years! If you don't know anything about the age of vines, having a white wine vine survive that long in the cool climate of the Loire is nothing short of amazing. And speaking of amazing, this wine is the perfect balance of that flinty, smoky, citrusy goodness that fits perfectly with a hot summer day. Are you looking for the ultimate wine for a triple cream cheese or oysters? Look no further. This rare little grape offers you everything a classic Chablis does, but is just not as snooty.
Keep coming back over the spring and summer as we add more and more wines with a true sense of time and place. Remember, don't close the menu with a simple "bring me your house white." Look over the list and ask for the little gems. They are worth the time.