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Adventures in Wine Buying

Aug. 19, 2007 — Hard work, but somebody has to do it. It may seem ludicrous, but it’s harder than you may think at first blush. This July and August, I have been in France on a mission: Find Great French Wines at reasonable prices. France is a country that produces thousands of different wines — yes, thousands, not hundreds!
I spend a great deal of time in the southwest of France, east of Bordeaux, a region rich in history, and agriculture. The principal regional crops are sunflowers, corn, plums to make some of the best prunes in the world, and fruits of all kinds; Peaches, apricots, strawberries, but most of all grapes!
The diversity of grapes is astounding; there are grape varieties I have just discovered, many revived from long-forgotten vines that have languished in the swath of more popular, easier to raise, high yield, disease-resistant modern grapes. Some of these varieties date back to Roman times, and some vines may be 80 or 100 years old and still producing. I have even heard of some vines that are reported to be 400 years old.
Some of the more interesting varieties I like are:
Tannat, a red wine grape with a thick, dark red skin that is the source of wonderful Madiran wines of southwestern France.
Ugni blanc, Also called Trebbiano, a common white wine grape in southwestern France that is probably the most used grape in all of France’s white wines.
Petit manseng and Gros manseng, Colombard, Semillon, Petit courbu are others.
There are a few hard-core believers in the idea of resurrecting the old forgotten varieties, the hard to grow, finicky, low-producing vines that give something unique to the wines they are used to make. These guys believe in what they do, heart and soul. They spend backbreaking hours pruning and reviving their “forgotten” grapevines. It is their passion, and in some cases their life’s work. When they produce their first wine from a saved variety, it is like their first born child. They nurture it, coddle it and try to improve on it.
They create Greatness. Unfortunately greatness is often limited to one degree or the other to small production yields, unstable wines that cannot withstand harsh changes in temperature, long ocean voyages or just sitting in a perfect wine cellar for three or four years, much less the10 or 20 or more years most wine collectors seek.
My quest is to find those special and unique wines that do travel and stand up to temperature changes and can be enjoyed today, in the islands.
Recently, I invited two veteran southwestern France wine specialists from whom I buy wine to a dinner with a group of my French wine-loving friends. They brought 40 bottles of wine for 9 of us to taste. There were dry whites, sweet whites, rosés, heavy reds, light fruity reds and some extremely odd but delicious wines.
Needless to say, we could not open all 40, but we did manage to open 25. We were tasting, not drinking, so there were no finished bottles. Most made it to halfway, some to three quarters. Most of us were blown away by the extraordinary depth and complexity of many wines.
New grape varieties, improved winemaking methods, and passionate winemakers have revived wines in southwest France to a standard of greatness that will be hard to match
Be patient, I have many of these wines coming in before December.
I would love to hear back from my readers with comments or questions. Please email me at: frank@viwinewholesale.com or check out our website.

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