Today, July 14, marks a very big day for my French friends. It’s Bastille Day, the day when the French get to take over many alleys downtown, drink a plethora of French wine, and wrap it up by singing French songs that sound pretty horrible to anyone who is not French. Last year France was in the World Cup final — and would probably like to forget the last few minutes of that game — so a lot of us who otherwise would not pay much attention to Bastille Day were reminded that it is pretty much the Franco version of St. Paddy’s Day.
On Bastille Day, I always like to, as the French would say, “honorer” my second favorite thing France has to offer: its wine. After Catherine Deneuve, Juliet Binoche, Emmanuelle Béart, Fanny Ardant and Isabelle Huppert, the wines of Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Loire and a few other regions, such as Champagne, are France’s greatest contribution to civilization as we know it. To be very academic about it, after all, I was a history major back when François Mitterand ruled the roost, French wines have a history that has survived wars with Germany and England, revolution, strikes and a strange fascination with Jerry Lewis.
Each wine region has a story, but for the sake of brevity, I’m going to let the wines do the talking in this column — one sip says a thousand words — and use the great American pastime’s All-Star Game as an inspiration to choose my French all-star team. This lineup is based on recent tastings, and there are certainly many others out there that qualify.
Champagne Pierre Moncuit, Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, Cuvee Millesimée, NV Chardonnay (Champagne, France)
Located in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Champagne Pierre Moncuit is exclusively dedicated to chardonnay. Salon, the most famous producer of 100 percent chardonnay is situated here, and Krug has vineyards in the village as well. Rich with roasted hazelnuts and almonds, honey aromatics and a strong undercurrent of chalky minerality, for the money, this rivals its more famous neighbors.
Suggested retail — $39
Château Malescot St. Exupéry, 2001 (Bordeaux, France)
This third growth from Margaux is overshadowed by the famed Château Margaux and Château Palmer, but I think it is one of the most solid bets from the left bank. Even though this wine is youthful, it still offers an array of offerings from a French food market — coffee, spice, chocolate, meat, black raspberries, plum fruit — and will improve for a couple of decades.
Suggested retail — $50
Château du Hureau, Saumur-Champigny, 2005 (Loire Valley, France)
With Vouvray, Savennières, Sancerre and Chinon to choose from, you might wonder why I selected this wine as the representative from the Loire. Like a shortstop, inexpensive (not Derek Jeter) wines that exceed expectations are clutch. Made entirely from cabernet franc and composed of fruit from 17 different plots, some of which contain 70-year-old vines, this is a light-bodied wine, yet it has a strong presence of terroir and a violet, cherry and tobacco cabernet franc essence. Think my favorite ballplayer, Jose Reyes.
Suggested retail — $15
François Jobard Meursault “En la Barre,” 2002 (Burgundy, France)
Jobard is my Ken Griffey Jr. — always on the All-Star team. Although the ’03 is the current release for this wine — and it is very good — see if you can locate some of the ’02. Although it is not even premier cru, it runs bases around many Meursaults that are, and I think it will get even better in the next five to 10 years. Full-bodied with hazelnuts, nut oil, almond paste, red apples, fresh chamomile and a firm mineral underpinning, it is absolutely stunning.
Suggested retail — $59
P.S.: If you are looking for a very interesting book on French wine and history, check out “Wine and War” by Donald Kladstrup.
Pamela Busch is the proprietor and wine director at CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.