Monday, May 25, 2009

Oh, the French! The view from Departure

Went to a French winetasting last week, for the trade. Ah, the trade! It was hosted by three large distributors, on the rooftop patio of the old Meyer & Frank building (now, it's The Nines Hotel, with the bar "Departure" on the roof with the patio. Left is a pic of the inside of Departure; here is some more info:

"The long-awaited lounge named Departure had its debut on floor 15 of The Nines hotel in early April 2009. Designed by renowned local architect Jeff Kovel of Portland's Skylab Architecture, Departure anoints the SW corner of the Nines with floor-to-ceiling glass views of the central city and Pioneer Square."

Sadly, I'm hearing that The Nines is having trouble booking as many as nine hotel rooms a night, so maybe you should run, not walk, to check out the Departure Lounge, in case it's in trouble already. What a great view!

The best part of this tasting was that owners from about 20 French (and one Italian) winery were there, pouring. Aside from collecting Bordeaux and having visited Burgundy, Alsace, Bordeaux, and the Loire Valley, I'm really pretty ignorant about French wines. Some of my questions initally drew surprised looks, but then the pourer/owner quickly recovered composure and politely gave me an answer. Maybe I supported their stereotype of Americans as ignorants; I don't know.

I have a bias against most French wines, and that bias was supported at the tasting. The vast majority of the wines (and they ranged from cheap to very spendy) were too thin, too sharp, too little nose, too unbalanced. Surprising, for a nation with so much wine history. I think it's partly the sub-optimal weather there, and partly the French's resistance to change (although that is changing).
Let us all be grateful for the fantastic wines that are findable in Walla Walla, Tri-cities, Yakima, and the Willamette Valley. You can find unbelievable quality at low prices, there.

As you might expect, the French didn't completely lose their national honor at the tasting; here are some of my faves from the Departure trade tasting:

1. Sommariva Prosecco di Conegliano: $15.50
As fate would have it, this was the only non-French wine there. This is Italian prosecco, and it is BY FAR THE BEST PROSECCO I HAVE EVER HAD (and I have had quite a few by now). It was poured by Cinzia (Cynthia?) Sommariva, with whom I spoke for quite a while--she is passionate about why their Prosecco is so good. Her family's vineyards are in the hills 50 km north of Venice, in the official DOC for Prosecco. Many other Proseccos are made from flatland grapes, or, worse, from outside the DOC. Her family picks the grapes by hand. The wine is made in stainless steel vats, and bottled monthly, enough freshly bottled each month to handle the demand. When you get the wine, you will first notice the classic and delicious yeasty bread aroma, coupled with lemon gelato--that bread aroma is found only in the best champagnes. In the mouth, it is fresh like you're picking fruit right in the orchard--green apple and some citrus--and oh so smooth! Nice finish. This one should figure heavily in your summer plans! And with lower alcohol and fewer calories than other sparkling wines, this is great for summer.

2nd favorite:2006 Jobard: Bourgogne Blanc: $27
Poured by Antoine Jobard himself, of Domaine Francois et Antoine Jobard. This is pure Chardonnay in the classic French style: minerals along with crisp fruit. Chardonnays were the order of the day at the tasting, and as you know, I usually won't choose a Chard for myself. I disliked almost every one of them I tasted. But this one was so utterly excellent that I must recommend it to you. It is so fruity--simply rampant with fruit--that it seemed slightly sweet, so I asked Antoine how much residual sugar it had, and he answered, "less than one" [gram per liter]. That is utterly dry, but it is a common palate trap--great fruit can fool you into thinking sugar. This is a rich, elegant wine, crisp with a looonnnnngg finish; to my mind a much better wine than their next-higher wine, which costs over $50! I think any California chard that could best this one would easily cost two or three times as much as this. Dive in! And if you're in the ABC club ("Anything But Chardonnay"), you should nevertheless give this a try.

3. 2006 La Tour Vieille, Banyuls Vendanges (500ml): $25
La Tour Veieille was poured by Christine Campadieu, who told me that her family's lands "plunge with the Pyrenees into the [Mediterranean] sea."This is a red dessert wine, made from Grenache and Cinsault. It has a great port nose, but it tastes fresh and alive; no oxidation whatever. I tell you, this would be DIVINE after dinner with a plate of assorted expensive cheeses and maybe some nuts and a little fruit, and Christine confirmed that that is exactly how she would enjoy this wine. It is not high-alcohol as port as (this wine's not fortified); it is just delicious.

4. 2007 Meyer-Fonne, Gentil d'Alsace: $14
Poured by Felix Meyer. He told me this is Pinot gris, Riesling, Pinot blanc, and Muscat. It has a fantastic, complex, multi-fruit and floral nose and is silky smooth and crisp and wonderful on the palate. It's $17.64 (plus S&H) at retail.

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