Go ahead. Bring French wine to an Italian restaurant

Château Paul Mas, Vignes de Nicole & Côté Mas restaurant

"They're closed!" I yelled down the block as my friends Lisa and John were a few stores downfrom the restaurant I picked for dinner. There was no indication on the restaurant's website or Facebook page that they would be closing on their usually open Tuesday night, yet there I was, looking into a dark restaurant.

I stood there, with a bottle of French wine in each hand, disappointed but not defeated. Within a minute or two, we had a plan B. We jumped in one car and headed about 15 minutes away to Collingswood, a small town with 20 or so really good BYOB restaurants. As we drove, I opened the Open Table app.

We were in luck. Il Fiore - one of my favorites in the town (I had my birthday dinner there this year) - had a reservation right about the time we'd be arriving. We parked, grabbed the wines, and walked in the front door of the white table-clothed Italian restaurant as if it was where we had planned to eat all along.

The choice to bring two French wines was deliberate. The original restaurant had been Italian, too. I wasn't trying to be a rebel and drink French wine at an Italian restaurant (which isn't really rebelling - it's done all the time). I simply wanted to share these specific wines with Lisa and John.

Château Paul Mas sent me two of their red blends - made with the same grape varieties but grown in different vineyards and blended in different percentages. Our mission for the night - besides catching up since it's been about a year since we had dinner together - was to take our time with the wines. To notice how the same grapes can make two different wines depending on the blend. To see if we preferred one blend to the other. To eat, drink and be merry.

Both of these wines are what is known as a GSM blend - grenache, syrah and mouvédre. While it's typical to see grenache as first grape in a GSM blend, winemakers can choose to play with the percentages any way they desire. For the two wines I brought, grenache was not the first grape in either.

We opened the 2016 Château Paul Mas Clos de Savignac (SRP $22.99) first. A blend of 50% mouvédre, 30% syrah, and 20% grenache, the wine is aged for 14 months in oak barrels then bottled unrefined and unfiltered in order to preserve its velvety and dense structure.

Poured from a just-opened bottle, the wine was tight. But after just 10 minutes in the glass, the tannins and the acids opened up, as did some of the wines aromas of dark berries, violet, chocolate and a little leather. On the palate it was still closed. But as the night wore on, wow, did this wine evolve and become a thing of beauty. It was bursting with plum and the tannins had integrated nicely leaving a velvety, long finish.

The grapes come from "old vines" planted in the Les Vinges de Savignac, one of the winery's vineyards in the Languedoc that's on a hillside that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea.

The second bottle we opened that night, the 2016 Château Paul Mas Clos de Mûres (SRP $19.99), is a blend of 85% syrah, 10% grenache and 5% mouvédre. The same grapes from the first, but in vastly different percentages. The wine is aged for 9 months in French and American oak.

Poured from a just opened bottle, the wine was full bodied and Lisa commented that it was "little, sexy and velvety." That "little" changed to "big" as the wine opened up over time. It had flavors of dark berries, licorice and cassis. As the wine opened up, the cassis become the predominant flavor in the wine.

The grapes for this wine are also grown in the Languedoc, but the tech sheet I was given didn't have a specific vineyard name. It could be the grapes come from several different vineyards.

On first sip, the three of us preferred the Clos de Mûres, but by the time both bottles had been open over an hour, we realized we were reaching for the Clos de Savignac bottle more often. They're both very good wines and great values for their quality. Perhaps it was the surprise of the ever evolving Clos de Savignac that kept us going back to it, curious to see what it did next. The Clos de Mûres didn't change as intensely.

With the wine, we shared grilled calamari and lobster ravioli in a pink cognac sauce for a first course and then I ordered gnocchi di ricotta in a tomato-basil sauce for my dinner. The wines went well with the dishes, but we weren't focused on the pairing. When the conversation is interesting and you're chatting away while eating and drinking, the focus is taken away from how well a wine pairs with the food. If it had been a bad pairing, we would have known it. But because it was all complementary, everything just flowed. I had to keep reminding myself to stop for a moment from time to time to focus on the wine itself and jot down a few notes.


If you're curious about Collingswood, the small town with so many BYOBs, you can read more about it in the Eating In Collingswood feature I wrote for Edible Jersey. Collingswood is in Camden County, New Jersey and just minutes away from Philadelphia via the Patco commuter rail. A train stops right in the heart of the restaurant district of Collingswood where you can walk to almost every restaurant. I wrote the feature in 2013, so some of the restaurants have changed, but the culinary heart of the town has not.

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