French Underdog Wines at Austin Food & Wine Festival

Flocks of men in Tommy Bahamas print shirts and women in breezy sun dresses swirled and sipped their way through Sunday at the Austin Food & Wine Festival. As wood smoke from the pits fuzzed the air, people gathered to learn the finer points about wine and beer from nationally recognized experts.

Dozens of eager wine lovers drug their hangovers into a tent the first thing Sunday morning to hear Anthony Giglio, wine correspondent for CBS News Radio, hold court in a session on lesser-known French wines. (Giglio himself was self-medicating his fragile state with a bloody Mary backstage after a night of rocking his taco.) He put on a brave face and welcomed the crowd with a hoisted wine glass, “Breakfast of champions,” he said. “Who is still drunk from last night?”

There may be no finer way to start a Sunday than with a selection of six French wines. The session featured wines chosen by Giglio that are either less familiar varieties or from less popular regions. His guiding principle for picking the wines was to find ones that are not only delicious and easy to find in Texas, but are also inexpensive.

“The ‘Great Divide’ between the Old World (Europe) and New World is that we name almost all of our wines by the grape, and in Europe they almost always name wines by the region from which they hail,” said Giglio. “I thought about all the wines I love from France that are off the beaten path; the wines I recommend to friends and they say, ‘Huh? Where’s that from?’ Some are usually right up front in wine shops, but others may be worth searching out. All it takes is asking questions at a wine shop or to a wine steward at a restaurant. They’re hiding in plain sight.”

Giglio instructed the crowd to taste wine in a process that he calls the “Five S’s of Tasting”

  1. See: Hold your glass over white paper and assess the color and weight of the wine.
  2. Swirl: Spin the wine in the glass to release its perfume.
  3. Sniff: Take three little sniffs to evaluate the aromas, which make up a big part of the flavor.
  4. Swish: Take a small sip and swish it around your mouth. The first sip never counts as it is just waking up the mouth.
  5. Sip: Try the second sip to get the full flavors of the wine.

On to the good stuff. Giglio described each of the wines in the flight as the crowd hung on his words.

The first was Cameron Hughes Lot 353 Saint Péray Blanc, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadet, Semillon from the Northern Rhone Valley. Giglio quipped that Sauvignon Blanc often smells like cat pee. “Does it taste like cat pee? I don’t know.” This $24 wine was light and refreshing with green apple and grapefruit light flavors.

Next up, Chateau de la Chaize Brouilly Cru Beaujolais, a gorgeous Gamay from one of Beaujolais’ 10 cru villages. While Beaujolais is widely known for the unsophisticated and fruity Beaujolais Nuevo, the cru wines can be elegant and complex. This selection had bright cherry, raspberry and smoky strawberry flavors. It’s a sound value at $16 a bottle. “This will be your summer red. Trust me.”

The third wine was Jean-Luc Colombo Cotes du Rhones a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre from the Rhone Valley. The Colombo has scents of cherries, licorice, violets and tastes of raspberry and cherry. This wine, at $12, could be a summer staple at my house. “Grenache and Syrah are my favorite grapes on the planet. They make wines that are easily drinkable with or without food.”

Moving on to another Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre blend, this time from southern France, we tried Chateau Paul Mas Languedoc. The wine had lovely scents of cedar, dried fruit, plums and powerful blueberry, blackberry, pepper flavors. At $12 this one is my favorite of the flight. I’ll definitely seek this one out.

Next we tasted Chateau Greysac Bordeaux 2008 from the most renowned region for red wine. There are five grapes allowed in Bordeaux by law and Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant grape in the Medoc, where the Greysac is produced. It had lovely scents of eucalyptus, mint, brambly blackberry and tight, dry, black fruits flavors. “This is the best Bordeaux bargain on the planet at $14 and one of the easiest to find,” said Giglio.

The last wine, Clos la Coutale Cahors, was a Malbec, Merlot and Tannat blend from Southwest France. This crowd pleaser had fragrant chocolate covered cherries and raisin aromas and rustic black cherry and blackberry flavors.

By the end of the session, the color had returned to Giglio’s cheeks and he was clearly pleased to be in Austin. “With Austin it’s the music weaved into all of the events, whether in the background or right up front. This year we have Allen Stone, the Whiskey Shivers, Delta Spirit and DJ Mel spinning throughout,” he said. “I also love that most of the events are held outside in parks, either under tents or under the stars. You can’t do that everywhere, and that resonates with a city boy like me.”

This story was originally posted in a different format on CultureMap.

Disclosure, I was provided a press pass to cover the festival.

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