After a wonderful summer of too many friends, too much food, too many pink swimming pools, taxi trips to rival Phileas Fogg and altogether too much fun, life settles back into a more familiar groove: near empty beaches, restaurants have tables and most exciting of all, it’s comfortable to put on long trousers. And long trousers absolutely means it’s time for more than the obligatory bottle of rosé. Time to break out the whites of character and even those long forgotten reds!
Fresh into this newly re-established equilibrium, I was invited to conduct an evening tasting on a terrace behind the beautiful village of Seillans. Perhaps it was the gentle breeze at just the right temperature, or maybe that stunning view over the village and valley heading east past Fayence up towards the smart new rondpoint that even Christian Dior might have approved of, or quite possibly it was just the chance to relax with familiar old flavours put aside during the heat of the summer, but the wines were all on top form.
It’s a funny thing and ever so frustrating that the same wines sampled a day apart or in a separate venue with a new crowd can taste so completely different. The atmosphere, physical or emotional, has a lot to answer for.
I structured the tasting to explore three contrasting pairs. A great chance to split the tasters and, if the wines are well chosen and truly reflect the essence of what is to be contrasted, a quick show of hands gets a good conversation going!
To start with we compared the world-sweeping phenomenon that is Prosecco with champagne. Of course, both these sparkling wines have a broad range of styles and prices but to keep it simple I put forward house versions of both. The Prosecco came from the hills just west of Venice, the Colli Euganei, rather than the Prosecco heartland further north around Valdobbiadene, in the foothills of the Dolomites. Unapologetically fresh, clean and pure, this is strawberries and cream in a glass. A great aperitif or base for any Prosecco-based concoction that grabs your fancy. The Champagne Fourtin contrasted perfectly, showing just the right amount of biscuity, yeasty secondary flavours and complexity, the essential difference between the two drinks. A pair that performed!
Next we compared two classic white varieties, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé from Sauvignon’s northern home on the banks of the Loire are always a safe and satisfactory solution. But we looked at a Bordeaux blanc to highlight the joys of this wonderful grape. Pezat from the stable of Jonathan Maltus and the team at Château Teyssier in St Emilion is made in a more international style – a halfway house between the Sauvignons of the Loire and those of the New World. It is slightly fuller and the addition of a hint of Semillon adds complexity. Great stuff and if you are hankering after a spot of New Zealand-style, this borrows from the book but with an appropriate old-world restraint. To contrast we looked at a straight Bourgogne, Chardonnay from the slopes around Macon and another favourite producer, the team at Collovray et Terrier. With a bit of age on it, the second wine again showed more secondary aromas and flavours. Chardonnay’s diversity is impressive, it can be simple and fruit-driven but it evolves wonderfully in the cellar.
Finally, we signed off with a pair of reds, here contrasting two classic French regions, Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley. For the Bordeaux we chose a simple Graves, Château Pouyanne 2012. Charming cherry fruit over that classic gravelly, dusty character from the soils that give Graves its name. The wine sees no significant wood, it’s all about fresh fruit character and that signature Graves earthiness, which it delivers in spades, perfect for a lunchtime red.
At a similar price point we contrasted it with the brilliant Louis Barruol’s Côtes-du-Rhône. From his base at the family estate of Château de St Cosme in Gigondas, Louis offers a range of wines from his own vines and grapes brought in from sympathetic growers that meet his exacting standards. Unusually, Louis uses only Syrah in his Côtes-du-Rhône and this pedigree shines through in the wine. Louis is a master at marrying power with a velvety softness and finesse, something that is too often missing from southern Rhône Syrah. Again a brilliant contrast, this time between the lighter, earthy Graves with this much more effusive Rhône Syrah.
Three pairs that split the audience smack down the middle – job done!
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