The French Class
By: George Balling
A week ago, Saturday we were very fortunate to hold a special tasting here at the shop. Over the years we have been in business here in Coeur d’Alene with our shop The Dinner Party we have been fortunate to forge some wonderful partnerships. None have been more meaningful or more successful than the one with our dear friends Laurent and Patricia Zirotti formerly of Fleur de Sel Restaurant in Post Falls. Over so many years of holding wine dinners at their lovely restaurant we developed a deep bond and a deeper understanding and cooperation of how we operate as business people.
A few months back over dinner we started planning how we might be able to translate that magical cooperation on a smaller scale that included our mutual strengths in food and wine. The idea for The French Lesson was born. Our goal was for our guests to understand some of the nuance of the wine industry in France, for all of us to be better at the pronunciation of French winery names, regions and varietals, and also to see how the phrase, “if it grows there it goes there” relates to wines from around France.
Based on the reactions of our 60 guests spread out over two tasting times we achieved our goals in spectacular fashion! We couldn’t be happier. The food that Laurent prepared and paired with the wines was spot on, not only was it delicious but it did what food and wine pairing is always meant to do, it enhanced both the food and the wine. The food was all prepared and presented in small one bite portions, and as usual by any other standard other than Laurent’s generously portioned.
Patricia shouldered the work on instructing all of us on the proper pronunciation of regions and wineries and explaining the subtleties of the growing areas. Combined with her service expertise from years in the restaurant business it took our event to a whole different level.
Mary and I focused on the selection of the wines beforehand and pouring for all who attended the day of. The lineup of wines spanned 4 appellations of France and started with the Schlumberger Pinot Blanc from Alsace. Alsace is located in the Northeastern corner of the country and has bounced between France and Germany for centuries based on which war was being litigated at the time. It is definitely white wine country and the Pinot Blanc was delicious. Laurent paired it with his homemade boursin and his own smoked salmon on a slice of baguette.
We followed with a wine that was the surprise hit of the night, the 2020 Chateau de Ciffre Saint Chinian Rouge from the Languedoc region. Laurent and Patricia talked about the large Spanish influence on this region which we never knew of. The blend on the wine was predominantly Syrah and Grenache and showed lovely fruit flavors with minimal oak influence and stout tannins on the finish. The pairing Laurent came up with was another hit, a Toulouse meatball with piperade. It highlighted the wine and the region perfectly.
Next up was a wine many of us are familiar with the Malbec from the Clos la Coutale from the Cahors appellation east of Bordeaux. Cahors is unique as Malbec is the only varietal grown in this tiny area. This wine has been on our shelves for years and was a regular staple on the list at Fleur de Sel. While Malbec from Argentina dominates the category, Malbec from France is a special treat and a different wine altogether. The paring this time was with a spread of beef tartare in a choux.
We finished the night with a Bordeaux blend from the Haut Medoc made by Chateau Liversan from the epic 2018 vintage. This Merlot dominant wine is an incredible deal for really great Bordeaux and shows lovely cherry fruit with the barrel spice and age character of a wine much older. It was paired with pork rillette with Laurent’s homemade cherry chutney on some of his own Brioche a fabulous way to end the tastings.
Much of the magic of the evening was no doubt the 4 of us being together again. There was an outpouring of emotion for Laurent and Patricia who have such a special following in this community from the long run of years they had with Fleur de Sel. We all miss the restaurant terribly. Sadly, it won’t be coming back, and coaxing the Zirottis out of their current occupations is challenging. While we would expect that there may be some more events like this down the road it will not be a frequent occurrence. We will save them for the most special of occasions.