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French Regional Wine Class/Tasting
Rt. 6 Seekonk, MA
by Bob Mariani
I’ve always shied away from "wine classes," I guess because I feel something as delightfully diverting as wine shouldn’t be turned into a plodding academic pursuit. But in the hands of the entertaining and knowledgeable Ms. Dellie Rex from Boston’s Wine Experiences, Inc., a wine class can be a very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.
The Thursday evening class I attended was one of a continuing series offered by local wine and spirits merchant Chris Gasbarro. The subject was "French Regional Wines," and it explored the six regions that are responsible for all of France’s world-class wines: Alsace, Champagne, The Loire Valley, Bordeaux, The Cotes du Rhone, and Burgundy. As Ms. Rex explained, these six regions account for less than 15% of France’s total wine production, but they are the regions whose wines are (justifiably) the best known.
The grapes produced in these areas comprise nine of what are called "The Ten Noble Varietals." These are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Reisling, Gerwurztraminer, Channon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Syrah.
One of the first points Ms. Rex makes is that wine was meant to be drunk with food and that very often, wine that’s consumed by itself can taste quite different than wine that accompanies a meal. To illustrate this, Chef Ken from Johnson & Wales’s Seekonk restaurant Audrey’s, was also present to prepare some victuals to go with our varietals.
We began with a glass of 2003 Riesling, Leon Beyer from Alsace. Using the typical sensual metaphors, Ms. Rex described the taste as a combination of "green apples and slate." I had to struggle a bit to get it, but the more I drank, the more accurate her descriptions grew.
Next we had a 2003 Sancerre, Michel Redde from the Loire Valley, famed for its Sauvignon Blanc grapes. "Dill and grapefruit" were the nuances that sprang to Ms. Rex’s practice lips for this one. I found this wine, by itself, a bit one dimensional. That changed for the better later when I had it with some of Chef Ken’s pasta in a heavy cream sauce.
Then there was a 2002 Chateau L’Etoile, Graves from Bordeaux, which drew a nice response from the class, followed by a slightly more interesting 2002 Gewurztraminer, Leon Beyer from Alsace.
The tasting of the whites concluded on a very high note with a sampling of an absolutely seductive, buttery, full-bodied 2002 Meursault Charmes Premier Cru from Louis Jadot of Burgundy, which had the whole class rolling its eyes with delight.
After cleansing our pallets and glasses, we proceeded to the evening’s "flight of reds," which began with a nicely balanced 2002 Cotes de Nuits-Villages "la Vaucrain" by Louis Jadot of Burgundy made from Pinon Noir grapes. This was followed by a slightly more complex 2001 Cotes de Rhone-Villages, "Melodie d’Amour," by Chateau Signac also from Burgundy. I discovered that the longer these wines were swirled in the glass and were allowed to "breathe," the more complex and flavorful they became.
The finishing touch was a truly spectacular 2001 Chateau Laplagnotte Bellevue from the vineyards of St. Emilion in Bordeaux. Made from a blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot grapes, this wine began with a seductive, flowery "nose" that blossomed on the tongue into an elegant bouquet of cherry, cinnamon, and dark mushroom-y flavors that made it practically a meal in itself.
While we were sampling, Chef Ken had rustled up some lovely sautéed salmon with wilted baby spinach leaves. He finished it with a hefty dash of the"Melody d’Amour," which complemented the dish perfectly. The big, full-bodied Chateau Laplagnotte Bellevue, however was just too powerful for the fish and was obviously created to go with stronger flavored, red meat type dishes like lamb or venison.
Gasbarro’s wine classes are held once a month throughout the year. They cost $25 per person and include a 15% discount on all featured wines. Classes are held in the upstairs tasting room of Gasbarro’s Liquors on Rt. 6 in Seekonk. For more information call 401-331-WINE or go to www.chrisgasbarro.com.
Bob Mariani is a Southeastern New England freelance author. Besides his "Your Table is Ready" restaurant reviews found here, he also writes jazz articles on allaboutjazz.com.