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Discovery of the Great Wines of France (September 30, 2004)

by Dean Tudor

The concept was great; the execution was less so. It was billed as "Discovery of the Great Wines of France," a premiere in North America, at Toronto's Ontario Club. Over three days, from Tuesday, September 7, to Thursday, September 9, we were able to taste some 200 wines from France (plus one from Spain) at our own pace. We could do it in an hour, we could do it in three days. The producers were looking for access to the Ontario marketplace. The same 200 wines were available at all times, from 11 AM through 9 PM, with an assortment of cheeses and cold cuts and breads and fruits. Invitees came from restaurants, LCBO, agencies, and writers. It was a major marketing thrust for the Mediterranean regions of France (plus a handful of Alsace, Bordeaux, Beaujolais).

We were each given a loginID and a password, a wine glass, a catalogue of producers, and as much time/space as we needed to taste as many wines as we needed. The loginID and password were valid for two months. The wines were arranged by region. Each wine was numbered (and linked to the producer in the catalogue). We poured our own wines without an intermediary's message. The procedure was to taste and try, and then enter the numbers of the wines that one liked into the website – which then returned a spec sheet with tasting notes and prices. The concept had been successfully tested in Japan and Korea.

Only two things went wrong. First, most of the wines were ordinary and were like many other wines already in this market. There was never any indication of a price level until you keyed in the product number. Wines were in price level categories, from one star to four stars, with ranges indicated on the spec sheet. Just about every wine I liked was four stars, over $34 retail. So despite "Rencontres Decouvertes des Grands Vins de France," I would not call them "great wines." The buzz I heard from just about everyone was: if these wines are "great," then why are they seeking an agent? Wouldn't they have been found out by now?

Second, each of us fell into a category; consequently, when we were told the prices, it all depended on who we were. Writers were never told the FOB Euro price (we were told that such prices are extremely private and, as writers, not our concern: ha ha ha!!) – just the expected shelf price at full retail. There was even an estimated wholesale price for the restaurants. But such a price does not exist in Ontario – only in the US! The producers could track us all down via the loginID, to see who was a writer or LCBO or agent or restaurant. Each of us got a different price. On the first day, this price was US dollars and Euros. On the second day, it was the same. But when – on my return visit on the third day – I told the administrators about the US dollar gaffe, they corrected it without informing anybody from the first two days! The US dollar figure should have been CA dollars. The dollars on days one and two had "US"; the dollar figures on day three had no designation whatsoever. When I logged in again after a week, the designation had changed to "CAD." Confused? You were not the only one. Unfortunately, some people left their loginID and password pages open on the computer screen. The next user simply typed in a product number and got a price which may not have been relevant. In essence, all they had to do was tell us the price level and hand out spec sheets on demand, without the computers. But they wanted to keep track of us, to see who was eyeballing the product numbers.

Here are the wines I enjoyed, with their retail shelf prices... If you tasted them, compare your list to mine.

  • Domaine de Saint Roch Mas de Ribaute 1999 Chardonnay Pays D'Oc, wood-aged, lees aging, 6% in barrel, #33, $10–17
  • Domaine de Caprieri 2003 Muscat Vin de Pays Cote de Thongue, off-dry, #103, $17–25
  • Domaine de la Prose 2002 Blanc, some wood, off-dry, 50% vermentino handpicked, #74, $25–34
  • Pin d'Alep 2003 Viognier Pays D'Oc, bright, #158, under $10
  • Le Pigeonnier 2003 Cotes de Nimes, 60% syrah, #152, $10–17
  • Clos de la Colline 2002 Minervois, 60% syrah, $93, under $10
  • Domaine de Belle Courbes 2001 St.Chinian, wood aged one year, 70% grenache, 30% syrah, #135, $16–25
  • Chateau Sestignan 2000 Medoc, 60% cab.sauv., #191, $25–34
  • Ch. Fornier de Clausonne 2001 Cotes de Nimes, ripe and full, 14.5% alcohol, 80% syrah, #151, $25–34
  • Dom. La Charade 2001 Cotes du Rhone, 60% syrah, #79, $10–17
  • Les Combes Mezieres 2003 Cotes de Nimes, off-dry, tannic finish, 75% syrah, #90, $10–17
  • Mas du Petit Azegat Boudes 2003 Cotes du Rhone, organic, off-dry fruit, #40, $10–17
  • Ch. Malautie 2000 Coteaux du Languedoc, tight but dramatic fruit, 80/20 mourvedre/syrah, 14% alcohol, #142, over $34
  • Ch. Haut-Blanville 2002 Coteaux du Languedoc, 85 syrah/5 grenache/5 mourvedre/5 carignan, 30% new wood for a year, rich raspberries, vanilla, anise, 13.5% alcohol, #8, $25–34. One of the best wines there.
  • Cuvees "Grandes Costes" Domaine Los Grandes Costes 2001 Coteaux du Languedoc, new French oak, smokey, fleshy fruit, 70% syrah, #101, over $34
  • Ch. LaVernede 2002 Coteaux du Languedoc, one year in oak, 28% syrah, #14, $10–17
  • Ch. Cabezac Belveze 2001 Grande Cuvee Minervois, deep and inviting, 14%, #53, over $34
  • Chat. Le Bouis Cuvee Arthur 2002 Corbieres, 100% syrah, wood aged, prize winner (according to label), #181, over $34
  • Domaine Montana 2002 Vin de Pays de Cotes Catalanes, sturdy, some depth, #99, $10–17
  • Chateau Cruscades Cabernet Sauvignon October 2 2003 Cruscades Valley Pays D'Oc, very New World label, named after the harvest date, 14.5% alcohol, aged 3 months in US and French oak, very North American in style, #148, over $34
  • Domaine de Roquefourcat 2000 Corbieres, 13% alcohol, ripe and full nose and flavours, 40% syrah, #18, $25–34
  • Chat. St Louis 2002 Corbieres, 13% alcohol, very approachable, #89, under $10

From Spain there was the delightful Ribera del Duero Panero 2003 from Bod. Piscierga, 100% tempranillo, #94, and only $10–17.

Frustrating as it seemed, I actually hope that these guys come back with better wine and a lot better way of informing us.

As a quality wine event, taking into consideration the setup, this one ranks a 8.2 out of 10.




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