We know that the Fosters Wine division is a giant juggernaut but you ought to hear more about their La Maison de Grand Esprit (Grand Spirit House) project. These are wines labelled as French, made in France by several of Fosters winemakers in conjunction with various French properties then sold solely in Australia. www.maisondegrandesprit.com.au

There are several tiers of the wines: Burgundy grand cru (four out of five screw capped), premier cru and Bourgogne (four out of five screw capped), and Rhone (one out of five screw capped).

But the clutch which caught my eye served at the nearby Chalk Hotel in Woolloongabba (home of the Queensland Bulls) was Les Petites Vignettes, meaning the small vines (AUD 8.50 per glass). This is 2007 Bourgogne Pinot Noir (13% alcohol).

I encountered the full range of Les Petites Vignettes at a recent Baguette Bistrot duck degustation dinner in Ascot near Brisbane’s famous horse racecourse. www.baguette.com.au

The card included a tremendous Non-vintage Pinot Noir Chardonnay from Burgundy (AUD 28), 50/50 which is unusual for this region where most of the production is Cremant (less bubble) chardonnay. This wine is 70% 2007 and 30% 2006 vintages, given a good year or more on yeast which has developed funkiness, 12% alcohol. Coldstream Hills winemaker Andrew Fleming oversaw the Burgundian end of the project for Fosters so his selection resulted with this wine.

With duck liver parfait, plus apple and date I mused over Alsace Pinot Blanc 2008 (AUD 21), 12.4% alcohol, made totally dry thank goodness (some Alsatian whites will creep up on you when you need dry with the food, and get gazumped with residual sweetness). Fatty and oily duck liver needs a steely acid from this quite restrained Alsace variety.

Over in the central Loire near Touraine Fosters found some Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (AUD 21), 12% alcohol which kills the Marlborough stuff by a country mile. Matched with soft boiled duck egg (Bendele Organic from near Kilkivan in the Gympie Hinterland) it displays seductive minerality which tames the duck and brings out the tarragon in the brioche finger which accompanied.

Our 2007 Pinot Noir (AUD 28) mentioned above had of course to pair with two courses: finger licking duck leg confit, as rich as ever but not to dominate the pinot showing traces of fresh oak cleverly wrapped into its texture. Then the pinky duck breast, fat encrusted, served with the giblets in a cinnamony pie stood up to the bright cherry fruit of this pinot.

The dessert wine, Pinot Gris 2008 (AUD 35) for 375 ml from Alsace was a collaboration between Fosters gris genius Kevin McCarthy of T’Gallant fame and Alsace’s Frederick Blanck. This was made in the vendage tardive style without any botrytis, rich yet brutal in its alcohol content, 13.3%, and slippery in texture.

The wine accompanied a low-sweetness dessert; duck egg clafoutis with brown bread ice cream; and did well.

While the Alsatians understood the destruction of cork, and all wines were screw capped, those makers in Burgundy and the Rhone were not as accommodating with screw cap finishing. While Australian winemakers are worldly about the bad influence of cork stoppers, many traditional French producers fail to mix amongst their markets and see how frequently their wines fail under standard cork.

In most instances screw cap prevailed, and if not now in this three year Fosters project, expect more wines to come screw capped in future, until they all are!

The Chalk’s Gabba restaurant manager Will Brennan remarks, “This wine sells well. I have a new and very believable story to tell our diners. I had a French couple who were most querulous about it because it was so far from the norm of labelling in France”.

These Les Petites Vignettes labels are floral, happy, hip and quite engaging for modern drinkers.

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