I don't know about you, but French wines used to intimidate the hell out of me. That's why I started out concentrating on learning California and Oregon wines early in my wino career. Sure, I might still occasionally confuse "Duckhorn" with "Duck Pond," but at least I know I'm probably pronouncing the names correctly.
The complicated appellation system in France left me totally without confidence. Was I ordering an Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC), an Appellation d'Origine Vin De Qualité Supérieure (AOVDQS), a Vin de Paysor or a Vin de Table? Would I be able to tell the difference except when I referred to my credit card statement later? It's hard enough to remember the name of the grapes sometimes, much less the name of the village that it was grown in.
So I was very pleased, and a hair intimidated, to be invited to a tasting of Louis Latour Wines recently at Morton's Steakhouse. The Latour family have been viticulteurs since the 17th century and offer almost 175 different wines under their name. The prospect of learning about this famous wine house seemed daunting, and I incorrectly assumed the price points were well beyond the range of my usual purchases and those of most Bites readers.
But did I mention the tasting was at Morton's? In the name of journalistic curiosity and my overwhelming carnivorism, I screwed up my courage and headed downtown. The event was organized by Morton's GM Cory Mason as a benefit for l'Eté du Vin and local cancer charities. The tasting room was filled primarily with some of the steakhouse's most loyal patrons, but Mason and his Sales and Marketing Manager Lee Blankenship welcomed everyone as if they were an old friend. My French wine anxiety began to melt away like a sorbet on asphalt.
The tasters were presented with tasting notes and a menu of the appetizers. Good, I always liked an open book test. Eight different wines were offered with accompanying small bites on tables around the perimeter of the room. Only two of the Latours are regularly on the Morton's menu, but the sommelier Paige promised that all eight were usually on premise and available by request.
The Latour red offered on the standard Morton's menu was a 2007 Marsannay, a nice fruit-forward Pinot Noir that was easy on the palate. It was served with mini lamb chops that were not too gamey for the silky berry flavors of the Marsannay. This wine would pair well with any of Morton's leaner steaks.
My two other favorite wines were not standard on Morton's wine menu, but should be readily available at most fine wine stores at reasonable prices. The Grande Ardeche Chardonnay retails at less than $15 but drinks like a wine that costs twice that much. Ten months in oak imparts a nose of toasty vanilla with hints of coffee and spice. Someone remarked that they detected acacia, but frankly I couldn't identify an aroma as esoteric as acacia if you implanted a sprig of it in my left nostril for a month. Just try it. You'll like it.
My final pick was the Pinot Noir from Domaine de Valmoissine. Priced in a similar range as the Grand Ardeche, this wine represents one of the best value Pinots I've found in awhile. Not necessarily a great sipping wine, it had the benefit of being served along with a simple mushroom crostini. The earthy, loamy aromas and flavors of the Valmoissine matched very well with the mushrooms, and the toastiness of the bread softened some of the tannins which lingered with the finish. Eat then drink. Drink then eat. Those are instructions I can get behind.
The moral of the story is that French wines don't have to be ridiculously expensive or only for snooty oenophiles. Unless you are a dedicated Francophile, don't be afraid to ask your local wine merchant or the knowledgeable sommelier at a great restaurant like Morton's for guidance. Nobody wins when you drink bad wine, so give your glass a French kiss sometime soon.