The Wine Geek is old enough to remember when most of the ‘good’ wine we Americans drank was French wine. And not just us Americans – other than that small handful of other European wine-producing countries that mostly drank local (Italy, Spain, Germany for instance) most of the world’s restaurant wine lists started and ended with France.
Of course, we drank plenty of American wine in the 60’s and 70’s; Boones Farm was American, as was Hearty Burgundy, Franzia and the famous Paul Masson, which we never ‘drank before it’s time’ as Orson Welles put it. But for ‘serious’ wine or special occasion wine, mon dieu, it must be French! Fast forward to the 80’s and 90’s and America’s wine renaissance was in full stride. We still made Franzia and Sutter Home, but we also made ‘world class’ wines, wines that could compete with and even ‘beat’ the best of France. So rapid and complete was the embrace of these wines, there is now a whole generation and a half that has drunk nothing but American wines. Further, there are scores and scores of restaurants here that have only offered American wine on their lists – and their guests all completely sated.
But a funny thing happened on our way up the wine learning-curve: as wine drinkers are naturally curious to try new things, we explored (and enjoyed) other ‘new world’ wines. Wines from Australia, from Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, and now lo and behold, we’ve circled back to the ‘old world’; Italy, Spain, Austria, Portugal, Greece and yes, France. This is where it all started in some respects and though not all will admit it, whenever a new world vintner wants to boast about his wine, it is usually compared to a noble wine from France: “our Santa Cruz Pinot Noir tastes like a Chambertin”. Or, “put our Chardonnay in a flight of white Burgundies and you won’t be able to pick it out”.
So the point of all this is that now, French wines are hot again, just like madras and chukka boots. But unlike madras, this new ‘fad’ will last more than a season. And it should. The wines of Chablis, Sancerre, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Alsace Gewürztraminer, and Vouvray are wines that cannot be replicated anywhere and even those wines we can ‘copy’ fairly closely – Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne all lack that ‘je ne sais quoi’ that the originals have.
But we have plenty of the real thing. Notably, we represent all three of the ‘big three’ in Burgundy – Joseph Drouhin, Louis Latour, Louis Jadot (quite a coup!). * Also M. Chapoutier (who Robert Parker called the greatest winemaker on earth) and our newest coup: the wines of Robert Kacher. This is a glorious portfolio of several iconic wines (Jean-Luc Jamet, Bertrand Ambroise to name two) but also has dozens of really cool gems from the Loire, the Rhône and Languedoc- Roussillon.
So, If you think your wine program is ‘complete’ but you haven’t embraced French wines yet (again), then you need to put on your Christian Louboutin’s and step up and get in the game.
* For those of you that are Burgundy snobs and only buy ‘Domaine’ wines: you are missing the boat. The ‘Négociants’ make fabulous wines and indeed own a large portion of their vineyards…so they are domains too!