Allons, enfants

July 1, 2010 § 1 Comment

The Tour de France 2010 kicks off this week, albeit in Holland. In the coming days, I won’t be able to resist having a live feed streaming into my life, a continuation of the continental vibe that infuses my summers along with Wimbledon and the arrival of futbol fever every fourth year. Nor will I resist falling in love again with French wine; I renew my vows every summer, when Maryland’s locavore bounty shifts into high gear, demanding  vinous versatility.

To me, it is jaw droppingly amazing how diverse true French wine culture is, and how much of the good stuff we have access to in little ol’ Baltimore. I do not speak of famed appellations necessarily, or the belles of the journalistic balls. Rather, it is the thousands of families for whom wine growing and wine making is simply what they do, without any glamour or raves attached to it, that I love. The succulence of the southern Rhône, the nervy juiciness of the Loire, the lustiness of Languedoc and the quixotic men and women working there, the daft sparkly cremants from all over…there is literally a wine for every occasion and dish.

I’m reminded of an exchange I was privy to years ago, between a French wine skeptic and Bruce Neyers. Bruce is the national director of sales for Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, the Grand-père of French wine importers. He also has his own winery in California. The skeptic lamented the rise of French wine prices due to the vagaries of currency exchange. Bruce raised a glass of Chablis from Olivier Savary and quietly exclaimed, “The wine in this glass comes from a region that’s been making Chardonnay in the same spot for the better part of a millemium. I’d kill to have this much finesse in my Napa Chardonnay, and even with the exchange problems it’s still $5 cheaper. People don’t know how good they actually have it.”  Now, I’m not saying everyone has to like what I like, or even that everyone has to like French wine. But during this season of Le Tour, I am saying that lovers of wine who have not bothered to explore the wines of France for a while should consider doing so.

The last thing the internet needs is another dissection of a wine growing country and its regions. What I’d like to offer is an invitation. In my first 45 days at The Wine Market, I’ve bought about a half dozen wines from France I would love for you to try, if you’re willing to step outside your comfort zone. I want to show you how Sauvignon Blanc is done in the region that the grape calls home. I want you to fall in love with Grenache because it just loves Maryland’s summer food so much. I want you to swoon for red wine that isn’t very big, because it has balance and finesse and goes with everything, including an ice pack at the bottom of a picnic basket. If you’ve got 20 bucks, I’ve got a growing section of wines I think you ought to try.

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