Thursday, 23 June 2016

Beating the French at their own game? France Vs The Rest of the World

(courtesy of

There is nothing us brash Brits love doing more than taking on our Gallic friends from over the water in whatever contest we can conjure up. We've got Euro 2016 coming up in France, where a cornucopia of nations will be trying to steal the trophy from under the noses of the host nation; we are throwing out the classic 'French' style of cooking and embracing the modern British cuisine pathway in our Michelin starred restaurants. Hell, our doctors are trying to 'out-strike' the very country who seem to strike every other week about something or other.

Yes, we all like to get 'one up' on the French once in a while.

This pursuit of victory has quite recently been glorified in the English press, when Matthew Jukes, wine critic extraordinaire, organised a one-off tasting of English sparkling wines pitted against French Champagnes. When major tasters in the Paris restaurant and bar scene say that our fizz beats the beret off of the best sparkles that their country has to offer, you have to take it seriously.

You may think that I am on a serious 'anti-French' stomp (and if you take a look at my last article, I would say that maybe, subconsciously, I do), but its quite startling to see how quickly the so-called 'New World', with (in some cases, but not all) a relatively young wine industry, are catching up the 'old guard' of France. So I thought I'd take this as a great opportunity to not only dig out a few lost gems in my wine rack of French origin, but also dig deep into my pockets and buy a few pretenders to the styles which France have pioneered in centuries gone by. I knew when I thought of this idea it would be much more of a relay race than a lone sprint, so I enrolled the help of partner in drink, The Lass, in my efforts.

The first cork to be popped was Chateau Caronne St Gemme 2007, Haut Medoc (available in half bottles at Rosin Fine Wines, priced at £137 for 24). Your atypical Claret with a really gamey and slightly mulled fruit nose, but really hitting you with a developed fruitcake taste, mixed with smoke and leather. Not bad at all, from a relatively shaky vintage. To compare, I saw fit to buy a bottle of Capaia 2008 (priced at £13.99 a bottle from Majestic Wines), made by a guy called Count Stephan von Niepperg. He may sound like a Batman-style bad guy, but he owns 2 massively expensive properties in St Emillion, that make critically applauded wines, so he knows what he's doing when it comes to grapes. This is a completely evolved amalgamation of French know-how and New World sheen. Brilliantly brick coloured and with scents of wet leaves, smoke and baked black fruits, the texture of the wine is awesome. Soft and full, the nose matches the taste, but the experience is much more long lasting, as the length is longer than an EU Referendum campaign. I can't recommend this wine highly enough. 1-0 to the Others.

In the next round, Burgundy stepped up to the plate (or glass, as it should be), where I pulled out a bottle I'd been keeping for a bit, a St Aubin 1er Cru 'Chamois' 2012 from Olivier Leflaive (available for £23.99 a bottle at Majestic Wine). Lean, but creamy nose with a bit of floralness and peachiness to boot. On the palate, I did expect it to be a bit fuller bodied than it actually was, but it still ticked all the boxes for Puligny Montrachet's smaller neighbour. Citrus, mineral and a bit of nuttiness, this is what Chardonnay should be. Classy. For comparison, we had a Wolf Blass 'Presidents Selection' Chardonnay (available from Drinks Direct for £13.79 a bottle). Made by one of the biggest and well-known wine producers in the world, Wolf Blass' Presidents Selection is a step above their normal Yellow Label range and it does take a step away from the over-sweetened Australian Chardonnay of the olden days. Much fruitier and intense than the St Aubin, it has a real tropical fruit and even banana flavour to it. A bit buttery on the taste, shows that it has been beaten with a fair bit of oak and no mistake. No where near as much finesse as the French number, but a decent drop none-the-less. Regardless of that, France has pulled this back to 1-1.

For the deciding round, I've pulled out the big guns. You know a wine geek means business when he de-corks a fine red Burgundy, like Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru 'Les Damodes' 2005, Bouchard Pere et Fils (n/a in the UK). I'd manage to keep my eye of this for a long old while, having first bought it back in 2009, but the need to sacrifice something like this for VinspireUK is greater than my need to keep looking at it and saying "Not yet, young man, not yet..." It has a really light cherry colour, with a distinct tawny rim. However, its the perfume of this which gets you from the outset. Wild strawberry, meat juices, wet wood and farmyard, this is this the wine equivalent of algebra; unbelievably complex, but unbelievably satisfying come the end. To stand toe-to-toe with this giant of a wine is the Primarius Pinot Noir 2011 (available in Tesco for £9 a bottle). Plucked from 'The New Burgundy' of Oregan in the US, I was intrigued to see what it was like for such a reasonable price when compared with other Pinots from across the pond. Much zippier in terms of acidity in comparison to the behemoth of the Burgundy, with real fresh cranberry and raspberry fruit. Slightly tart for my liking, but a good summer slurper, none-the-less. Still, no match for the King of Pinot Noir though.

So, the result has come to pass, and I have discovered that even though these young pretenders are running a strong bend when it comes to the race towards wine perfection, the old masters still win by a nose at the end of the day.

1 comment:

  1. A win for the French - just! That Primarius Pinot is bloody good though...