I’m not fond of revolutions, but I do enjoy celebrating Bastille Day, France’s Independence Day or “La Fete Nationale,” on July 14.
Our revolution and France’s were separated by a decade and an ocean, but ran on parallel tracks: The overthrow of a monarch, the adoption of democratic forms of government, and the incorporation of Enlightenment ideas. And one of the intellects linking both countries was our ambassador to France and future president, Thomas Jefferson, who was, without question, the greatest oenophile to inhabit the White House.
By horse, carriage and boat, Jefferson traveled through Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Rhone and northern Italy tasting, buying and writing about wines and vineyards. And while in France and the White House, Jefferson maintained a vineyard and made wine at his Monticello estate in Virginia.
James M. Gabler in his book, Passions The Wines and Travels of Thomas Jefferson, writes about Jefferson’s travels in the Rhone Valley and his esteem for the region’s wines. I think he would have enjoyed the 2013 Paul Jaboulet La Chapelle Hermitage, from this famous northern Rhone appellation.
Jaboulet named its Hermitage vineyard La Chapelle for the small stone chapel on the top of the hill, which legend has it, was built by a knight from the 13th-century who used it as a retreat. In 2006, the Jaboulets sold their entire wine business to Jean-Jacques Frey, owner of Bordeaux’s Chateau La Lagune and partner of Champagne Billecart-Salmon.
The 2013 Hermitage La Chapelle displayed classic Hermitage aromas of wild herbs and blackberry. Its juicy black-fruit flavor was carried on a light body for Hermitage, supported by minerality in the finish. Plan on enjoying this wine between now and 2025—a shorter life span than normal for Hermitage. 88 points. Retail prices range from $120 to an unwarranted $240
Much better value was found in the dry red wine 2014 Lavau Rasteau, an appellation that was once limited to sweet or fortified wines until approval for dry red wines was granted with the 2009 vintage.
Located in the southern Rhone, Rasteau red wines are very aromatic and flavorful. The 2014 Lavau Rasteau lives up to the billing with its billowing Mediterranean aromas of thyme, sage, bay leaf and black olive, and bursting blackberry and fennel flavors supported by integrated tannins. Serve this well-made wine with barbecued meats, pates, and meat-sauced pastas. 89 points. Great value at $17.
Jefferson was particularly fond of the sweet wines in the southern Rhone; he wrote of discovering the “vin blanc de Rochegude,” as the equal of Sauternes. Although there are no records of the grape variety for this wine, Jefferson’s reference to Sauternes suggest it was a sweet wine. Only the muscat grape, which produces a sweet wine, is grown in the vicinity of Beaumes-de-Venise, which lies between Rochegude and Avignon, the 14th-century seat of the Catholic popes.
At Pierre Loti, the 2013 Domaine de Durban Beaumes-de-Venise released its orange, vanilla and jasmine fragrances and pleasing orange-honeyed flavors. Most likely, Jefferson would have enjoyed the vin blanc de Rochegude with cheese or a sweet cake. But you can serve it with modern presentations: an appetizer of shrimp and mango salsa, or a thick disc of sliced pineapple grilled and seasoned with a light sprinkle of black-peppercorn. 89 points. Marketed mainly in half-bottles (375ml) expect to pay about $13 to $18; 750ml are $22 to $32.
Jefferson was an enthusiast of Champagne. In his notebook, he recorded, “The hills from Ay to Cumieres are generally about 250 feet high. The good wine is made only in the middle region. The lower region, however, is better than the upper because this last is exposed to cold winds and a colder atmosphere.”
Clovis Taittinger at Taittinger’s Chateau
Like people, Champagne comes in various sizes and styles. Lithe as a runway model is Taittinger Champagne. A blend of chardonnay and pinot noir, Taittinger quietly carries its elegant body wrapped in citrus and apple aromas and flavors. On the label are the words La Francaise; need one say more on July 14th? 88 points. Expect to pay $32 to $40.
As they say in France, “bon quatorze (14) juillet.”
Photos by John Foy