Friday, December 17, 2010

The Wine That Smokes a Pack a Day (les fumees blanches)

Not every wine is going to capture the imagination.  Tonight I sat down with a bottle of les Fumees Blanches by Francois Lurton.  Fume blanc is not a type of grape the name is generally meant to signify a sauvignon blanc that has spent some time on oak giving it a fume or smokey quality.  While the wine doesn't actually claim to be a fume blanc the name strongly suggests that is the case.

Upon reading the back label it becomes clear at no time did this wine sit in or on oak.  The hills and mist apparently lend a smokey aroma to the wine.  While my imagination certainly wasn't captured it sure got working after reading the back label.  It would seem my imagination just isn't strong enough to convince me that there are any traces of smokey character to this wine, that being said it's not a bad wine.

Producer: Francois Latour
Wine: les fumees blanches
Region: France
Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc
Vintage: 2009
Alc: 12%
Price: $13

Notes:  There is no hint of smoke as far as I can tell.  There is peach, green apple, citrus and grass.  Fairly light bodied with high acid, this wine is simple but pleasant despite the deceptive name.  All and all this is pretty much bang on for what a simple sauvignon blanc should be, a fine example for its price range.  Les fummees blanches is Nice!


A wine that smokes?
Well not exactly.  Historically sauvignon blanc has been left unoaked and by and large still is today.  The idea to oak sauvignon blanc was an american invention. Back in the 1970's the famous Californian wine maker Robert Mondavi had a line of sauvignon blanc that wasn't selling very well.  Knowing americans aptitude for catchy marketing he hatched a plan.  He would partially capitalize on a well known region in France that specialized in growing sauv blanc and invent a new wine to go along with the slightly ripped off name.

The Loire valley in France grows quite a bit of sauvignon blanc, within the Loire there is a smaller appellation named Pouilly-Fume which specializes in sauvignon blanc.  Wine makers in Pouilly-Fume don't age their sauv blanc in oak but the soil does lend a slight smokiness to the wine.  The wine from Pouilly-Fume is sometimes refered to as blanc fume.  Mondavi's first stroke of genius was simply to reverse the order of the name blanc fume to fume blanc.

Fume blanc is suggestive of a Pouilly-Fume wine but the soils in California are not the same as they are in the French appellation of Pouilly-Fume.  Sauvignon Blanc does not typically have a naturally occuring smokiness to it when grown in California and without smokiness the name is just utter BS.  Mondavi decided the sauv blanc must be oaked in order for the name to be reflective of the wine.

With these new changes Mondavi's sauvignon blanc come fume blanc went from a poorly selling wine to the hottest libation on the market, the style was emulated the world over to a relatively small degree.  There are not a ton of fume blancs on the market these days but they can still be found, this was my first experience with one and it left me wondering where is the fume?

It should be noted that this account of the origin of fume blanc is pretty much accurate but I am not Robert Mondavi and as such have no actual insight into the order of events or how he actually came up with the idea of fume blanc.  Something to the effect of my retelling is the accepted version although all versions are a little murky. Mondavi, Pouilly-Fume, sauv blanc, oak are all generally agreed upon.

1 comment:

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