John Hawkesby

John Hawkesby is a wine writer for Canvas Magazine.

French still the best winemakers

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French wines command a level of awe and respect the rest of us can only dream about. Photo / Thinkstock
French wines command a level of awe and respect the rest of us can only dream about. Photo / Thinkstock

Nobody really gave them a chance - too laissez-faire, too casual and rumours of discord within the team.

I saw them on at least two occasions on the ferry, heading for long lunches at the vineyard restaurants of Waiheke Island. But they rose to the occasion and came within a whisker of winning the 2011 Rugby World Cup final. New Zealand breathed a collective huge sigh of relief when the final whistle blew at Eden Park.

Simple lesson: never underestimate the French. Their ability to surprise and frighten is a part of their volatile, passionate and unpredictable DNA.

When it comes to wine, whether we like it or not, France remains the benchmark for quality and style and every serious winemaker in the world knows the bar is set in the vineyards of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Alsace, Champagne and the Rhone.

We can grumble about the astronomical prices their premium wines now command, we can lament the inconsistency that often exists in mid-price and lower-end wines, we can bang on about the hyperbole that seems to precede every vintage ...

but the fact remains: French wines command a level of awe and respect the rest of us can only dream about. The French themselves recognise their position of strength and are adept at playing to their reputation, even while secretly conceding their extravagant claims about various vintages are often absolute porkies.

As Chateau Cos D'Estournel's director-general, Jean Guillaume, recently told me, "If I were in public relations, I would be telling the world we produce a vintage of the millenium every five years. Never believe a Bordeaux producer when he says this is the vintage of the millenium - what he means is he has a lot of it to sell."

Regardless, any serious wine drinker should try a French wine or two from time to time, if only to see what all the fuss is about.

Domaine Ramonet is a small producer with an excellent reputation, especially for chardonnay. Exclusive fine wine stores here may have some and it's worth seeking out as an excellent example of what the French do so well. Don't expect your usual New Zealand-style chardonnay with lots of pure stonefruit flavours. Instead, savour this one's caramel flavours and rich mineral textures.

Recommended

2006 Domaine Ramonet Les Caillerets Chassagne-Montrachet, $130
These wines need aeration of 20 minutes and could be decanted. They are also best served at room temperature, as chilling knocks around the delicate balance and nuance of flavours. This is rich, full-bodied and very French.

2006 Domaine Ramonet Les Enseigneres Puligny-Montrachet, $115
Elegant, steely, with a rich viscosity, this wine is almost a meal in itself. It has spice and pear flavours, with a wet stone minerality. It is very focused and intense and needs food.

- NZ Herald

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