The Wine Drinker

This is the Dead Letter Office of my wine writing. These stories ended up not fitting on our company's Facebook page (Piedmont Wine Imports) or website,, for reasons that I think are clear once you scroll through a few posts. Less professional musings, impressions that ultimately never got past the rough prototype stage. Um... enjoy!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Paris in February

This was written in February on an airplane, returning from what ended up being a very successful wine buying excursion. As the wines are now available, it seemed worthy of posting.
You may be wondering why I have been away from the office so much recently. I genuinely miss talking to many of you about food and wine; admittedly, while drinking Belgian beer on the 17th-century Place des Voges or in the brilliantly designed & dazzlingly mirrored Art Nouveau bar Bouillion-Racine, my thoughts are far from the store and its daily routines. But through much of the waiting and general humdrum of business travel I thought fondly of life at A Southern Season and of our gustatory conversations. Sometimes, even when in the heart of Paris, I miss North Carolina. That said, this year’s trip to Paris was a successful one, and despite the miserable weather, a good time as well. I’ll start off with the business, or all things wine-related, and if you have the patience and we have the column inches, I’ll run through the highlights of dining and shopping for food & wine across the length and breadth of Paris. Trust me, we did some serious walking in the quest for the perfect saucisson, or unfathomably rare bottle of Bonnes Mares. But for now, onto the route du vin.
And why was I in Paris recently? I did it for you, and your dinner. I attended the 6th annual Salon Professionel (sorry, that means you can’t come, only wine nerds allowed) des Vignerons Independants de France, in the quite lovely basement of the Louvre. To enter the Salon I had to walk past several large sections of the original stone wall & fortifications built around Paris a millenium ago to keep Vikings and the English out. Very impressive, and a little intimidating. The Louvre itself is a little impressive, even after multiple visits. I do not understand how Versailles got built- if this were home, I’d have no need for a house in the country. Producers from all the wine-growing regions in France were in attendance, 180 vignerons to be precise. It was one-stop-shopping for artisinal wines of every shape and color from the center of the wine universe, the kind of event that makes even this jaded wine buyer very exited. I got even more exited when told I was the only American who made the trip. Wide-open, unfettered, without competition. Let the bargain hunting begin!
By lunch, I was aware of just how rewarding this trip might be. It struck me that close to half of the wineries with which I had tasted had products of merit. This would remain my rough success rate for the duration of the conference. It’s bloody high. It’s like hitting .400 in baseball, or shooting 90% from the free throw line. At home I’d guess 20% of the wines I taste merit purchase for A Southern Season. What can I say, we maintain high standards. I worried briefly about an "I’m in Paris" effect. All the food had been delicious. . . .But many wines still tasted like pooh, or were just numbingly mediocre, so I’m certain the critical filter remained intact. To be more certain I loaded up the carry-on luggage with samples to retry on our side of the Atlantic, alongside my precious Bonnes Mares and potent Belgian brews. I always clink going through customs.
What follows is a list of the wines I tasted that you should be on the lookout for, and why. Most will magically appear on our shelves during the waning hours of the June sale. You must admit that the timing will be good for your wallet; not that these finds are expensive to begin with. They’ll be easy to locate in the store, in big piles around the French section, perhaps draped in the French flag, or something.
Lets begin with the Big News! Soon we will have Chambolle-Musigny for $19.99. ($17.59 during the sale!) This is no trick. Domaine Sigaut’s 01 Chambolle is a textbook example of the appellation’s wine- precise, aromatic, completely charming. A perfect dinner wine for when you’re starting with salmon but moving on to chicken, or even having something richer. I had a bottle of Chambolle-Musigny at Le Dôme de Marais with morel-filled raviolis and steak, and it was tremendous. The following evening I tried another Burgundy, this one a 2001 Domaine Pagnotta Rully Rouge ($15.99, $12.79 in June) with lobster ravioli followed by beef Bourguignon at the spartan, innovative restaurant l’Ardoise near the Rue de Rivoli, and the match was exceptional. So my verdict is in: Burgundy is best food red in the world. And after all, wine deserves a good meal. Popcorn, or a Hungry Man dinner, will not suffice. Get back into the kitchen! Down with cocktail wines!
In case you are new to the joys of Pinot, I should stress that this is an extremely good deal. Village-level Burgundy for $20 is unheard of, particularly from one of the finest villages in the Cote de Nuits. If you’re new to this corner of the wine world, it’s like getting top-notch Oakville Cabernet for $20, or first-growth Bordeaux for under $200. And I’m sorry Sideways, Burgundy is the only true Pinot Noir. I may regret writing this later, but it’s how I feel, and I’m not going to lie to you guys when it comes to the all-important topic of my blustery self-important opinions. I’m also not going to try, with any enthusiasm, to sell you ridiculously expensive Pinot Noir in clown makeup from California. I like you all too much to ruin your evening like that. French wine is good for you. Surrender to the dark side. . . .
Back to business. We slipped into a bit of a Parisian dining guide there, which unfortunately slid into a snobby rant, and I apologise. We’re back on task. Bargain hunter alert! As if a pair of under- $20 Burgundies isn’t enough value, I’m picking the 04 red and rosé from Les Chemins de Bassac as the Greatest Wine Values You’ll Taste This Year! Maybe ever. They’re at least a front runner/heavy favorite in the category. I realise, being June, it’s an early pick, but these wines are $8.99 and DELICIOUS. I like them. $7.19 on sale. Where’s the Cotes de Thongue? Who knows, who cares. We’ll say South of France. You can see a feverish dedication to quality in the eyes of the couple responsible for these fruit-driven, dry, balanced, actually about perfectly-made wines. They’re nice people, too. This couple only make two wines, and they do it right. Les Chemins de Bassac backed away from oak barriques in recent vintages, despite being advised by merchants that this step would hurt their exports. They are comitted to helping the wine express itself correctly, sales considerations are second. This is common rhetoric, but it is still uncommon to meet winemakers who walk the walk. I should admit to having a bit of a history with Les Chemins de Bassac. Four-ish years ago, in its oakier form, this was the first wine I ever bought a case of for personal consumption. I loved it, but alas, the wine disappeared from NC. The price in 2000 dollars? $8.99, of course.
As you will soon see, I bought stacks of other small-producer French wines on my weekend away, and all of them are awesome. You should taste the Sancerre! But I don’t want to burden you with loads of funny French names and flowery prose all at once. It’s a lot to remember at least I have a hard time with those sorts of things. And as I’m approaching the bottom edge of my airline cocktail napkin, stories of cheese shopping in weekend markets and the suprisingly good prepackaged sandwiches from the Grand Epicerie du Bon Marche will have to wait until I see you in person. For now, a bientot, and thanks for reading.


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