France! Varietal labels! Two levels! Oh boy oh boy! I can’t tell you how excited I was when I got the invitation to taste two labels, Robert Skalli and Fortant, in a wine bar that I have been dying to check out, CAV. Since I have not had a lot of exposure to old world wine, and Old World wine that I enjoy, I was excited to learn about these two labels with the winemaker, Laurent Sauvage.
Robert Skalli began his career in southern France in the 1970s, where he earned his stripes before setting the French wine world on it’s ear in the 80s by throwing the establishment to the wind by producing France’s first single varietal wines. Until he came along, France was dominated by centuries of classic blending techniques. The upstart Skalli wanted to showcase the quality of the fruit while simplifying the wines for the new wine drinker. The second label, Fortant, was created to showcase premier wines at a price that anybody could afford. This was a foreign concept in the mid 1980s. The introduction of varital specific wines to the South of France was an interesting prospect, since there was a lot of unexplored territory in wine growing regions. This was a revolutionary idea that was quickly adopted by many wine growers. It’s interesting to note that the Skalli family also owns St. Supery, located in the Napa Valley – which I recently wrote about HERE. I have a greater appreciation for producers that have multiple houses, because I think it gives them a full understanding of the different styles of wine that are produced in the wide variety of physical locations.
Here in the States, we are used to having varitally specific wines. I think this is one of the reasons why old world wine can be intimidating to the average American consumer, because we don’t’ know what goes in to the detailed AOC labeling process. Producing single varietal wines makes it easy to showcase the stars of a region, while simplifying the buying process for the consumer.
Skalli and Fortant wines are creations of the Languedoc. This is the largest of the growing regions in the south of France, which is rich in micro climates and terroir.
The Languedoc wine region is included in the much larger Vin de Pays d’Oc. This region overs the southeastern coastal Gulf of Lion, from the border of Spain to the famous South of France region of Provence. The total production is approximately 700,000 hectares (1 729 737 acres). It is the largest wine producing region in the world, and produces more than a third of France’s total wine production.
While historically, the Languedoc has been known for producing many of France’s bulk wines or Vins Ordinaries” there are increasingly, new stars being discovered in this region.
All of the wines we tasted were value priced, ranging in price from the steal of $6.99 to the moderate $18.99. While I enjoyed all of the tastes, I particularly recommend the Fortant Merlot and the Robert Skalli Côteaux du Languedoc for their outstanding flavors and value.
2006 Fortant Chardonnay – $6.99
Pineapple, stone fruit, guava. Creamy spice. No oak is used in the Fortant wines, which strive to focus on the fruit. The true expression of the grapes is the ultimate goal. Honey & Tangerine, with a nutty finish.
2006 Robert Skalli Chardonnay- $15.99
This wine sees 6-8 months in oak, and smells like creamy sandlewood. There is a lot of oak spice from the 1/3 new oak, 1/3 1 year old oak and 1/3 2 year old oak barrel aging. I found this very spicy and yet a light chardonnay. Grapefruit and lemon citrus, with crisp fruit. Slight fig undertones. IT was almost Sav Blanc like to me.
2007 Fortant Merlot Rose – $6.99
Strawberry lemonade, hibiscus flowers. Cranberry juice cocktail with rose petals and lavender.
2006 Robert Skalli Piot NOir – $15.99
Earthly wet leaves & mushrooms. It is unusual to have Pinot Noir crowing in Corsica, an island off the west coast of France, where this wine is from, but this particular parcel has very cool influences that allow for this wine to blossom. I tasted tobacco and earth, with prunes and smoked meats. Slight gamey aftertaste with plums and dried cherries.
2006 Fortant Merlot – $6.99
This was the first stand out wine for me at this tasting. I tasted plums & cocoa, with blackberry juice flavors. With no oak aging, the beauty oft he fruit really came through. At this price point, this really is a winner for an everyday but extraordinary wine.
2006 Fortant Cabernet Sauvignoin – $6.99
Vanilla, currents, blackberries. A lot of black pepper on the tongue, but smooth & rich without being overdone. Fresh blue and black fruits that did not have oak aging made this a delicious fruit froward cab.
2006 Robert Skalli Cabernet Sauvignon – $15.99
This cab had 30% of the finished wine aged in oak for 6-9 months, which was then blended with the rest of the wine. I tasted cassis, beef jerky and hickory smoke a well as plums.
2007 Robert Skalli Côteaux du Languedoc – $18.99
This was my other standout winner of the evening. Even at almost $20, this Grenache – Syrah blend really knocked my socks off. I tasted Coffee, chocolate, espresso, pepper, deep blue fruit and plums with allspice and anise. I would drink this wine all the time if i could!
IN closing, it pays to do your research about French wine. I have long held a bias that I don’t like Old World wine because they aren’t made int he style that I prefer. That said, I now know that I can seek out wines from the Languedoc and get great QPR as well as great wine!
Special thanks to Benson Marketing Group (especially Tia Butts) for the blogger tasting, and to Laurent for taking the time out of his schedule to hang out with us!