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Friday, April 9, 2010

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Great terroir: The French vineyards of Chablis, between Paris and Beaune, produce Burgundy wines, many of which make ideal pairings with picnic dishes. IMAGES COURTESY OF LA CHABLISIENNE

BY THE GLASS

The perfect pairings for spring picnics


Spring has officially sprung us from our winter cages out into parks and gardens that are blooming with life. After having had our senses cooped up in the sterile indoors, we can now enjoy the subtle and stimulating scents of blossom and cut grass — and what better way to amplify the experience than to drink a wine that matches these sensations? With their floral aromas, crisp acidity and mineral flavors, wines from the French regions of Burgundy and the Loire Valley are the perfect companion to a spring picnic.

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If you're the classy type who goes for sophisticated wicker panniers and freshly laundered napkins, then a classic Chablis might just be the ticket. The Chardonnay grape finds a unique expression from the limestone clay soils of the region, while the relatively cooler climate keeps acidity higher than in wines that are found in the southern end of Burgundy. Chablis perfectly matches oysters, but for a picnic, rich, creamy cheeses such as brie, or a piece of smoked salmon, also work well.

While you'll be hard pressed to find a good Chablis under ¥2,000, Domaine de Pisse-Loup Chablis 2007 (¥2,780) is good value for money, combining that trademark flinty aroma with warm mineral flavors. If you're up for splashing out, then you could do worse than buying a top-flight wine such as La Chablisienne 2007 1er Cru Fourchaume (¥2,980), which has a fantastic steely aroma. For those who like a sharper style, it might be worth noting that 2007 will be right up your street as wines of that vintage tend to have a stronger acidity than 2008.

If you prefer your whites a little less flinty, then you would do well to look south of the Burgundy region. The climate there is a little warmer and the Chardonnay rounder and more fruit driven, while still maintaining that poised elegance that classic French wines are so renowned for.

Paul Beaudet Saint-Leger Mâcon- Villages 2008 (¥2,160) has an exotic floral aroma and a muted minerality that would complement a mozzarella salad beautifully. Alternatively, try Chateau de Mirande Ma^con-Villages 2008 (¥2,000). The Chardonnay grape is augmented with a silvery edge, and it has a dry mineral finish that has an excellent length.

Because the expression of the soil is so important with these whites, when it comes to using oak, most winemakers are extremely cautious: Aging wine in oak barrels could easily overshadow delicate flavors. However, I recently tried another wine from Paul Beaudet that utilized partial oak aging to great effect. Pouilly-Fuisse Dom des Trois Tilleuls 2007 (¥2,500) is a complex display of white flower, lemony hints and minerals, all smoothed off with faint vanilla from the oak. The fuller flavors in this would go well with a goat's cheese salad or even some yakitori in ponzu sauce.

Wines made from grapes grown in the central parts of the region balance the cool northern Chablis style with the fuller flavors found in the south. Vin de Bourgogne Vignerons de Buxy 2007 (¥1,950) combines floral notes with clear minerality and a splash of exotic kiwi. Try pairing this one with a selection of cold meat cuts.

If you're a fan of the distinct mineral flavors that accompany French wines but decidedly not in favor of the often inflated price tags that accompany wines from Burgundy, then it's time to discover the wines of the Loire. One of the silver linings of the current stormy economic situation is that the previously label-conscious Japanese market is now more receptive to wines from Loire, and we're starting to see a slow increase in the range available. Part of the reason for Loire's unpopularity stems from the fact that the area is not home to any cru classe, but the very best it does have is not to be sniffed at. Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume are stellar wines that should be snapped up.

While Sancerre might still prove a little pricey, Sauvignon Touraine St Vincent 2008 (¥1,000) is one of my best finds of late: It's half the price of Sancerre but very similar in style. The Loire Valley sets the standard for Sauvignons around the world, and this would be a great wine with which to acquaint yourself with their level of excellence: Minerals bloom with sweetness on the nose, while it is crisp and understated on the palate with hints of cut grass.

Wines from the Loire are generally drunk young, and luckily, 2009 was a perfect year. My advice is to snaffle up this vintage — the high acidity of these wine styles will pique your picnic appetite. Try an entry level wine such as Muscadet Sevre et Maine sur Lie La Divatte 2008 (¥500 for a half bottle), made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape variety. Lemony and fresh, it makes the perfect companion to a plate of sashimi.

If you're not a fan of acidic wines, then try something from Saumur where the levels of sugar in the wine are slightly higher. Les Epinats Saumur 2008 (¥1,000) is fuller bodied than a Muscadet and has the ability to age a little longer. It would taste great with some succulent prawn sandwiches. The scent of dandelions follows through with a light sweetness that fairly sparkles on the palate.

While cherry blossom season is coming to a close, the scents of other varieties of flora and fauna are still flooding the spring air. So grab a bottle of crisp, chilled wine, sit back and drink in the aromas while feeling your own sap rise.

Prices given are approximate. At the time of writing, all wines were available in Japan from various retailers including Rakuten, Queens Isetan and Ikari Supermarket.


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