Anthony Gismondi: French devoted to making great wine

Credit to Author: agismondi| Date: Fri, 04 Oct 2019 18:00:48 +0000

A week of travel across France from Champagne to the Languedoc confirms the French remain devoted to producing some of the best wines in the world. It should come as no surprise that they do it with a great deal of confidence and savoir faire.

No one is bragging; the self-assurance comes from a wine community steeped in terroir and the experience to exploit it to produce wines of place. We began our tour in Champagne, where chalk is one of the fundamental forces behind its unique sparkling wine.

The chalk in Champagne is the remnants of shells that once housed marine micro-organisms at a time when the region was underwater. It acts as natural reservoir storing 300-400 litres of water per cubic metre that feed the vines a slow, steady, supply of water even amid severe droughts — and the Chardonnay loves it. It is why all Champagnes are sparkling wines, but not all sparkling wines are Champagne.

Driving from Champagne some 450 km further south, we encounter the famous granitic soils of Beaujolais. Gamay and granite have a natural affinity for each other, producing a round, juicy red wine with a bead of acidity that keeps it all together. The majority of the Beaujolais appellation ends up as Beaujolais Nouveau, kicking off the new wines of the season on Nov. 22. From here Beaujolais Villages kicks in, and in recent years it has upped its game.

The best and brightest Gamay resides within the famous Crus Beaujolais, now 10 strong. Terroir determines the style and taste of each, from the powerful Moulin a Vent to the supple, juicy pretty wines of Brouilly.

Our journey continued south to the northern Rhone Valley and the village of Tain l’Hermitage. Here along the south-facing slopes of the hill you will find some of the most magnificent Syrah in the world. Known for its power and ability to age it also possesses a great deal of finesse and complexity as it penetrates the millennia of decomposed granite and gravels clinging to the hillside.

We ended the week in sight of the Mediterranean Sea, in the Languedoc, the final frontier of French wine. Here in the land of sunshine (average 285 days a year) the diversity of soils, sites, elevation and wind plays home to an array of grapes that have been growing since the Greeks first planted vineyards near Narbonne in the 5th century.

The Languedoc has been a part of France since the 13th century, while the Roussillon was acquired from Spain in the mid-17th century. It wasn’t until the late 1980s before the two regions were joined under one administrative watch, a short time later the modern era of Languedoc wines got underway.

The Languedoc-Roussillon area is vast, explaining its ability to grow scores of grape varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay as well as the traditional Rhône grapes of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Picpoul, Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, and so many more.

Along with its countless grapes, there are just as many styles of wine made across the south of France from rosé, to sparkling Crémant de Limoux, to sweet Muscat de Rivesaltes, fortified wines made from Muscat of Alexandria grapes.

To say French wine is thriving is an understatement. France is the theme of the 2020 Vancouver International Wine Festival so we will be regularly returning to the French countryside as the festival approaches in late February.

Taittinger Brut Reserve N/V, Champagne, France

$90 | 91/100

UPC: 3016570001030

The always consistent lively Taittinger house style derives from some 40 crus in the Marne, Sézanne and Aube vineyards that spend a minimum 36 months in bottle on the lees. The blend is approximately 40 per cent Chardonnay 45 Pinot Noir and rest is Pinot Meunier. Fresh juicy, bright and packed full of citrus, it has a chalky texture and fresh, brisk rinse of acidity on the finish. Textbook Champagne you can drink anytime, like the French.

Georges Duboeuf Chateau des Capitans Julienas 2015, Beaujolais, Burgundy, France

$22.99 | 90/100

UPC: 03351650011166

The “Capitans” estate, named after an ancient Roman headquarters, is surrounded by a one-piece vineyard facing south/southeast. Only 20 per cent of this cru is matured in oak, leaving the fruit to sing. The nose, like the wine, is pretty with a spicy, floral nose flecked with wild berries and dusty granite. The palate is more of the same. Delicious red/black raspberry fruit flecked with pepper throughout a silky, mineral, stony finish. Fresh, yet serious, and certainly capable of aging a few years.

M. Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage Les Meysonniers 2016, Rhone Valley, France

$30 | 90/100

UPC:  03391180001749

One of the best value Crozes-Hermitage, made on the lower slopes and the flats south and east of the Hill Hermitage. Floral, white pepper and with an attractive meaty Syrah nose with a twist of garrigue. The attack is more elegant then you might expect with meaty, peppery, savoury, roasted pepper and dried herb flavours. Just a baby, this will put on weight and reward cellaring over the next three to five years. Serve with pork or lamb.

Paul Mas Grenache Noir 2015, Sud de France

$12.99 | 88/100

UPC: 03760040423517

At this price point all you really want is a juicy, fresh, red-fruited Grenache with medium alcohol, and that’s exactly what you get from this Pays d’Oc red made by Domaines Paul Mas. Mas operates via estates and appellations even at the entry level. The strategy keeps yields in line, and delivers high quality wine at a very low price. Fresh, ripe raspberries with flecks of darker fruit and a smooth juicy mid-palate morph into a dusty, mineral, savoury, finish. A dependable, accessible, good value red for grilled chicken thighs, or poultry burgers. Look for Vinus the heron on all the labels from Domaines Paul Mas. As the tale goes it was often seen in the Mas vineyards, preferring the ripe grapes to the fish from the river.

Gérard Bertrand Côte Des Roses Rosé 2018, Languedoc, France

$22.99 | 89/100

UPC: 03514120107107

Côte des Roses is a celebration of the Mediterranean lifestyle, something Gerard Bertrand has done with style for three decades. The Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah blend comes off mostly hard limestone and schist with a lesser contribution of gravels from the rivers of the Languedoc region. It smells of strawberries and watermelon sprayed with citrus but, more than anything, it tastes like fun. Even so, a lively, vibrant, mineral undercurrent supports a similar flavoured palate with a riff of Southern France garrigue. Halibut tacos, spicy tuna poke or lobster risotto all work here.

Steve Raichlen’s Venetian Braised Veal Brisket, from The Brisket Chronicles. Matthew Benson / PNG

If you are prepared to dedicate the next few years of your life to mastering the king of roasts, then let James Beard-winning chef and prolific grilling author Steve Raichlen be your guide. The Brisket Chronicles includes dozens of recipes and detailed instruction on how master a cut of beef that routinely ranges up to 18 pounds. Consider this rainy day braised veal as an appetizer.

Venetian Braised Veal Brisket

1 2-1/2 lb (1.1 kg) veal brisket

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tbsp (30 mL) extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped

2 ribs celery, finely chopped

2 carrots, trimmed, peeled, and finely chopped

3 juniper berries, lightly crushed with the side of a knife

2 whole cloves

1 dried bay leaf

1 1/2 cups (375 mL) white wine, plus extra as needed

1 1/2 cups (375 mL) veal or beef broth

Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C).

Using a sharp knife, trim the brisket, leaving a layer of fat at least ¼ inch thick. Generously season the brisket on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the brisket and cook, turning once, until browned on both sides, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer the brisket to a platter.

Pour off all but 2 tbsp of the fat from the pot. Add onion, celery, and carrots and cook over medium-high heat until lightly browned, 5 minutes. Return brisket to the pot, spooning half the vegetables on top. Add the juniper berries, cloves, and bay leaf. Stir in the white wine and bring to a boil, then add the stock.

Cover the pot, place it in the oven, and braise the brisket until very tender, 2½ to 3 hours. Add additional stock as needed to keep it from drying out. Cool veal slightly in its juices for 10 minutes. Use a sharp knife to slice it thinly across the grain or shred it with forks. Strain braising liquid and serve with veal and crusty bread.

Makes 6 servings.

Braised veal doesn’t require a big red, so the match we like is Gamay, be it from Beaujolais or British Columbia.

Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2017, Okanagan Falls, Okanagan Valley, $22.90

Smoked raspberry and forest berries on a juicy palate flecked with cinnamon, tobacco and bitter cherry; the perfect foil to veal.

Château de Pierreux Brouilly Reserve de Chateau 2017, Beaujolais, Burgundy, France, $19.99

Attractive stony, mineral, black fruit lead supple tannins and a creamy texture that will easily complement the veal.

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