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France Comes to Fairfax

World-renown wine expert Clive Coates discussed Burgundy wines at Fairfax Wegmans last week.

Clive Coates has spent most of his life sipping, swishing, drinking, talking and writing about wine. The expert in French wines, particularly those from the Burgundy region, gave a tasting at the Wegmans grocery store in Fairfax Thursday night, April 22, walking over 30 people through a group of seven wines.

Coates, a full-time wine writer for the past 20 years, recently published a book, “The Wines of Burgundy,” and has been traveling the country doing wine tastings for the past few weeks.

“I try to communicate” the differences among the wines, Coates said. “French wines in particular are very food friendly and this store has a great selection of wines with some really amazing values.”

During his two-hour tasting, Coates said he’s always aware that he’s not only speaking on behalf of the winemakers, but also the consumer.

“I don’t pull any punches,” he said. “If I don’t like a wine, I say so.”

For the past 16 years, he has considered himself “semi-retired,” writing only about Burgundy wines and the Burgundy region. The area didn’t produce many great wines until about 20-30 years ago, he said, when more people began going off to college to learn about winemaking and started their own vineyards.

Before then, wines from Bordeaux were all the rage, Coates said. No one went to Burgundy because, as previously mentioned, the wines weren’t that great. But eventually, he found himself in a pattern.

“I had gone to all the top chateaux,” he said, and needed a change.

Burgundy is a friendlier town than Bordeaux, and there’s a greater sense in personal involvement in the wines created there.

“You’ll find that the farmer is the winemaker, and also the bottler and the seller,” he said. “The vineyards are really small, only selling to one or two customers. I’ve been riding this wave for the past 25 years and it’s been wonderful.”

Those past 25 years have made Coates something of a celebrity in the eyes of wine lovers, who buy his books and swear by his reviews.

Sylvia and Jim Hooper of Reston wanted to take the opportunity to learn from the master directly and pick up a signed copy of his latest book.

“I like wine but Jim’s the expert,” Sylvia Hooper said, playfully nudging her husband.

“I’ve heard a lot about Clive Coates, but we’ve never done this before,” Jim Hooper said. “I’m looking forward to reading his book and using this as a reference. I just want to get a better understanding on this kind of wine.”

Adam Berti, a wine distributor from Arlington, said he’s always looking for new wineries to deal with and new products to offer his customers.

“He’s got a great knowledge, and I had to come and test out this stuff,” Berti said.

Mark and Leslie Morrissey and their friends Steve and Nancy Winings have been going to tastings together for several years, during which time both men say their wine cellars have grown exponentially.

“He used to have only a few hundred bottles, but now he has to store his stuff at my place,” Mark Morrissey said of Steve Winings.

“Wine is one of our favorite hobbies,” Winings said, adding that he and his wife know the least about Burgundy wines and were hoping to learn more from Coates during his talk.

Leslie Morrissey said she and her husband are considering going to Burgundy later this year and were hoping to take some of Coates’ advice with them on their trip.

“We just got back from Napa but we’re ready to go,” she added.

Speaking of travel, when asked what kind of wine he’d take with him on a desert island, Coates chuckled, and in his gravely voice, replied that he’d have to take champagne.

Why champagne?

“That’s the only great wine you can drink on your own,” he said. “All other great wines you need to drink with company.”