I was sitting on the bank of the Seine yesterday, watching a con-artist pretending to “find” a “gold” ring in front of tourist flâneurs, perambulating along the river. The ring is then offered in exchange for cash and I thought “isn’t this exactly what wine shows do to gullible producers?” Hire a salon in a fancy establishment like the Hôtel Saint-James & Albany (opposite the Louvre) and charge producers €1200 (R15 000) a pop to present their wines to a ragbag collection of journos, restaurateurs, retailers and professional wine luvvies. The ring that pops up is an interesting wine, divined by a jury which tastes its way around the room, becoming more enthusiastic as time and alcohol levels advance.
Which is what I had been doing the previous day as a jurist for few#3, Le Salon des Vignobles Français de l’Etranger, organized by Le Figaro. Over sixty wines from a dozen producers including such heavyweights as Opus One, the Michel Rolland franchise and the trio of Champagne houses making foreign fizz: Moët, Roederer and Deutz. Über-bling brands there were aplenty: Michel Laroche, Henri Bourgeois, Chapoutier and Drouhin.
The day finished with an elegant meal at Macéo, restaurant in the first arrondissement, run by an elegant and languid Englishman Mark Williamson who spoke French with received pronunciation. The wines were awesome as the winemaker guests were out to impress each other and the food was not too shabby either.
To start, langoustines rafraîchies, fin tartare de legumes & chair de crabe ‘pomelos orange’ followed by noisette de filet de boeuf Charolais du Bourbonnais, tartine de pommes de terre, copeaux primeurs pipérade. Dessert was pineapple carpaccio, or Carpaccio d’ananas Victoria, écorces d’agrumes, finger amandes as it said on the menu, followed by a perfect piece of salty Roquefort cheese on toast, served according to the English style, i.e. last. It complemented an excellent Ramos Pinto 20 year old Tawny that Decanter had recently acclaimed as best fortified wine in the world. A point Mr. Ramos or Mr. Pinto (I’m not sure which) couldn’t resist drawing to our attention.
The jury had given best overall wine award to a Shiraz/Viognier blend Maison Chapoutier are making Down Under while a special Coup de Coeur prize went to Julien Schaal, for his cool climate Syrah 2005 from Elgin. Two out of two to Syrah and South Africa sharing the stage with Australia. An altogether most satisfactory result.
Of course I couldn’t vote for Julien as I was the only SA jurist and jingoism is boring. My standout wines came from the Douro: two contrasting interpretations: power, minerality and concentration in the Xisto 2004 while the Chryseia 2006 was brimming with finesse and understatement. A couple of Chilean Cabernets, like the Lazuli 2005, blew my beret off. Wherever do they get those blueberry flavours from? A trio of Priorat wines under the Trio Infernal brand where masterpieces of minerality and acid. But like all masterpieces, they are not cheap with the hundred year old Carignan all of €700 a bottle.
The SA wines put on a very good show indeed: the Morgenhof Chenin Blanc 2006 made from 38 year old vines is rich and complex while the 2006 Grand Vin Pinotage from Michel Laroche is remarkable. The Anwilka 2006 is excellent, the Glenelly Hills 2004 had more burnt rubber on the nose than Kyalami while Murray Boustred’s Remhoogte Estate blend continues to outshine Michel Rolland’s Bonne Nouvelle.
At dinner I had the good fortune to sit next to Lionel Cousin, a Frenchman who makes a range of sublime organic reds called Cupano in Tuscany. While the French winemakers tucked into the corked bottle of Casa Lapostolle, Lionel told me about his previous life making documentary films before buying three hectares of heaven in Montalcino. His wines have character and great charm and at €15 a bottle, his Rosso di Montalcino was the second cheapest wine to Julien’s €12 Syrah and probably second best in the whole show, too.