French foires aux vins use Parker points as sales points

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles

It is that time of year again in France when supermarkets and chains – and, increasingly – wine boutiques are holding sales for wines in the twice a year foires aux vins or wine fairs. Typically, the featured wines are Bordeaux, many from en primeur campaigns that went bust. Plenty of 2011s out there, for example, for the same price as they were en primeur, begging the question why bother with en primeur, but that’s another article.

Instead of going to a major supermarket chain like Auchan or LeClerc, I opted for the mini U boutique on my street in Strasbourg. The Super U is yet another major supermarket chain but its mini boutiques are run like franchises with a more limited selection, but not the same necessarily as the mother ship. And I have gotten to know the wine buyer there who kindly invited me to try some wines on sale at an evening tasting.

My experience proved the point yet again that when shopping, one looks for the best price/quality ratio. In my case it proved to be a delicious Le Pigeoulet des Brunier 2012 AOC Vaucluse, made by the owners of the famous – and elegant – Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf du Pape. Interestingly, in a French store in Strasbourg, Parker points were used as sales data.

The fact that Robert Parker scores are used for marketing wine is no surprise. But for some people – especially people outside of France – the idea that Robert Parker points are used as a reference for French buyers may be surprising. At least since 10 years, I have seen Parker points referenced at the Foires aux vins – and yes the 100 point scale (the French are more accustomed for wine buying to the 20 point scale, at least that is what I have thought).

In any case, the Le Pigeoulet des Brunier 2012 AOC Vaucluse, selling for 8.50 euros per bottle (about $10), obtained 86 Parker points. The store also featured a Coteaux du Languedoc that obtained 91 Parker points, the Chateau Puech-Haut Tete de Belier 2012, and while I liked its delectable fruit filled mid palate, I felt the finish burn my throat from the 15+ alcohol level… And that wine sold for just under 20 euros. Pass.

I chose the lower Parker score bottle.

Some of the more expensive wines included a Mazis Chambertin from Dominique Laurent 1998, known for much oak. While the nose was nearly lovely – somewhat cooked if interestingly spicy red fruit – the finish seemed to be drying out. Too much oak tannin? That wine was selling for just under 50 euros and an easy pass. Surprisingly the Bouchard Pere & Fils Beaune du Chateau 2009, at just under 20 euros, seems to have closed down… While the nose is jammy and rich, reflecting the vintage, the palate is somewhat hard, certainly harder than when I last tried it about one year ago.

The store however included very good prices for two 2001 Tardieu Laurents – a Cote Rotie for under 40 euros and a Hermitage for 54 euros. I was not that impressed by the Hermitage, sensing a bit of cooked fruit and wondering if storage may be an issue. But the Cote Rotie showed fine grip and energy on the palate, with licorice and pepper aspects as well as dark fruit, even if the finish was a tad short. I almost bought it. This experience made me think of what a wine buyer at Auchan told me: At the foires aux vins, always buy recent vintages while provenance is not always certain for older vintages.

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Two 2001s from the Northern Rhone. Be careful with older vintages at the Foires Aux Vins

As for the largest selection – bien sûr Bordeaux – I was quite impressed by the Chateau Clarke 2006 of Listrac Medoc if not so much by the over 20 euro price tag. Still it displayed a clean nose, fine tannic structure and mid palate richness. The vintage can be a bit muted and the finishes short, but this one was pretty good. Another favorite was the Chateau Haut Batailley made by the same people at Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste. Although a 2011, this seemed to display finesse and smoothness on the palate although marred by a hint of green. The store is also selling the Lynch Bages 2011, for 90 euros, but it was not there to taste. And for 90 euros, I could better spend my money elsewhere than for a 2011 Bordeaux. Most of the other wines were second wines of chateaux, Bordeaux AOCs and such in somewhat off vintages so nothing really to write home about.

There were some decent moderately priced whites including Domaine Verget Terroir de Davaye Saint Veran 2010 for 14 euros. Juicy and fresh, I would have bought if not for the somewhat short finish.

I was nearly tempted to go nuts and spend 199 euros for a bottle of Chateau d’Yquem 1999, but I have had that vintage and while good – as most all Yquems are, at the very least – I just did not feel like shelling out that kind of money.

Funny that when one goes to a shop tasting with a rather wide variety of wines, one cannot predict which wine one will end up purchasing so I am happy with my purchase of 6 bottles of AOC Vaucluse. Come to think of it, I do not have any other Vaucluses, and this is a plump and rich wine not without structure that will please many a palate in the winter.

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