Most people know the wines of France’s three most famous growing regions – Champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux – however, high-quality wines are produced in many other regions in France.
Over lunch at Luca Restaurant, Jacques Scott wine experts Lee Royle and Sergio Serrano, along Palm Bay International’s Director of Sales – Western Hemisphere Aaron Jay sampled and discussed wines from three of France’s other wine regions – the Rhône Valley, the Loire Valley and Alsace.
When it comes to names, French wines can be intimidating to people on the Americas’ side of the Atlantic Ocean. Take the lower Loire Valley winery Château de L’Oiseliniere for instance. It makes a wine called L’Oiseau D’Or Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie, made from a grape called Melon de Bourgogne. All of that, to a non-French speaker, is a mouthful – even before taking a sip of the wine.
Although all of those words signify something, the key word is Muscadet, which is a delightful white wine of moderate alcohol content that is perfect for Cayman’s eternal summer climate.
The Château de L’Oiseliniere Muscadet (retail price: $17.99) is a crisp, slightly effervescent, tart wine with flavours of apricots and a long finish.
“It makes your mouth salivate,” said wine distributor Palm Bay International’s Director of Sales – Western Hemisphere Aaron Jay.
Jacques Scott’s Lee Royle pointed out that the wine’s good acidity is what would allow it to age for several years.
“I think it’s a good food wine,” he said.
Muscadet has been called the perfect wine to go with oysters and Luca severed a couple of dozen Kumamoto oysters to prove the point. The pairing was indeed fantastic.
Royle said that one of the theories of why Muscadet is so good with oysters was that the grapes were grown near the ocean.
“Muscadet grapes are grown on the Atlantic coast and they pick up a minerality and salinity almost like the ocean,” he said.
The second wine sampled was Jean Vincent Sancerre ($26.99) from the Loire Valley. Sancerre is the name of the region on the left bank of the Loire River in the central part of the river valley. Although some red wines – called Sancerre Rouge – are produced from Pinot Noir grapes grown in the appellation, Sancerre is mostly known for its white wine grown from Sauvignon Blanc grapes.
Sancerre exhibits flavours of lemons as well as a minerality that stems from the chalky soils in which it is grown.
It was sampled with a couple of dishes, including Luca’s spinach salad, with crispy prosciutto, shaved Parmesan cheese, cherry tomatoes, orange segments and a citrus dressing. The citrusy characteristics of the wine paired very well with the citrus in the salad.
In general, Sancerre – and most Sauvignon Blanc for that matter – is one of the better wines to pair with salads, particularly those with soft cheeses like feta and goat.
The Sancerre was also tried with one of Luca’s authentic northern Italian dishes, vitello tonnato. This dish features thin slices of steamed veal over a creamy tuna sauce and then topped with a crispy capers. Although this dish might sound odd to those who haven’t tried it, is one of the classic dishes from the Piemonte region of Italy. The pairing with Sancerre really worked, not only because of the delicate flavours of the veal, but also because of the tuna sauce.
Jay was impressed with the Sancerre.
“I think it showed a true representation of Sauvignon Blanc, not the kind of overly grapefruit bomb you’d get from New Zealand or the US,” he said. “I was able to enjoy the pairing with the food rather than having the wine overwhelming the dish.”
For the main course at lunch, two French red wines were tasted. The first was 2005 Trimbach Pinot Noir Reserve Personnelle ($38.99) from the Alsace region of northeastern France near the German border. Although the most famous French red wines made from Pinot Noir grapes come from Burgundy, Alsace also produces wines from the grapes that has seen a big improvement in quality in recent years. In addition, good Alsatian Pinot Noir tends to be less expensive than Burgundy of similar quality.
Red Alsatian Pinot Noir isn’t as elegant as good Burgundy, but its full-bodied nature and mineral expressions make it a nice complement to heartier meat dishes. The Trimbach Pinot Noir Reserve Personnelle exhibited aromas of raspberries and minerality and flavours of red fruits.
The other wine sampled was Domaine des Saumades Châteauneuf du Pape ($48.99) from the Rhône Valley. Although Châteauneuf du Pape is usually a Grenache-predominant blend that also includes Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault or varieties of other grapes, the Domaine des Saumades is 100 per cent Grenache. It was full-bodied, rich and elegant with flavours of juicy cherries and hints of chocolate.
With lunch, the two red wines were sampled with medium-rare grilled yellow fin tuna with sauteed local cherry tomatoes, capers and black olives, as well as pistachio-encrusted New Zealand rack of lamb.
The Pinot Noir went best with the tuna. More and more, red wine is being paired with fish, with sauces being the ingredient that really pulls the pairing together. While the earthiness of the capers and black olives served with the tuna certainly complemented the earthy tones of the Trimbach Pinot Noir, the wine would have paired well with the red-fleshed fish even without the accompaniments.
Not surprisingly, the Châteauneuf du Pape paired well with the rack of lamb. But Jacques Scott wine expert Sergio Serrano also enjoyed pairing it with vitello tonnato.
“It brought out the sweetness of the veal,” he said.
Jay thought the Châteauneuf du Pape really stood out.
“Its characteristics were absolutely incredible,” he said. “It over-delivered on taste and its sweetness came out.”