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Think all French wine is wallet-busting Bordeaux and bubbly? In our July/August 2012 issue, Amy Zavatto takes us on an armchair tour of some of France’s more value-friendly regions where delicious, inexpensive gems flow from local cellars like water down the Seine. With our minds set on summery outdoor excursions and a picnic basket ready to pack, we gave a handful of wine experts across North America a virtual budget of $25 and tasked them with putting together their ideal pairing of French wine and portable snacks. Their picks will have your palate and pocketbook saying oui to going frugally French.
Juliette Pope, Gramercy Tavern, New York City
Tasked with managing the beverage program at one of New York City’s most celebrated restaurants, Juliette Pope tastes more wines in one week than many people get to in a year. Her top picnic pick? Marc Pesnot’s Folle Blanche 2010 from France’s Loire Valley. An obscure (and often underwhelming) grape, Folle Blanche rarely emerges from the shadow of the region’s more popular Muscadet, but biodynamic grower Marc Pesnot “coaxes his rare, old vines into yielding a most seductive wine,” says Pope. She likens its nuances to the Sauvignon Blanc of Sancerre meeting the Chenin Blanc of Vouvray. “It smells like sun-kissed summer meadow, all white flowers and honey, but then cuts across your palate with brisk green-apple-flavored acidity,” she says. “Its fresh, snappy nature cries out for the salty, fatty, savory goodness of a few slices of prosciutto di Parma, a button of crottin or some other tangy Loire goat cheese and a handful of garlic-and-herb marinated green olives.”
Andy Fortgang, Le Pigeon and Little Bird restaurants, Portland, Oregon
For a French-infused picnic that goes low on fuss but big on taste, look no further than this streamlined pairing from acclaimed Portland, Oregon wine director Andy Fortgang, who pairs Domaine Giachino’s 2010 Vin de Savoie Abymes with a log of River’s Edge Chevre and a crusty baguette. Crafted entirely of Jacquere, a little-known white wine grape typically grown at higher Alpine regions in France’s easterly Savoie region, it’s a grape loved by locals but rarely seen stateside until recently. “It’s my ideal summer wine,” says Fortang, “with notes of pears, citrus, a touch of minerality and lots of acidity.”
David McMillan, Joe Beef, Montreal, Quebec
In the heart of Montreal’s Little Burgundy, this neighborhood café has developed a cultish following for its superb Canadian cuisine and French-flecked wine list. Co-owner David McMillan’s picnic offers up more than a mouthful (both literally and figuratively), pairing Les Vignerons d’Estézargues Domaine des Fée Côtes du Rhône 2010 with sandwiches piled high with brisket, spicy mustard and lots of pickles. A single-estate cuvee from a co-op of growers near the town of Avignon, this wine is dense and meaty but finds balanced with a fresh-fruit and herbaceous brightness that washes the palate clean on the finish. “It drinks like a baby Châteauneuf,” says McMillan, “but at maybe a tenth of the price.”
Renee Erickson, The Walrus and the Carpenter, Seattle
One part Pacific Northwest oyster bar, one part Parisian-style pub, the Walrus and the Carpenter in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood seamlessly combines French wines with the briny-fresh flavors of the sea. And for chef and co-owner Renée Erickson, that pairing extends from the plate to the picnic basket. “I am a big fan of Muscadet,” says Erickson, and specifically the bottle from Domaine de la Louvetrie’s 2010 vintage—“it’s really versatile, refreshing and perfect with shellfish and other seafood.” Also in the picnic basket goes can of Matiz sardines along with some sweet cream butter, fresh radishes, a baguette and some coarse salt for sprinkling on top. “The freshness balanced with the bracing acidity of this wine is lovely with the richness of the sardines and butter,” says Erickson. Though you might want to pack a second bottle. “The first one will be gone in no time,” she says.
Imbibe Staff Pick
What’s pink, bubbly and rarely seen at more than $10 a bottle? The Cuvée Laurent “Prestige” Brut rosé—one of our favorite bottles for packing along on picnics. Made from Grenache grapes grown in France’s unofficial capital of rosé, Provence, this bubbly offers a big bang for the buck with notes of fresh strawberries, lemon peel, savory herbs and a touch of salt. “The bubbles and bright acidity beg for a bite of something salty,” says associate editor Tracy Howard, “and it’s especially delicious with a wedge of goat cheese, a handful of Marcona almonds and a few slivers of fresh green apple.”