Friday, April 1, 2011

Steve’s Wine -- Pleasures of Burgundy: Dominique Taquet --Part I of II

MadisonWineScene (MWS) recently interviewed Dominique Taquet of Steve’s Wine Market ( at 8302 Mineral Point Road, 608-833-5995.

Dominique has worked for 10 years for Steve’s Wine Market in Madison and prior to that worked for 10 years in Paris for a Japanese company buying wines, gourmet food and luxurious tableware. He has a BA in English and Japanese, studied wines at l’Institut d’Oenologie de Paris for 1 year, and tasted thousands of wines since!

MWS: What is your specialty at Steve’s Wine Market?
Dominique: I am the buyer of all the European wines – Italian, French, German, Spanish, Hungarian, even Greek -- for the Steve’s on Mineral Point Road. 

Believe it or not, the European wines generate the majority of the wine sales at this store.  Among the European wines, although the French wine sales are strong, the Italians and the Spanish wines do well too.  

Spanish wines have come in strong and have had lots of good values in the last 3 to 5 years.

MWS: Which different wine regions from France are represented at Steve’s in Madison?
Dominique: In Wisconsin we have to deal with what is available to us. So my tastes, my interests are one thing, but mostly it is dealing with what is coming to us.

Although we can influence distributors and importers – we take trips and we tell them that we want a particular wine – but mostly it is what is available in Wisconsin.  

Rhone valley wines are strong. Bordeaux are here when they are available – we haven’t seen them for the last two years because of the main importer going out of the Bordeaux business. I take pride in the Burgundy in the store – I am a Burgundy lover – and we do a good business in that compared to others.

MWS: So why don’t your wine distributors have more Burgundies?
Dominique: Burgundies are very hard to sell. People are not knowledgeable – don’t have the education.  They are a different palate as well – they are wines with more acidity, wines that do not explode, or show their stuff right away.  They are more subtle.

MWS: What is the difference between Burgundy and Bordeaux or a Chateauneuf-du-Pape?
Dominique: The grapes are different, obviously.  

Bordeaux is very driven by terroir – the landscape, the profiles, the grapes can be slightly different between different producers, although the main components are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  

Rhones may be a little more accessible right away – they show their stuff, they are more boastful whereas Bordeaux could be astringent, very structured, very tight when young. Syrah and Grenache go into Rhones – Syrah is often a little more plump and Grenache adds the acidity and red fruits – so right away it is more explosive. That is why Rhone is more popular than Bordeaux – it shows its stuff younger while Bordeaux needs aging. With Bordeaux you have to invest money and lay down the wines.

I am a Burgundy man because first it has all the fruit qualities.  Burgundy is subtle.  Pinot Noir is finicky to grow – it is very hard. But when it grows, Pinot Noir does show its stuff in a different way, it is not boastful – it is elegant – Pinot Noir is not a king or a queen.  I like Chardonnays (white Burgundies) that are not explosive.  I like wines that have a restraint but show so much depth; complexity that is pretty mind-blowing; the finishes go on and on.  Burgundy offers that often.  You will find the flamboyance in the Willamette Valley – they have great acidity but the depth is different and the subtlety is not there either.  

So Burgundy is like reading a novel, reaching so deep and so thoughtful, that you can think about it for years.  

So this is what Burgundy is like for me.

MWS: Do you have a favorite Domaine for Burgundy wine?
Dominique: None, although I like the Cote de Nuits a little more – steeper hills, different topography and since the nutrients come from way deeper in the soil they offer way more depth.  I like the youthful wines of the southern Burgundy as well.

MWS: What about French white wines?
Dominique: White Burgundies –Chardonnays -- are popular – I shouldn’t say popular – I need to push – I need to work on people.  The Loire valley is popular.  Wisconsin does not have a great tradition of drinking and matching wine with food and such, and people tend to like sweeter wines a little bit and the Loire valley offers that with Chenin Blanc -- so that is pretty popular. Vouvray is what people recognize because most of the chain stores carry some big brands of Vouvray.

MWS: Is price a factor with wine purchases?
Dominique: Price is always a factor, especially over the last few years because of the economy and the euro-dollar exchange rate.  But interestingly enough we find that under $10, it is way easier to find European wines than American wines. At $15 you can get lots of European and Domestic wines that are way more powerful and way more interesting than the $10 ones. But I would bluntly say that it is still easier to say that European wines remain way more subtle and also way more complex than what American wines can offer in this price range.

MWS: So do you need to educate your Madison wine customers about that?
Dominique: I need to work hard. We have wine tastings. We talk to our customers.  The relationship to a store is a one-to-one relationship. When somebody grabs a bottle you have to speak to them:  If you like this, you will like that. And then we use other means of communication like the Internet.

MWS: What is happening with wine importers and wine distributors?
Dominique: There are lots of switches.  Importers switching distributors. Big brands want volume and a return on their investment so they are pretty quick, in two or three years, to switch distributors, and we see that with the big marketed products. It happens a lot.  We like to work with distributors who have an importing license, but some of them have been struggling because their wines are not marketed, not known so there is a lesser reach to the customers.  We try to help those smaller distributors.

[MWS: A description of the disruptive impact on smaller wine retailers, especially those in smaller cities, of the 2008 withdrawal of Diageo (the London-based maker of Johnnie Walker scotch, Jose Cuervo Tequila, Guinness stout and Smirnoff vodka) from the importation and distribution of Bordeaux wines in the US can be found in the Wine Spectator, The Collapse of America’s Bordeaux Source, March 28, 2011.]

Another post will discuss Steve’s wines from other parts of Europe.

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