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Tastin’FRANCE: French wine sparkles in Sydney sunshine

We’re coming to the end of summer but the Harbour City’s warmth shines on, hosting a team of winemakers from the Old World. Some we have met before, for others it is their first trip to the other side of the globe.

It is a wonderful occasion. One of the brightest cities of the world, perfectly situated for pleasure is joined by some of the world’s great purveyors of pleasure …  a countrywide spread of French winemakers.

Could we ask for a more spectacular setting! We are at the top of the Sydney Tower some 300 metres above the shining levels of the Harbour.

Tastin'FRANCE This Magnificent LifeTastin’FRANCE is the name that greets us as we step out of the tiny lift that has rushed us up the central tube.

We look down on the Harbour Bridge (130 metres high) and the Opera House (65 metres].

Happily we are at about the same level, à peu près au même niveau, as the Eiffel Tower in Paris. We are off to a synchronous  start.

The Harbour shines up at us, moireed by the eddies of the tides, sketched upon by shipping. Sparkles abound.

Begin with the bubbles

Adjusting to the light, we are attracted to the sparkles inside. No less than seven champagne houses are amongst the seventeen exhibitors from across the Gallic countryside.

Tastin'FRANCE This Magnificent Life
What a great double. Special views and special bubbles. Christine Montmarthe with her Coup de Coeur

J.Charpentier, Herbert Beaufort, Mary Sessile, Montmarthe, Le Guédard, Beaumont de Crayères and Vincent d’Astrée are carrying the flag for Champagne. One house has 12 champagnes on display; including  blanc de blanc, prestige, dry and demi-sec, rosé and reserve; one has just two. The others are in between. It is an impressive lineup and a serious challenge to taste. Tasting champagne is always the hardest job. So wrenching to spit out a lovely mouthful.

Simply elegant labels. J Charpentier takes us from pure blanc de blanc to blushing rose

But one has to, otherwise the Tower will be revolving in several directions.

Beaufort has sparkling labels and sparkling delights inside

Too many to discuss at length but all extremely pleasurable. We noted the Prestige Brut from J. Charpentier, the Herbert Beaufort Carte d’Or and the Montmarthe Cuvée Coup de Coeur as standouts for our palate, all displaying impressive depth and complexity for something that dances so lightly on the tongue.

Across the country to the river of dreams

Ah, the Loire, surely one of the world’s prettiest rivers. And what a wealth of wines! You should not be entirely disappointed if all you had in your glass from now on was one of the many Loire beauties; sparkling, white, rosé and red. Sweet wines too.

A bright fresh Reuilly rose from pinot gris. The young ladies of Tatin show us how

The main grapes are sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc and cabernet franc, with pinot noir and pinot gris making an appearance. Four representatives here: Orchidées Maisons de Vin, Domaine Pascal Gibault, Gitton Père et Fils and Domaines Tatin.

Sisters facing off across the Loire; Pouilly Fume and Sancerre from Gitton

How good are the sauvignons! Sancerre on one side of the gentle river, Pouilly Fumé on the other.  One fine, peachy and pure, the other clean, savoury and flinty. Then come the vouvrays, wondrous dry versions and luscious semi sweet from the chenin blanc grape.

Tastin'FRANCE This Magnificent Life
The picture on the label from Quincy Vielles Vignes indicates how old are the traditions of the Loire.

And some very special rosés d’anjou too. All the way down the mouth of the Loire the legendary muscadet delivers the world’s best wine with oysters.

The Loire delights, tinkling with chilled pleasures
A languorous look at Languedoc Roussillon

Reclining on the Med this is a large area curving from the Rhone right down to the Spanish border.  Long a producer of great volumes of modest wine, especially for export, it has recently seen great leaps in quality thanks to some dedicated work by younger members of traditional families. Expect a modern approach with warmth and approachability.

Vignobles Vellas and LGI Wines showed a delightful array of whites roses and reds, all cheerful and moreish. Chardonnay, grenache, pinot noir and syrah thrive here, but also cinsault and carignan. Wines for today, full of Mediterranean sunshine. Oh for a table in the sun overlooking the sea.

Way down the South West

This area, a loose grouping of many smaller communes, also snuggles up to the foothills of the Pyrenées but more across towards the Atlantic side of the country. An ancient and romantic land. Names like Dordogne, Garonne, Bergerac, Jurançon, Armagnac and Cahors whizz past in the mind if you remember watching the Tour de France. Here are mostly the grapes you know but in addition the sturdy reds made from tannat and the pretty rosés featuring négrette will have you smiling. Vinovalie is the sole company on show here today, with some crackers we have not tasted before.

Back up to the bold Bordeaux

Here is the fabled land where the greatest reds of the world take pride of place. Lauded nobles of Cabernet and Merlot which can cause us to catch our breath in the 20th, 40th and 60th year. (Their age, not ours.)

Tastin'FRANCE This Magnificent Life
A serious line-up from Bordeaux. Not Grand Crus but great value drinking of classic grapes

Those Grand Crus are not with us today, but we have hints of their greatness in more everyday wines at more everyday prices. Maison Montagnac and Vins Fins Massonie/Château Perron show us some beauties. They have the classic flavours but the structures are softer, a little less complexity, certainly less tannins. Mostly reds, mostly firm, but rounder and silkier. Good value Petits Châteaux and Crus Bourgeois. Enjoyable at any table today.

And so we say farewell to Tastin’FRANCE

For a couple of hours we were high above the world. Delightful flavours in our glasses, delightful backgrounds through the glass.

We love our Australian wines for very good reasons, but we always welcome a chance to compare them with the venerable traditions of the world.

A big thanks to Business France for bringing the two together at Tastin’FRANCE.


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Ian MacTavish

Mr MacTavish is a celebrated writer and one of Australia's more respected Wine reviewers, appearing regularly in national magazines, in print and on line. So far, he has never been heard to say 'no' to a wee dram.

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