Photo and story by Paul Heidelberg
To open this new wine column, let me start by saying forget what you have heard, you can drink them cold. I’m talking red wines such as merlot, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon.
The old adage was serve whites chilled and reds un-chilled. But, first of all, room temperature in many parts of a country such as France is nothing like room temperature in the U.S., in such states as Texas and Florida.
Room temperature in many French regions is often 55 degrees Fahrenheit – you know that doesn’t work for much of the year in Texas and Florida.
During a March trip to France’s Charente Region, home of the world’s best spirit cognac, a double-distilled brandy, I was amazed to be served heavily-chilled red wines on two occasions.
The first was at the Brasserie Coq D’or in Cognac, where cognac trade in the old days used to be conducted by handshake, over a beer. On that occasion, I had a Chinon, a cabernet franc from the Loire Valley. Two days later at a very elegant restaurant, I had another cold-cold Loire Valley cabernet franc – this time a Samur Champigny.
This was March, and the weather was chilly, which added to my surprise. Talking with French and French Canadians since then, I have learned that chilling young red wines is now en vogue. Where this really makes since is in the good old USA, especially in the summer. So, when the weather is hot, remember to chill those reds.
That brings me to a very basic point.
These five grape varieties have gone into fine Bordeaux reds for centuries: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot.
I saw one “Wine Enthusiast” refuse a merlot because it came from France. “No,” she insisted, “I want a Merlot. You know, from California.”
The wine she wanted was likely to have come from vines planted within the past 10 years. If she would have had a French one instead, the vineyard would likely have been producing fine merlots for centuries.
Also, new growing areas in Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Texas are now producing fine reds and whites using ancient French varietals such as the five varietals from Bordeaux and pinot noir and chardonnay – old name pinot chardonnay – which originated in France’s Burgundy region, in French, Bourgogne.
While doing research in the big Burgundian wine center of Beaune, I bought, for myself and family back in San Antonio, bottles of Gevrey-Chambertin, made from pinot noir, and Pouilly Fuisse, produced from chardonnay grapes.
Gevrey-Chambertin wines are very exclusive, and expensive. This wine was the favorite of such illustrious oenophiles as Napoleon and John F. Kennedy.
Pouilly Fuisse has been a popular chardonnay with Americans for decades.
Well, when my family and I received our shipments of wines back in the States, we discovered the Pouilly Fuisses were corked – or ruined by bad corks – and the Gevrey-Chambertins, or at least some of them, were “iffy.”
The Gevrey-Chambertins years ago cost $25 dollars a bottle.
Imagine my surprise when the negociant I bought the wines from gave me unbelievable hassles about my getting replacements. And I was writing about wines for wine magazines. I wondered, what kind of treatment would the ordinary wine buyer have received?
If you go to the Super S supermarket on Sattler Road, near the “Times Guardian” offices, you can find very good bottles of Yellow Tail merlot and shiraz from Australia for less than $10 a bottle. Shiraz, also known as syrah, is one of the 13 varietals that go into the usually excellent Chateauneuf des Pape wines from the South of France.
What I am saying is don’t judge the quality of wines by cost, and be careful what you buy, especially when buying overseas. After my horrendous experience with the wines I purchased from a place called the Marches Aux Vin in Beaune – I will never forget the name of that establishment – I have learned to be very cautious.
Writer Paul Heidelberg has written about wines, beers and spirits for numerous newspapers and magazines, including the “Sun-Sentinel” newspaper in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, “The Orange County Register” in California and “The Wine News” and “Wine Enthusiast” magazines.