Yes, the labels don’t always make sense, at least to non-experts. They have villages and domaines, and appellations and importers, and nowhere can we find the name of the grape. French wines remain a cipher to many American shoppers conditioned to look for the name of the varietal.
Some French wineries outside of traditional regions like Bordeaux, Rhone and Burgundy have taken advantage of loosened restrictions on labeling and opted for varietal labeling to help American consumers. The nod to our less sophisticated habits is appreciated, but some of us would prefer not to miss out on great deals and great wines, even if we can’t make sense of Fumé and Fuissé.
Fortunately, local restaurants have taken on the burden of educating Oklahoma consumers by offering outstanding, bargain French wines by the glass. With the exception of Rhone, which has 22 possible varietals, the major regions are easy to learn, and any bartender or retailer with good sense will happily educate customers without being condescending.
West, 6714 N. Western, the newly opened, casually elegant restaurant, offers one of the most surprisingly delicious white wines in the metro by the glass. Régis Minet Pouilly-Fumé is a Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc, and unlike the American and New Zealand versions, this one is devoid of the over-the-top grapefruit and lemongrass flavors. There is plenty of citrus, but it’s balanced with solid minerality, sweet citrus, floral flavors and a steely seriousness that never rises to the level of unapproachable.
“The Régis Minet was the absolute first selection I made when putting together this wine list,” said Andy Dixon, beverage director for West and Pachinko Parlor. “I wanted something dry and food-friendly. Also, I was looking for something without the in-your-face grapefruit.”
The Régis Minet is a Kermit Lynch import, and the seasoned wine buyer will recognize the Lynch name because it guarantees the wines are only shipped in climate-controlled conditions that ensure the same wine in America that Lynch tastes in France. Another Lynch import is Chateau Fontanes Cabernet Sauvignon.
From Languedoc, a region in southern France that allows for nontraditional varietals, blends and vinification, the Fontanes is an under-$20 Cab, often available for less than $15. Available by the glass at Café Nova, 4308 N. Western, and Rococo Northpark, 12252 N. May, the Fontanes features a classic Bordeaux flavor profile: black currant, cedar, olive and leather.
Chardonnay remains the white wine of choice in the metro, and the French have been making it far longer than their American cousins. The Michel Dutour Pouilly-Fuissé “La Roche” is an excellent example of un-oaked French Chardonnay.
Available by the glass at La Baguette, 7408 N. May, this crisp white with melon, pear and lemon flavors is a perfect accompaniment to La Baguette’s Sunday brunch.
Michel Buthion, co-owner of La Baguette, said, “This wine has amazing quality to price for anyone looking for a nice, crisp Chardonnay.”
La Baguette also has Chateau Trocard Bordeaux Supérieur, a kick-in-the-mouth red blend that takes a little time to open up. The tannins are obvious at first, but given enough time, the dark fruits emerge, giving the wine attitude. When it’s available at retail, it will be less than $15.
Domaine de Chateaumar “Cuvee Bastien” Cotes du Rhone represents a solid opportunity for fans of Grenache to pick up a good bottle for less than $20. Available at Byron’s Liquor Warehouse, 2322 N. Broadway, this Rhone blend features cocoa, red fruits and herbal flavors.
Burgundy is well-known for Pinot Noir, but Languedoc has developed a reputation for Pinots that are American-palate friendly and very affordable.
The Gerard Bertrand Pinot Noir is a good example of the region’s offerings. Acidic enough for fatty meats, this Pinot also features good red fruit, herbal and earthy flavors. It’s available at Pancho’s Liquortown, 6801 N. Meridian.