Ne Crains Pas L’étiquette (Don’t Fear The Label)

The Grape Escape: May 6

You’d think the French would have enough courtesy to write their wine labels in English for us linguistically challenged Americans, but maybe a basic translation is too much to ask.  On your average bottle of Burgundy, we get some terms that French speaking peoples can nod along with, but to the untrained American eye, it might look like a made up cartoon language.

If we take the time to connect the dots, we can find the appellation where the grapes were grown, the level of quality, and other miscellaneous details useful for consumption.  It’s actually a great system.  Too bad we need a French-English dictionary and a degree in viticulture to understand it.  But instead of university training, we’re going to use our wine 101 “street smarts” to ensure we pick out a good bottle every time.

Let’s start with the AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlee) system.  This tells us the level of quality and region (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Cote du Rhone etc).  The word “d’Origine” is just a placeholder for the region, so a bottle of Bordeaux would say “Appellation Bordeaux Controlee.”  Still with me?  Good, cause it gets a little more complicated.  AOC wines don’t list the grapes on their labels, so you have to know your regions to know what you’re drinking.  A red Bordeaux can consist of any combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Malbec, and Carmenere.  But depending on where in Bordeaux the wine is from, it will usually have a predominant grape.  Left Bank Bordeaux wines (Medoc, Graves, etc.) are predominately Cabernet Sauvignon, while Right Bank (Pomerol, St. Emilion, etc.) are predominately Merlot.  Therefore, a red Bordeaux specifically from St. Emilion will say “Appellation St. Emilion Controlee” on the label.  Now, take a breath…

The AOC is just one category of quality for French wine.  But don’t tie the knot in your noose yet because the other categories aren’t nearly as complicated.

A step below AOC is Vin de Pays which means “country wine.”  This one isn’t as strict as AOC (they’re even allowed to put the grape variety on the label), but the quality can be much lower.  The lowest of the low is Vin de Table.  You can probably guess what that one means.

Here’s an example of an AOC label (and also happens to be what we’re drinking this week).

1. Marc Bredif – Name of this particular winery/producer
2. Appellation Vouvray Controlee – This shows that the wine was produced under the AOC standard of quality and indicates that it comes from Vouvray.
3. Mis en bouteille par Marc Bredif – This tells us where the wine was bottled, which is also an indication of quality.

Alright, it’s almost time to drink some wine.  If you have a spaceship, set your warp drive for a hyper-light jump to the Loire Valley of France for a bottle of 2008 Marc Bredif Vouvray.  (Or you could just go grab a one at your favorite liquor store.)

Vouvray (about 190 miles north of Bordeaux) is renowned for its wines made from 100 percent Chenin Blanc.  Don’t confuse this one with Sauvignon Blanc because the two have little in common.  Chenin Blanc arguably makes some of the best wines in the world.  It is naturally high in acidity, which means the flavors will grow in complexity as the years go by.  Now, get ready for this.  Some Chenin Blancs can last over 100 years in the bottle becoming more and more interesting with age.  They’re usually consumed before they reach their prime, so be sure to pick out a bottle for your grand kids.

Chenin Blanc can be sweet, dry, or off-dry.  Sweet Chenin tends to be more fruit driven with pears, apricots, apples, pineapples, and honey, while drier Chenin is more nutty and lush with almonds, hazelnut, buttermilk, and cream.  Off-dry is a bit of both, and that’s what we’re drinking today.

Tasting Notes: A few flavors associated with 2008 Marc Bredif Vouvray are  apricot, pineapple, honey, almond, and hazelnut.  Layers of creamy texture coat the entire inside of your mouth and travel all the way to your cheekbones with a touch of sweetness that is cleanly balanced with crisp acidity.  This is a wine you won’t forget.

Food Pairings: Since this is an off-dry style of Chenin Blanc, we want to pair it with something that matches its acidity.  The rule for acidity is “match acid with acid,” so fish will be perfect.  How about a Seafood Risotto?  Or, if you’re vegetarian, anything with a cream sauce will pair marvelously.

2008 Marc Bredif Vouvray sells for $18-$20.  Grab at least a bottle or two.  You won’t be disappointed.

Categories: Food