You know the “rule” about drinking white wine with fish and chicken? Well, forget it – please! This is a fake “rule” made up by people who don’t know any better, like the grammar “rule” about not ending a sentence with a preposition. (You can end sentences with prepositions all day long and still be grammatically correct. Check out “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White if you don’t believe me.) But grammar rules in a wine column are something you shouldn’t have to put up with. Let’s talk wine.
The red you can drink with fish and chicken is Pinot Noir — a generally light and acidic wine, Heaven-sent to drink with light yet substantial foods like chicken, dark-fleshed fish, fatty cheese and breaded or fried foods, particularly when they retain some oil. There are exceptions to this rule, especially if your Pinot Noir hails from Oregon — where vintners go for softer wines sometimes described as “ashy” because of their low acidity and tannins. As much as I love Oregon’s wines, sharper French and Californian Pinot Noirs excel in the traits that pair best with denser fish and fried foods.
Lots of wine experts make a huge fuss over Pinot Noir and some of Burgundy’s wines command big bucks – like $1,500 per bottle. I don’t know what kind of food you serve with a $1,500 bottle of wine, but it probably isn’t fried chicken. There is a Pinot Noir you can put on your table every night, however, without needing a second mortgage and you can find the name almost everywhere: Joseph Drouhin.
Despite being one of France’s largest wine producers, shipping something north of 400,000 cases per year, Maison Joseph Drouhin really is based in Burgundy, really was founded by a native Frenchman and really is still run by his descendants, who work to produce a high-quality product true to the Burgundy tradition. It was founded by Joseph Drouhin in 1880 as a wine-selling company; his son Maurice started buying vineyards after he took charge in 1918.
Today, Maison Drouhin owns vineyards in the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune (the two halves of Burgundy’s Côte d’Or), where its headquarters winery is located, as well as in Chablis, Beaujolais and in Oregon’s Willamette Valley (the latter known as Domaine Drouhin Oregon). It remains one of Burgundy’s main wine-selling companies and makes wines from grapes grown on its own vineyards as well as from grapes and juice purchased from vineyards throughout the region. Four Drouhin siblings run the company — three brothers who act independently as CEO, estate property manager and head of overseas sales, and their sister (a trained oenologist) who is the chief winemaker for Domaine Drouhin Oregon. Their father, Robert, is credited with ending the use of chemical fertilizers in his vineyards and with being one of France’s first large-scale producers to hire a female chief winemaker.
Wines sold under the Joseph Drouhin label can fetch prices ranging from $10 to more than $400 per bottle, but I’ve been truly impressed by the entry-level Joseph Drouhin “LaForêt” Bourgogne Pinot Noir which costs between $12-$15, depending on where you find it. This is not a “grand cru” wine, nor a “premier cru;” it doesn’t have the tongue-twisting name of a village or a vineyard on its label. Instead, it sits on the bottom rung of Burgundy’s Pinot Noir ladder — and it is fantastic.
I tried Drouhin’s 2009 LaForêt, but you needn’t worry too much about the vintage because Drouhin strives for a consistent style with this wine. It’s made from 100 percent Pinot Noir, using grapes sourced from as many as a dozen sites around Burgundy — usually from higher vineyards near where the grapes end and the forest takes over, hence “la forêt,” French for “the forest.” After a two to three-week maceration (think steeping) and fermentation period, part of the wine is aged for several months in stainless-steel vats and part in oak barrels. When the two are blended, the goal is to create a wine that’s not noticeably “woody” but has the added structure, aromas and tannins that oak imparts.
What does it taste like? Well, if brightness had a flavor, LaForêt would have it. It is zingy and fresh, without being sour or astringent. It’s clear and clean, with lots of red fruit flavors like raspberries, fresh currants and tart cherries, stopping short of cranberry. It’s rich without being thick and crisp without being thin. Mouth-watering acidity enables it to cut the fat. The wine’s aromas precisely mirror the flavors, and there’s a long finish with a sprinkle of spice toward the end. I drank it with my world-famous salmon patties (write me for the recipe, I might share) and it was perfect.
When you’re shopping for wine you should think of Drouhin’s LaForêt as the polar opposite of a big-bodied fruit bomb like a Southern California Zinfandel or a massive Napa Cabernet. Those wines are wonderful in their place, but LaForêt is almost like a white wine in its freshness. In fact, if you know someone who says they “only drink white” wines, LaForêt could open their eyes to what they’ve been missing in reds.
I’m not the only one who likes LaForêt, by the way. Jon Thorsen, a.k.a. The Reverse Wine Snob whose motto is “Thumbing My Nose At Bottles Over $20,” called the 2011 Drouhin LaForêt “one tasty Pinot Noir and a steal for under $15.” You could spend a lot more money for a lot less wine, in my experience.
LaForêt Pinot Noir has a screw-cap, by the way, and is meant for early drinking, not cellaring beyond a handful of years. It also benefits from a light chill — try popping it into the fridge for 30 minutes or, if you crave precision, decant and serve after cooling to 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit. (12.5 percent ABV; widely available at wine shops and better grocery stores.)