Three sommeliers from Michelin-Star restaurants may not seem like the most likely trio to offer practical advice about drinking affordable French wine in New York City.
However, Bernie Sun, the beverage director at Jean-Georges Management; John Ragan, the wine director at Union Square Hospitality Group; and Pascaline Lepeltier, the beverage director at Rouge Tomate, recently joined Ray Isle of Food & Wine to do just that during a lively discussion at New York’s French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF).
The conversation was honest. Heard in the room, “Natural wines are overplayed. It’s an acquired taste and for me, I just never acquired that taste.” And quite informal. “When I plan a pairing, I put everything in my mouth – food and wine – and I just mush it around… I realize that’s not normal…”
Throughout the fun back-and-forth, we arrived at several useful tips to keep in mind when seeking out French wines:
Drink Corbières. And other “optional wines.”
If you look at the wine list and find a listing that’s a little unexpected — something that’s not from Bordeaux or Burgundy — take a closer look. “It should make you think: the somm doesn’t have to have this wine on the list,” says John Ragan, “The somm wants to have it on the list for a reason.”
These “optional wines” are good cues that you may get a good value or something interesting. For example, we tasted a Domaine La Bastide Corbières Blanc 2011 (SRP: $15.50). It’s a wine from a lesser-known region in the Languedoc-Roussillon and grown in an area that’s dominated by red wines (almost 95%). It was fresh and balanced with notes of sweet apple and lime blossom and really nice acidity.
For more on embracing the unknown at restaurants, check out David’s recent post on the topic.
Don’t be afraid of the cheapest wines.
These somms are tasting a lot of wine to select what will appear on their list; Bernie had tasted 75 wines earlier in the day. If a sommelier is tasting through, say 500 wines per month, many of which are in the $15 range, even the cheapest wine has been through a competitive, selective process to make the cut.
“People never take the cheap wine!” says Pascaline, “But the lowest-priced wines on my list are some of my best values.”
John agrees, “At lower price points, usually it’s not a money play, it’s a passion play. Something we really love.”
So try the “cheap” wine. It’s not a huge risk and you may find a new lifelong friend. Read the rest of this entry »