France – Loire Valley

The Advantages Of Wine Tastings

27 November 2011

Dave of H2Vino with some Mallorcan Callet

Though I don’t do it as often as I’d like, it can be surprisingly easy to go to wine tastings. Many wine shops and liquor stores host them on weekends, and even grocery stores occasionally offer samples. Tastings are a great way to get to know new wines and try things you would never consider buying a whole bottle of. More important, when you try an array of different wines in rapid succession, it becomes much clearer what kinds of wines you most prefer.

My favorite wine shop, In Fine Spirits, offers wine tastings Saturday afternoons, but every once in a while they’ll put together a big wine tasting shebang. Recently, they hosted a wonderful “Rare Vines” event focusing on limited-production wines, an exciting opportunity to try a wide range of wines made in batches of less than 1000 cases (most were under 500).

For just $10 per person — less than the price of a glass of wine in many restaurants — we sampled more than 30 wines and took good advantage of the gourmet cheese tray. (We should have taken better advantage of the spit buckets, however.)

Here are the wines I found most exciting:


Rosé In The Desert (Part 1)

3 November 2011

Although Allah frowns on the consumption of alcohol, so I hear, I did manage to sneak a few glasses during my trip to Dubai and Oman. In that hot, dry climate, I found myself regularly drawn to juicy rosés.

One afternoon, I sat down to a light Persian lunch of lentil-studded meatballs with pomegranate sauce and herb salad at a restaurant called Anar, set in the Souk Madinat Jumeirah. I ordered the one rosé on the menu, a 2010 Sauvion “Chemin des Sables” Rosé d’Anjou from France’s Loire Valley.

Rosé d’Anjou sounded vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t remember ever trying one. The color of a watermelon Jolly Rancher, it tasted fruity and fun, taking on an extra tang with the meatballs. I didn’t feel moved to deep contemplation, but it was a satisfying choice for a sunny al fresco lunch.

I later went to Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine to research Rosé d’Anjou. She doesn’t pull any punches, calling it “sickly.” Tom Stevenson’s Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia takes a more gracious tone, tepidly arguing that “There is nothing intrinsically wrong with a wine that happens to be pink with some sweetness.” It seems Rosé d’Anjou is the White Zinfandel of the Loire Valley!


An Odd Array Of Toasts

20 August 2011

While planning the order of our upcoming wedding reception, we ran into trouble figuring out who we wanted to toast and when. It can get a little complicated, matching differing family structures and sets of friends. We needed a guide.

I have a set of vintage etiquette books, including the incomparable Emily Post’s Etiquette, but we thought Letitia Baldridge’s Complete Guide to the New Manners for the 90’s would be more helpful in this case. She offered very clear, direct advice, as she always does. So should you find yourself wondering who should toast and in what order, here is the official list:

The best man toasts the bride.

The groom toasts the bride.

The bride toasts her groom.

The father of the bride toasts the couple.

The bride toasts her groom’s parents.

The groom toasts his bride’s parents.

The matron or maid of honor toasts the couple.

The father of the groom toasts the couple.

The mother of the bride toasts the couple.

The mother of the groom toasts the couple.

Other relatives and close friends of the bride or groom continue toasting.

At which point the reception guests start sawing at their forearms with the butter knives.

Fortunately with our guests, we feel certain that the toasts will be at least as interesting as the sparkling wine we’re toasting with: Crémant de Loire. This bubbly from France’s Loire Valley makes an elegant, less-expensive alternative to Champagne. The bubbles tend to be fine, and they frequently express a bit of that yeasty goodness on the nose that I enjoy in real Champagnes.

So give a Crémant de Loire a try the next time you need a sparkler; they usually cost between $15 and $20 per bottle.


A Meeting Of Rivals

31 May 2011

There may be an almost countless number of wine regions gracing the globe, but Bordeaux remains arguably the most important benchmark of quality. It wasn’t always so, of course. The Loire Valley once held that title, its river serving as an easy trade route into the Atlantic, from which cargoes of wine swung north to thirsty Holland and England.

That all ended in the 12th Century, when Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II favored Gascony with generous excise tax privileges, ensuring that “…Gascony became the most important supplier of the English court and London society,” according to André Dominé’s Wine.

The Loire Valley’s still wines have languished in the shadow of Bordeaux ever since, and to the north, the sparklers of Champagne continue to eclipse Loire bubblies. But again, “Saumur producers claim to have been in the fizz business long before the Champenois.” (Alice King, Fabulous Fizz.)


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