Last April Fool’s day, I received what seemed to be a nicely written, yet rather surprisingly nifty wine event invite in my inbox asking if I’d like to meet with Laurent Sauvage, winemaker for the leading family of wines from the Languedoc in the South of France, Robert Skalli Wines. We were to meet with Laurent at CAV, the outstanding wine bar and restaurant along Market in the Opera District of San Francisco (and part-owned by none other than Doug Cook (Twitter), founder of Able Grape).
I left directly from work and hopped onto the GenenBus, heading back into the City for the tasting. CAV is nicely situated near Civic Center Bart and it was a rather nice walk in the gloriously warm Spring evening. I actually arrived a little early, which was rather ironic considering I had been terrified all day that I’d arrive late and last! I snuck up on my blogger friends for the night, Brix Chicks Liza (Twitter) and Nesta (Twitter), my usual partners in wine crime. Just a few moments later, the infamous Julie spectacular wine blogger extraordinaire, Luscious Lush Thea (Twitter, Twitter2) strolled in, proclaiming her parking prowess.
While our guests of honor were navigating the dreaded afternoon Wine Country traffic, we were treated to a tasty glass of bubbly and some apps, courtesy of the organizer of the evening’s activities, Tia Butts (Twitter) from Benson Marketing (thanks so much, Tia!). The sparkling vino was Domaine de Montbourgeau Crémant from the Jura region of France. A Crémant is sparkling wine made in France, but is not made in Champagne, nor is it always made using the labor-intensive methods that required in that more famous region. You can usually find some phenomenal values in range of bubbly, however, as we did with this one! While we were almost finished polishing off our sparkler, Vintuba founder and Benziger Retail Sales Director Chris (Twitter) and his wife walked up to complete our blogger table.
Perfectly timing our empty glasses, Tia and Laurent arrived, carrying a delightfully full box of wine and plenty of informative props about the Languedoc region. The Languedoc region is in the Southeast portion of France, bordering the Mediterranean and roughly enclosed by the Gironde?? and Rhone?? rivers. It is longtime wine region in France (what isn’t??) but is one that is currently greatly increasing its quality of wine and gaining in international recognition.
While there is currently the Coteaux du Languedoc appellation, there is a successful movement afoot to replace this with a Côte du Languedoc designation, similar to the highly successful Côte du Rhone appellation and it will be launching soon. In addition, while there is always a notoriously long, bitter and sometimes wildly dynamic battle surrounding such things, there will also be Village-designated sub-appellations and even a Grand Cru designation, hopefully within the next 5 years. The Skalli family, Robert Skalli himself in particular, have been major proponents of these changes, both in designation and in actual strides in wine quality.
The Skalli family was first active in the winemaking biz in Algeria, starting in the 1920’s. Following the Algerian independence in the ’60’s, the entire Skalli clan moved out of that country and founded a Corsican vineyard and property, followed by properties and vines in the South of France, near Marseilles. When Robert joined the family business at the tender age of 24, he immediately set about increasing quality at all levels of the family business. He demanded better wines out of their Algerian import business, Les Chais du Sud and then focused on increasing the quality of fruit and wine at their own properties. He determined that a global tour of wine regions was the best means to that end (don’t we ALL wish that could be a solution to our problems!) and during those travels he happened upon a burgeoning wine region in the US state of California, called Napa. There he met a feisty Italian known as Bob Mondavi to his many friends and associates and it was there that he learned about the latest technological advances that were being tested and put into practice in the New World in both the vineyard and the winery. Later, he would buy some property along the famed Highway 29 and opened St. Súpery in 1982.
Fast forward to 2000 and Mr. Skalli would meet a young gentleman by the name of Laurent Sauvage, who worked his way around many facets of the wine industry, including as an importer and a winemaker/oenologist, fitting those oenological activities around his passion for playing the drums. Mr. Skalli then hired Laurent to become Head Winemaker for Robert Skalli Wines Americas (SFWA), a position he has held ever since the turn of the Millennium. As you can see in the photo on the left, Laurent is a quietly intense, mid-thirties Frenchman with a very patient and dynamic personae. I found him to be very welcoming of any and all questions that I and the rest of us blogger bandits tossed his way, regardless of their origin. He was extremely interested in spreading the word about not only his own wines, but also about all of the winemaking and progress that was being made in the Languedoc by its many producers and growers…reminding me of two other dynamic personalities that have personally lifted up their own wine regions, the Italian gentleman mentioned above and Walter Georis of the Carmel Valley (not to mention, Robert Skalli himself!).
Laurent had brought a number of wines for us to try, spanning the value-driven brand Fortant, as well as the next step up in the portfolio of wines that are offered by SFWA, Robert Skalli. All of us were struck, myself included, by the distinct value and outstanding QPR that virtually all of these wines possessed. The Fortant wines, all with a suggest MSRP of $6, could easily have been priced much higher in the $10-15 range. The Robert Skalli wines showed tremendous QPR, with an MSRP of ~$19, but would have also done nicely in the lower $20’s, to my palate. These wines are being rolled out in the US as we speak, so do your best to find them and then proceed to buy them in bulk as your daily wine.
We started appropriately enough, with the whites. They were labeled varietally, as are most SFWA wines and a rarity in France, but something that Skalli has pioneered in the Languedoc. The ’06 Fortant Chard was doing very well as as tasty, fruit-forward Summer quaffer, with great acidity and no oak to detract the focus from the purity of fruit and just a tough of delicate cream underneath. Laurent has designated the entire Fortant line to be devoid of oak treatment to keep this focus upon the fruit. The ’06 Robert Skalli Chard was much more complex and showed its divergence from the Fortant line with much more complexity and definite toast, spice and a fuller mouth from the ML, but all were still nicely balanced by good acid and fruit. We finished this set with the Rosé.
The reds followed similar trends as the whites, in that the Fortant were wonderfully pure expressions of unoaked fruit that outlived their price-range and Robert Skalli’s showing more complexity and balance and also showing demonstrably great QPR. Here I found the ’06 Robert Skalli Pinot Noir to be a star, with very tasty dusty red fruit nicely balanced by the earthy, savory tones in the nose and the palate showing more of a steely red fruit with good spice and white pepper. The ’06 Fortant Merlot showed just crazy value with its dark, dark cherry and blackberry fruit and great food-friendly acidity. I loved the final wine of the tasting, the ’07 Robert Skalli Coteaux du Languedoc Reserve Syrah Grenache. This is an A.O.C. wine and made up of 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah. It had such savory characteristics in the nose and on the palate that it literally made my mouth water. That salivary goodness was backed up by cool black and blue fruit that evolved in the mouth to more of a darker, peppery black anise fruit by the time you got to its long finish. A tasty wine if I’ve ever had one!
Following the tasting, we ordered a fantastic meal, where I had some scrumptious English Pea Ravioli that I paired with both the Skalli Chard and the savory Côte du Languedoc Reserve, each to great success. I want to sincerely thank Laurent for his time, as he had merely flown in from France the day before, spent that night hosting a tasting, then all day in Napa, followed by our tasting that night and then was catching the red eye to NYC to do it all again the next day! I also want to warmly thank Tia (Twitter) for organizing such an intimate and special tasting and for inviting me to the wine dalliances that night.
Please check out my full reviews of each Fortant and Robert Skalli wine that we had that night at CAV, listed below. If you would like to list these in your own WineLog, they are all tagged with “Skalli2009CAV“. Enjoy!