Last November, Pascaline Lepeltier made history. At 37, she is the first woman to win the title of best sommelier in France, a few weeks after getting the "Meilleurs Ouvriers de France" recognition. Working at New York's Racine as their in-house sommelier, this Loire Valley native knows wine better than anyone.
Your establishment offers a rich wine list of 2500 entries, mainly French. Are the wines of France still popular as ever?
Pascaline Lepeltier : France still remains the great country of wine. It is the gold standard, with which no one can compete. Really, no one. Italy has many great Barolos, but they do not stand the comparison with our great vintages of Burgundy or Bordeaux. Our appellations of controlled origin (AOC) standard may seem binding to some producers, but this is still a fantastic system for producing wines of expression, of terroir.
We often hear that French wines are expensive compared to those produced in Australia, Chile or Argentina, the United States…
Pascaline Lepeltier : On the relatively inexpensive side, at five dollars a bottle, French wines don't sell as well as others. But if we’re talking about expressive wines, indigenous grape wines, which can be aged and which transport you, then that’s something else. Starting at 15 dollars per bottle, the quality/price ratio is excellent. And no other country can claim to have as consistent a production as ours. France has a truly unique wine heritage.
Are the Americans experts in oenology?
Pascaline Lepeltier : There are, in New York City for example, very great wine lovers, even fanatics, who go several times a year to France to visit cellars, to have wine tastings. Some people probably know Burgundy better than I do! French winemakers also cross the Atlantic because New York City is a big market. Here, there are tastings all the time, wine lovers love to meet French producers, talk to them live and taste their bottles.
"France has a unique wine heritage"
Which wines are hot right now?
Pascaline Lepeltier : The great classics of French viticulture always sell very well. But there is also a very strong demand for names that are a little less well known, a little less prestigious. The wines of the Jura – the Arbois, the Savagnins – currently have a huge rating. As well as those from the north of the Côtes-du-Rhône and the Loire Valley. In New York City, there is also a strong interest in natural or biodynamic wines.
You, who grew up in Angers, must appreciate this new recognition for Loire wines
Pascaline Lepeltier : Absolutely. And they deserve it! Loire wines have an incredible quality/price ratio. The region is known for dry whites—terms of aromatic profile, for example, some Muscadets are fantastic. They have freshness in the mouth, a controlled acidity, subtle, tasty notes, salt…but if you like pinot noir, there are also extraordinary red Sancerres. And for sparkling wines, try the Crémants de Loire produced in the vicinity of Vouvray. The Loire wines have reached a world class level, at extremely mild prices.