Sur la route (On the road)

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May 2008


by Jeff Cox, Wine and Beer Merchandiser

(Montpellier) — “Bonjour,” she says. “Bonjour,” I reply. “Vous voulez deguster?” Yes, indeed, I do want to taste.

Six days into this trip, with jet lag in the rear-view mirror, I’m reenergized. And the prospect of priming my palate with wines from Lirac and Tavel, two of my favorite southern Rhône appellations, promises a fine day of tasting.

She can’t be more than about 19 or 20. Amidst the demeanor and plain-spoken directness of someone who has spent their life in a small, rural town, I sense a trace of unease, suggesting that this is not her preferred pastime, that non-stop schmoozing with strangers probably isn’t her chosen métier. I’m guessing she probably has taken a few days off from her regular gig to help man the family booth.

Vinisud is a huge convention with more than 1,600 éxposants (exhibitors) and thousands of prospective buyers. For small wineries without a paid sales staff, it’s a family affair — out of pure necessity. Still, despite her apparent inexperience, she does it well — not with the panache and practiced ease of a career sales rep, but with the simple assuredness of someone who knows what they’re talking about and who is comfortable in their own skin.

She asks, hopefully, if we would like to taste the white wine. Tavel is the wine that most people know (the only appellation in France devoted entirely to rosé), while Lirac blanc is unknown even among the obscure genre of southern Rhône whites. I’m betting that most people skip the white. Too bad for them, good for me.

It’s gorgeous. A ballerina of a wine, at once delicate and powerful, enchanting in its purity, its flavors offer a looking glass into savors of spring days past. Notes of almond blossom, orange blossom and honeysuckle wrap around perfectly ripe nectarines, with a nuance of sun-warmed river rocks providing an anchor.

That’s just the beginning. With purity and stones as a common theme, the entire range of wines is pure pleasure. Van Gogh loved Provence for the incomparable light. The wines of the region have that light in their soul — you can taste it. And in these wines, that essence of light offers an amazing raciness — fruit and terroir so pure that they become exotic in their simplicity.

As we taste, I’m amazed at her passion, knowledge of the vineyards, winemaking and every technical detail. I comment that she seems to know theses wines almost intimately. She humbly responds that she has been making them for several vintages now.

( ... to be continued)

Jeff Cox

About the author

Jeff Cox is the wine and beer merchandiser at PCC. Over the years, he's built close relationships with vineyards worldwide and in our neck of the woods. He's even worked with select local vineyards to create some of the spectacular wines we carry.

In addition to this monthly column, check out his featured wines list.