First Date for France Wine Tasting - February 2013

Last week, I attended the First Date for France wine tasting at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Within this impressive setting, there were some superb and interesting wines on show from all parts of France, none of which are available yet in the UK. Here are some of my highlights…

Champagne house Trepo Leriguier produce a range of elegant Champagnes, including a vintage Champagne from grapes harvested at night to ensure freshness. Value for money is always important and I thought the Ceremony NV (100% Chardonnay) and the Between Friends NV (80% Pinot Noir + 20% Chardonnay), both at an ex-cellar price of 14.30€, represent good buys. The former is fresh, clean and citrusy, while the latter has more body with plenty of fruit and some spice too.

In contrast to the relative richness of Champagne, Domaine des Hautes Vignes produce a delightfully light and refreshing AOC Crémant de Loire 2010, blending 60% Chenin Blanc, 30% Chardonnay and 10% Cabernet Franc. This wine has a floral, fruity nose leading on to a crisp fruity palate with a hint of nuts and is ready for drinking now. The estate also makes an interesting AOC Saumur Rouge Vieilles Vignes 2010 from 85% Cabernet Franc and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. An aromatic nose of peppers and spice leads on to a palate showing hints of red pepper and tomato, courtesy of the Cabernet Franc. This wine certainly has ageing potential, but could be drunk now as an accompaniment to cheese.

Domaines Tatin in the Loire valley produce wines from Sauvignon Blanc, in particular, but also Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. Their AOC Quincy, Domaine du Tremblay Cuvée Vin Noble 2010 shows decent structure with soft floral notes, citrus and gooseberry fruit and a backbone of salinity and minerality – good value at 4.80€ ex-cellar. Their AOC Reuilly, Les Demoiselles Tatin Sauvignon Blanc 2012 is incredibly aromatic and fresh with citrus, elderflower and gooseberries on the nose and palate evident from start to finish with mineral notes present too. Domaine de Montigny is another Loire producer, this time from the Touraine region. Wines are unoaked, with plenty of fruit and their AOC Touraine Sauvignon 2011 was light, clean and refreshing. Their AOC Touraine Côt 2010 is made from 100% Côt (otherwise known as Malbec) and shows fruit and spice on the nose with plums and light pepper spice on the palate. The lightness of this wine makes a change from the heavier and deeply concentrated Malbecs to which we are often accustomed.

Pierre Lamotte is a merchant house, based in Burgundy. Their AOC Bourgogne Blanc Chardonnay 2011 has soft pear notes with a creamy, buttery mouth feel. Their AOC Nuits-Saint-Georges 2011 is fresh and light with soft, red fruit notes. It would be interesting to see how this wine develops with age. In contrast, La Passion des Terroirs is a Bordeaux wine merchant, selling wines from Lucien Lurton & Fils. I enjoyed their AOC Fronsac Château Puy Guilhem 2007 made from 95% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 2% Malbec. This wine exhibits red fruit, vanilla and spice on the nose and palate and a long finish.

The Côtes du Ventoux (renamed to just "Ventoux" in 2008) is a region within the Southern Rhône area often known for fruity, easy-drinking red wines. However, greater investment and experimentation there has produced some interesting and higher quality wines. Formed in 2007, Aureto is a new wine estate in the region with 35ha of vines producing AOP Luberon, AOP Ventoux and IGP Vaucluse wines. They use sustainable viticulture with new technology, traditional winemaking techniques and restrained use of oak ageing. I particularly liked their AOP Luberon Petit Miracle 2011, made from 65% Syrah and 35% Grenache, which shows great concentration of fruit and spice. This wine would benefit from a minimum of two or three years’ ageing to bring out greater complexity, but it already shows good potential.

Château Spencer la Pujade in Corbières produce terroir-based red wines, using traditional grape varieties such as Carignan, Mourvèdre, Grenache and Syrah planted on clay, limestone and sandy soils. They are currently converting a proportion of their vineyards to use organic viticulture. All the wines I tasted from them were fruity with plenty of spice. For example, their AOC Corbières, Tradition 2010 has good structure with plenty of black fruits and spice on the nose and palate. These wines would go very well with spicy meat dishes, in particular lamb.

However, one Domaine stood out for me. Alsace is one of my favourite wine regions and Cave de Ribeauvillé, did not disappoint. Founded in 1895, they are the oldest co-op in the region and offered a range of beautifully elegant wines. My favourite was their Grand Cru Kirchberg Riesling 2010. An aromatic nose with hints of citrus and apple lead on to a well-structured palate with flavours of apple and a fresh minerality. Also impressive was the Collection Vendanges Manuelles Gewurztraminer 2012. This off-dry, aromatic wine has tropical fruit and spice flavours with subtle hints of rose petals. Their sweet Pinot Gris Grand Cru Gloeckelberg 2008 has a floral, fruity nose with raisins, honey and a hint of citrus carrying over to the palate. The range of 10 wines they offered all showed good quality and the three dry Riesling varietals, in particular, demonstrated a terroir-driven elegance.