Food & Drink, Libations

A tour through the reds of France

A few years ago I got a sample of a new wine, Hob Nob by Georges Duboeuf. I declined to review it. I don’t review wines I dislike as there are more than enough good wines on the shelves to keep me busy.

I revisit wines I dislike fairly regularly, just in case the wine style or my taste buds have changed. So to that end this week I again tried a bottle of Hob Nob pinot noir… It still tastes too much like vanilla extract for me.

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That’s why it’s popular. The single most popular wine in this province (and North America and maybe the world) is a wine just as sweet, Apothic, and the competitors for the next several spots don’t differ too much away from that model. The idea is to produce wines sweetened, rich and oaky  because everything else is a hard sell.

The interesting thing is it was the French who pioneered this new category, as they tried to make wines they thought Americans would drink. Of course it was the Americans who really made the big money from it, but the fact remains that it is the French who pioneered the wine, and this is something people constantly forget about the French: This is a country that makes an astounding variety of wines at all price points.

So Hob Nob isn’t a wine for me but so what? If you are a fan of “smooth” wines (usually referred to as ‘big, bold reds’ by servers – it is a sort of industry code) Hob Nob is a perfectly well made wine aimed at people who dislike both tannin and acidity. Nice flavour set and packaging make this a wine to try if you’re a fan of zinfandel or “smooth” merlot.

A more traditional take on pinot noir is available for a mere $13 from Rothschild. In general this is a firm that makes superb Bordeaux, and hopes that eventually to lead you up the ladder to their better wines. To jump from Hob Nob to a stern cabernet would be a leap to far, but I would think you could progress from Hob Nob to Rothschild pinot noir without trouble.

This isn’t a great pinot noir: The flavours are not terribly intense. It has a strawberry nose with a touch of leather, a lean profile and a nice crisp acidity. The tannins are quite restrained (PN fans refer to them as ‘fine grained’ and often find the combination ‘sexy’.) If you like pinot noir but wince at the prices, Iíd suggest this one will very much suit you.

If you prefer a drier – which is to say more tannic – fruitier wine, you need to try wines from the South of France made from traditional grapes. This is the home of syrah, the model for the entire Australian wine industry. Less expensive wines from the area are usually made from grenache noir and other grapes even less well known. They arenít expensive, and they’re very quaffable.

There are two such wines widely available on the prairies by large vintners who know what they are doing: Marius(Chapoutier) and Vieille Ferme (Perrin). They look and smell enormously alike. They share a lovely dark fruit bouquet, with a nice fresh palate. Vieille Ferme finishes a little sweeter and the tannins are stronger in Marius. Otherwise these are two very similar wines and which you like most will depend on our own preferences. Vielle Ferme is, like all Perrin wines organic as well.

To get even more traditional, there is a great wine from the area, Perrin Cotes du Rhone Reserve. It is unique in that it is an estate wine (as opposed to a blend from several estates) by a family that is organic and knows what they’re doing.

If you’re a fan of Wine Spectator style (which really is the progenitor of the Hob Nob et al. Style) Perrin Reserve will be too light, and too brisk. It is a traditional Rhone red at a very attractive price. Made from grenache noir, syrah and mouvedre it has fine grained tannins, a nice acidity to it, with a light fruity finish. It is a tremendous deal, and we drink it regularly.

Finally, no discussion of French reds would be complete without a nod towards Bordeaux. Chateau Canada – doubtless named by an ex-courier du bois nostalgic for the woods – is a Bordeaux Superior, which is to say a cut above the bulk wines. They’ve labeled the wine for the Canadian market, noting the blend on the front

This is a quite decent Bordeaux. It will be much too stern a wine for the lovers of Hob Nob et al., but I think if you’ve made it past the fruitier Rhone style and like a wine with a bit of authority, then this wine will suit you perfectly.

Perrin Cotes du Rhone Reserve, France, 2010. $17.18 ****
Chateau Canada, France, 2011. $17.51 ****
Vielle Ferme, France, 2009. $13.57 ****
Marius Red, France, 2011. **** $15.99
Baron Rothschild Pinot Noir, France, 2011. $13.75 ***
Hob Nob Pinot Noir, France, 2011. $15.99 ***


James Romanow writes about Wine and all things Boozy for the Spectator Tribune. Follow him @drbooze

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