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Grape Juice column: Lesser known French wines have a lot to offer

Andreas Harl
newsroom@vaildaily.com
VAIL CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyAndreas Harl is the beverage director at Matsuhisa in Vail.
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Last but not least, we’ll take a trip through France. French wines are my favorite. There is nothing better than the wines of Champagne, Burgundy and the Rhone Valley. Matsuhisa in Vail is serving a few special French wines until Sept. 7.

France has long been known as the premier wine country in the world because of the above mentioned wines. Often forgotten though are wines that come from some of those famous areas but are made more for local consumption than fame.

Most people, at some point, have enjoyed a good Sancerre, the place that produces the best Sauvignon Blancs in the world from the Loire Valley. Delicious, right? I think an area that doesn’t get enough credit is Sevre et Maine, on the west end of the Upper Loire Valley. The local grape is called Melon de Bourgogne, which produces a wonderful appetizer wine that pairs well with oysters and seafood.

Next up we’ll travel further south, passing the Cote D’Or (the golden slope) with its famous vineyards of Montrachet, Echezeaux, Vosne Romanee, to arrive in Beaujolais. The wines from Beaujolais seem to carry a bad reputation due to its Beaujolais Nouveau, a wine that is released every vintage just a few weeks after harvest and doesn’t usually offer much else than weird bubblegum-like flavors. But Beaujolais produced in a serious style produces some terrific summer sippers that in the best cases, after a few years of aging, are often mistaken for good Burgundy. Gamay, the grape that produces Beaujolais, can be very intriguing, so don’t hesitate to order a glass when you see it on some good restaurant’s wine list.

The south has been going through a renaissance over the last decades it seems. Inspired by the fame and glory of the wines from Chateaueneuf du Pape and Cote Rotie, the wines of Provence in the south have increasingly modeled production towards more quality than quantity.

Rose wines from that area have evolved into stellar wines. Usually blends of Cinsault, Grenache and Mourvedre, these blush wines now have great structure year in and out and don’t always get the credit they deserve.

The other wine from that area that stuck out was a wine from Bandol. Mourvedre, a blending partner in the ever so famous Chateauneuf du Pape, is blended with Grenache and Syrah to make a full bodied, complex and earthy wine. That area has gotten more exposure lately but doesn’t have great representation on wine lists. In that same general area you can also find France’s first sparkling wine. More than a century before champagne, the Benedictine Monks of the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire in the Southern foothills of Limoux created France’s very first sparkling wine, which is crisp, lively and balanced, and sold at a fraction of the price of Champagne.

The last wine of this week is from the Cote de Gascogne in southwestern France. Colombard and Gros-Manseng are blended together to offer a fruit driven and very lively wine reminiscent of a warmer climate Sauvignon Blanc.

I would like to thank Matsuhisa Vail, my co-workers and especially the readers and wine drinkers that came in and supported me this summer in the quest to open minds to new wines. Matsuhisa Vail is a fusion of cultures and flavors and it hass been a pleasure to pair our food with some of the world’s exotic wines.

Andreas Harl is the beverage director at Matsuhisa in Vail. Email comments about this column to cschnell@vaildaily.com.


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