Wine flight: Saget la Perrière

I had originally written this for a local publication a few years ago but the editors never got around to publishing it. So I decided to make it a blog post.

Arnaud Saget was just a few months into his role as director generale for Saget la Perrière when the global financial crisis claimed a victim close to home, its American distributor, Chateau & Estate.

That left Saget unmoored to the American market, one of the company’s largest. As he searched for a new distributor, the disruption in supply caused one New York restaurant to drop Saget in favor of other distributors that had stock. That restaurant had been buying 700 cases. “We had to retool and establish the brand again,” he said.

Saget eventually signed on with Pasternak, and steadied its business. But he added that, unexpectedly, Texas, and its maturing culinary culture, played an important role in expanding Saget’s client base. Arnaud’s family has owned Saget la Perrière for nine generations, producing wine from six estates over 890 acres in France’s bucolic Loire Valley

I met Arnaud at a tasting lunch held at Oceanaire Seafood Room at the Galleria that featured seven of the family’s wines. For me, Saget’s strong suit is its white varietals – five of the seven we tasted were white, each with clean flavors of minerals and fruit, stripped of any cloying sweetness. Mostly priced between $12 and $22 – the Le Domaine Saget Pouilly-Fumé is the most expensive at $29 — these versatile wines are food-friendly but also full-bodied enough to be sipped on their own, a chilled glass on a Sunday afternoon among friends.

All of the selections were from 2012 and we began with the Guy Saget La Petite Perrière Sauvignon Blanc, which had a creamy taste and an unexpected slight vegetal taste, which I found pleasant. Next was the Domaine de la Perrière Sancerre, made of sauvignon blanc grapes but whose flintiness is reminiscent of a riesling. The Pouilly-Fumé had a much deeper, heartier taste.

We tasted two reds at lunch, a Chinon and a Pinot Noir. Pinor Noir is frequently a go-to wine for me, versatile enough to be paired with seafood and a lot of meats and flavorful enough to be enjoyed alone. Saget’s pinot has the tell-tale ruby color, with a light vanilla taste. The Chinon was full of tannins and spice.

All in all, the Saget wines are easy-to-drink and at price points that encourage consumption.

To complement the white wines, we were served an Alaska Red King Crab salad as a first course, Pan-Broiled Alaska Weathervane scallops, and Seared Wild Alaska Halibut. The pinot noir was paired with a Grilled Bering Sea Wild Coho Salmon.

Saget is now back in France and in between marketing visits, and I messaged him to find out about his Texas tour. Saget called it “very successful,” especially with retailers and restaurateurs in Austin. “I don’t remember working a market for a day, selling wines to every visited account,” he says.

SAGET LA PERRIERE: (Suggested retail price):

— Muscadet de Sèvre & Maine sur Lie Les Cilssages d’Or ($14)

— Marie de Beauregard AOC Vouvray ($18)

— Guy Saget La Petite Perrière Sauvignon Blanc ($12)

— Guy Saget La Petite Perrière Sancerre ($22)

— Le Domaine Saget Pouilly-Fumé ($29)

— Guy Saget La Petite Perrière Pinot Noir ($13.50)

— Marie de Beauregard Chinon ($17.99)

Wine flight: Crosby Roamann

A decade ago, a group of us – co-workers and friends from my Dallas days – traveled to the Pacific Northwest for the wedding of two in the group. Apart from the bride and groom, who hailed from Portland and Seattle, respectively, I believe it was the first time any of us had spent any real time in that part of the US.

As we sat in the outdoor patio of a Willamette Valley vineyard, sipping pinot noir in low-humidity, 70-degree sunshine, we Dallasites began to plot the commune we would establish in order to avoid heading back to the Texas heat.

Sean and Juliana McBride actually followed through on that fantasy. For them, it was ditching New York for Napa Valley, where they founded their winery, Crosby Roamann, in 2010.

Juliana came to Houston last year as part of a marketing tour and I learned about their story – and sampled some wines – over a meal at B&B Butchers restaurant. Crosby Roamann is a small family operation. “Our hands touch every part of the process,” she says, adding that the winery makes less than 1,000 cases in total.

Here are a few notes about the wines she poured. Prices are those listed on the winery’s website:

— 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, St. Helena, Napa Valley: Smells of hay, tastes of lemon, slightly floral, but with a full-bodied “mouthfeel.”* The grapes are fermented in a combination of once-used, twice-used, and neutral French oak barrels and aged eight months in oak. ($28)

— 2013 Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa Valley: The first taste has a sugary bite that gives way to both melon and butter, giving it a rich finish at the end. These grapes were fermented in neutral French and American barrels and aged 20 months in 20 percent new oak. ($34)

— 2012, Merlot, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley: This wine was rich, full, and (dried) fruity; I tasted ripe plums and cherries, ripe but not overly sweet. The grapes were aged 30 months in a combination of French and American oak barrels, half of which were new. “I’m on a campaign for merlot,” Juliana told me. “It’s time; it needs to come back.” ($50)

— 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa Valley: This was a wine for steak, cocoa and blueberry, with a spicy top note. Full-bodied and rich. The grapes were aged 30 months in all French oak barrels, of which 80 percent were new. ($75)

*Mouthfeel: the sensation created by food or drink in the mouth

La vie en ros(é)

My first significant memory of “wine” was in 1988, the day after I had landed in Paris on a high school foreign exchange trip. I was there to spend six weeks with a French family who lived in Angers, in central France, but first, a weekend in Paris.

Family friends had hosted a young Frenchman in their Texas home a decade before, and they gave me his phone number, encouraging me to call him while I was in Paris. I remember being reluctant to cold-call someone I didn’t know last-minute on a Friday evening, but he was immediately welcoming and kindly invited me to join him and his friends for dinner.

It was early July, an evening with warm breezes and the lingering daylight of northern European summers. We sat on the patio at a bar before heading to the restaurant, and the group, all around 30 or so, ordered apéritifs. I had no idea what to order, but my host suggested a glass of rosé. I remember sipping my wine, listening to the group chatter in French (and my brain working overtime to try to translate, largely unsuccessfully, the rapid-fire conversation around me). It was probably the first time I was out in such an “adult” fashion, apart from with my family. And what a place for such an outing, a tree-lined terrasse in Paris, the sun setting in the summer sky.

My other memory of rosé is later that summer traveling with my French family from their home in Angers to their summer home in Monetier-les-Bains, a village in the French Alps near the Italian border. On the drive down, we spent the night with friends of theirs, a family that was renovating a small chateau. That evening, both families gathered at a table outside for dinner. It seemed to me to a quintessentially French experience, simple, fresh food eaten en plein air with glasses of rosé.

The memories all have fuzzy edges now, but those were my first lessons in how food and wine interact with culture and community.

In the years since, my wine education has been uneven, largely self-taught, and probably not the preferred path of a true connoisseur. For example, I’ve never been to Napa Valley or visited the famed Burgundy or Bordeaux vineyards in France. But I have been to the Bekaa Valley in the mountains above Beirut (twice), and traveled around Malbec vineyards in Mendoza.

My journeys have introduced me to Willamette Valley in Oregon and its pinot noirs, tempranillo from Rioja, sagrantino di Montefalco from Umbria, and rieslings from the Pfalz. My travel wish list includes checking out the usual suspects, of course, but also detours to less-familiar terroir like those found in Greece, Portugal and Georgia.