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Feisty, thirsty French wine fair

More than 120 new vintage French wines from a variety of regions drew an enthusiastic and knowledgeable crowd of more than 200 wine lovers, retailers and agents in the ballroom of the Grand Hyatt in Pudong this week.

The red, white and pink drops arrived in Shanghai per the 2009 French Wines Trade Show which this year is a caravan of 15 vineyards and cooperative negociant ventures that is blitzing Shanghai, Beijing, Qingdao and Shenzhen.

Products from the prominent and popular Bordeaux and Burgundy regions stood out but there were some tasting trend indicators that could have made the long trek from Europe worthwhile for some producers.

Each of the 15 wine display areas were strongly pressed by the fans and siperati who tried most of the range of labels on offer and snapped up promotional material.

The local thirst for wine knowledge was evident at this French tasting as it has been at other similar events, notably the recent Australian wine show.

The engaging Claire Ouzoulias brought a full range of Bordeaux wines that are either represented or produced by the family-named Ets Ouzoulias winery based in Libourne, including the organically produced pair Clos Chante l'Alouette (2004) from Saint-Emilion and the Chateau Franc-Pourret (2001) Saint Emillion Grand Cru.

Her reds' range consisted predominantly of blends of cabernet sauvignon and merlot grapes from the clay and gravel soils of the region. The L'Inattendu (2006) from Saint Julien had a deep color and a velvety, mellow tannin while the La Fleur Saint Vincent (2005) from Margeaux had elegant nose and fine tannins in a complex wine.

The agent-seeking Ouzoulias's L'Odyssee (2007) from Graves, a semillon/sauvignon blend, was an elegant wine, with yellow gold color and delicately balancing sweet fruits and acidity. A classic of the Graves wine-making style.

The south of France Languedoc-Roussillon region featured 10 new vintages from Bessiere and 12 from Caves Languedoc-Roussillon with an exciting selection of reds and whites across the range of cabernet, merlot, syrah and chardonnay.

Bessiere's Picpoul de Pinet (2007), an award winner of the 2008 Concours Mondial, is an elegantly simple white made of 100 percent picpoul with a light citrus nose, a distinctively French mineral palate, flashes of Bordeaux sauvignon blanc and a lingering finish, ideal for uncomplicated pastas, cheese or light salads.

Caves specializes in independent wine producers from the region and presented a range of new vintage daily drinking vin de pays that newbie drinkers could well use to hone their palates. The tasting pourers were kept busy all afternoon.

The negociant company Rene Vedrenne, which owns vineyards in Pomerol, introduced a clutch of petit chateaux labels and is in China to expand its market already numbering 500 foreign customers on top of 40,000 private French subscribers.

Cuvee heritage

Its outstanding offering was the 2006 Bordeaux Superior from Chateau Brun Despagne, a 90 percent merlot, 10 percent cabernet blend.

There is obvious respect for tradition in this vineyard a few kilometers from Saint-Emillion on the left bank of the Dordogne. The grapes are hand picked from a 10-hectare vineyard, traditionally fermented and left on the skins for up to 18 days, then aged in vats. The "cuvee heritage" version is, however, sent off to oak barrels for up to 18 months.

The result is a classic wine of plunging red color with a refined nose, and supple and fresh taste. They say that the 100-year-old merlot vines have waited just to give birth to this wine.

The big surprise in a small package was the Les Quatre Tours selection, offering only a handful of wines -- predominantly rose styles -- and the inquiries and tasting just didn't stop until the younger Chinese and knowing French customers got the answers they wanted to confirm what their palates were saying.

The rose styles virtually flew out of the ice bucket and the Aix en Provence vineyard's director general Christian Faucher said new-generation drinkers, particularly women, liked the light style which was refreshing and fruity.

The Signature rose is a blend of grenache, syrah and cinsault grapes and the style wins awards every year in France where rose is the insanely fashionable drink. It's inconceivable that it won't catch on among savvy Chinese new-age drinkers.

Speaking of which, Faucher was full of praise for the higher interest and knowledge of wines he found in Shanghai in comparison to Beijing and Qingdao. Les Quatre Tours is another of the visiting wine companies seeking agents in China.


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