Our first evening at the Cannes wine festival was more than we could have possibly imagined, as we are introduced to Champagne Forget-Brimont, and much more.
In my two previous posts, A long and winey road and On the road to Cannes, I related how we got into the wine business, somehow cadged an all-expense paid tasting extravaganza on the Côte d’Azur and made our way to that exclusive wine show in Cannes. This wine agent caper is turning out to be a pretty spiffy gig. Join us now in our suite at the Carlton Hotel as we freshen up in anticipation of the pre-dinner tasting and the banquet itself.
We took one of the gleaming elevators down to the second floor and sashayed into the large conference room where, as far as the eye could see, tables were set up with sparkling wine glasses, inviting bottles of all sorts and sizes and crachoirs (spittoons), all under the watchful eyes of doting vignerons anxious to find distribution channels for their vinous treasures. It was like a cocktail party on steroids. And, it was all free. Cousin Robert would have thought he had died and gone to his concept of heaven (which ain’t all that bad).
Our primary goal for the evening was to meet up with Eva Schubert of Champagne Forget-Brimont. She had promised to bring their signed letter of exclusive agency naming us their import agent for Ontario. However, it was deliciously easy to get sidetracked. And boy, did we get sidetracked! A saucy little Rioja here, a succulent Brunello di Montalcino there. A Viognier from the Languedoc beckoned from across the cavernous room while the siren calls of a sultry Lirac resonated from nearby. So many wines; so little time to befriend each of them!
By and by we stumbled upon (quite an apt description, I assure you) a most interesting looking couple representing a winery called Château de l’Isolette from the Luberon region of southern France. She looked just like a 60s go-go dancer, not unlike someone you’d see in the opening shots of a Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In episode, like Judy Carne or Goldie Hawn. Resplendent in a tight sweater, short skirt and white patent leather knee-high boots, she even had Goldie’s bubbly personality. Her partner was a stolid looking chap whose main contributions seemed to be pouring wine and looking bored. It turns out they were Laure Pinatel-Gilles and her husband Denis Gilles, the proprietors (along with Laure’s parents, Micheline and Luc Pinatel) of the estate. As my francophone wife Hélène chatted with Laure, I sampled their wines.
At this juncture I should mention that Hélène and I had quickly settled into a marvellous working relationship. While she loved conversing with the winery folks, finding out all about their family backgrounds and secrets, I found it all very distracting (the fact that my French borders on abysmal was and is also a factor). I just wanted to taste the wines, make notes and form judgements on behalf of our potential clients. It was a perfect division of labour.
The first two Château de l’Isolette wines I tried were a 2004 ‘Tradition’ and a 2004 ‘Prestige.’ I remarked, as an aside to Hélène, that I thought the wines tasted remarkably alike and wondered how they could be marketed at different price points. Well, Laure and Denis overheard me (who knew they spoke English?) and when we met up at their winery a year or so later they confessed that they were in fact the same wine. It was a little prank they had conjured up to alleviate their wine tasting event ennui. They loved it when ‘experts’ pompously pronounced authoritatively about the obvious differences between the two wines. Evidently, I was the only one to detect their chicanery. Cool!
There was a third wine at Laure and Denis’ table, a 1998 Aquarelle Rouge, so named for the watercolour on the label that was painted by Laure’s great grandfather, Joseph-Marius Cabasson. Permit me to share my tasting notes with you. The 1998 ‘Aquarelle’ was made from 60 per cent Syrah, 30 per cent Grenache, 5 per cent Cinsault and 5 per cent Mourvèdre. The vines are over sixty years old. The wine completed its fermentation in new Troncais oak barrels and then spent another five years in old oak casks before bottling. It is dark purple, almost black and begins with a very subtle fragrance that develops into a definite note of prunes. The prunes persist in the mouth and are joined by blackberries, old leather and warming, pleasant tannins. Dry raisins dominate the long after taste.’ My tasting notes show an underscored ‘WONDERFUL.’ We subsequently made this magnificent creature available through our wine club for a mere $CAN28 the bottle. And, we still have a bottle or two remaining in Arthur’s Cellar (gloat, gloat!).
After bidding Laure and Denis adieu, promising to meet up with them again at Château de l’Isolette, we took off in search of Eva Schubert, vowing not to touch another drop till dinnertime (mind, this was not a very heroic pledge in that the banquet was only 15 minutes away). It wasn’t long till we found her amid a bevy of beautiful bottles of Champagne and made our formal introductions. No wonder Christian Esparza encouraged us to meet her! Eva gave us the coveted LCBO documents and offered us a taste of some of the Champagne Forget-Brimont elixirs. (Now I know what you are thinking. But in all fairness, how could we possibly be rude to our new business partner?) After sampling a few, we agreed to save Eva a seat at our dinner table and toddled off in search of the main dining room.
Marble columns, opulent blue and gold carpeting, glittering chandeliers, the noise of boisterous conversation and aromas that only a feast can summon up greeted us as we made our grand entrance into the Carlton ballroom. Well, maybe not grand, but give us marks – we did manage to find it and also secure places for three at one of the many tables in the large room. This was a buffet and along one side of the cavernous hall was a groaning board, if ever there was one, with just about every delicacy imaginable on display. This freed up the tables so that they could accommodate all the bottles of wine that the vintners had graciously placed upon them. If only I could have sent Cousin Robert a picture!
It was a most delightful evening filled with superb food, delicious wine and good fellowship. As we tentatively navigated our way back to our room we remarked to ourselves that this wine agent business was turning out to be a pretty spiffy gig!
Bonne nuit; à la prochaine.
In my next blog I will tell you about bread in my pocket, 50 wines before lunch, caught in the headlights of a Peterbilt, candy coloured Armagnac, the old Bordeaux tasting and so much more. I do hope you can stand the suspense till then.
PS: Click here to find out about our current wine club offerings; I assure you a sensory treat awaits!