But I had good guides. I was sitting next to Catherine and Isabelle Orliac of Chateau Labastide Orliac at a tasting dinner at L'Ermitage.
I had met the sisters (Catherine is at the left in the photo) at an outdoor champagne reception in the hotel. They were so stylish, lively and fresh even though they had been traveling hard, from a tasting in New York to Los Angeles, then back to New York the next morning.
We drank glass after glass of Champagne Ernest Remy Millésime 2005 (above). Made 100% from Pinot Noir grapes from Grand Cru vineyards in Mailly-Champagne, this beautiful bubbly spent 72 months--that's six years!--in the bottle, although Champagne regulations require only 36 months.
Then we went inside for dinner, starting with salmon tartare and a taste of two Cru Classé Côtes de Provence rosés (above). They were Chateau Saint-Maur L'Excellence 2014 and Chateau Saint-Maur Clos de Capelune 2014.
The first was pink, full and fruity, a delightful wine. "Beautiful color," Catherine said, and she found it superior to the second wine although she said, tactfully, that both were good.
The second was made with the same grapes--Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre and Rolle, but grown at a higher elevation. This wine was pale, dry and restrained. I thought it went well with the delicately seasoned tartare. Even in the dark, you can see the the difference in color (above).
Then we moved on to a Chardonnay, Louis Baisinbert Corton Charlemagne 2011, a Grand Cru wine from a limited edition of 300 bottles (above). I detected pronounced oak in the finish of this wine, but Catherine said she thought it was beautifully balanced with the oak. "Fabulous," she said. California wine lovers would go for this one, it was so rich and full flavored.
The dish served with it was butternut squash cannelloni with sage brown butter and Parmigiano Reggiano.
Now on to roasted exotic mushrooms, celery root soubise, smoked tomato confit and mushroom jus with the Louis Baisinbert Corton Les Perrières 2012, a Grand Cru Pinot Noir (above). "Beautiful color and good nose," Catherine said.
Next came what I was waiting for, two wines from the sisters' property, Chateau Labastide Orliac, which, they said, is south of Bordeaux and on the right bank of the Gironde river. These two Cru Exceptionnel wines (above) were matched with fennel-crusted lamb rack with caponata, grilled Roquefort polenta and sauce bordelaise.
The sisters are traditional winemakers and do the least possible to "touch" the wine, they said. Instead of stainless steel, they ferment in cement vats, because wine evolves in cement but not in stainless steel, Catherine said. They let nature express itself in the vineyards and don't use pesticides.
The sisters themselves are part of French history. They're the seventh generation of the Orliac family to inhabit the chateau and make wine there since 1750. In 1780, Louis XVI signed a letter inviting Jean Orliac to provide wine to the French court.
Both of the wines we tasted were labeled Royal Heritage for this reason. The first, Le Prince 2009 (on the left in the photo), came from the youngest part of the vineyard. It's a blend of 40% each Merlot and Cabernet Franc and 20% Tannat. Tannat is good for the health, Isabelle said, although I didn't find out why.
The dinner, arranged by Private Cask Imports, ended with the impressively labeled Royal Heritage 1780, from the year 2008 (above). It's the more elite of the two, from the finest and oldest vineyard stock.
The five grapes in the blend are Merlot, Tannat, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Abouriou, a local grape that provides deep color, structure and lowers the alcohol level, Catherine said. Each grape is processed separately, then blended after six months in barrels.
Catherine said she likes to cook and prepares meals for the winery workers. She would serve Royal Heritage 1780 with good cheese, filet mignon, duck confit, magret de canard (duck breast), lentils with Toulouse sausage--"anything rich." And that's appropriate, because this was the priciest wine of the evening, $190.