January 2012

Act Two for Folie à Deux

By: Anthony Head

Folie à Deux Chardonnay paired with Pompano Pontchartrain— grilled filet of pompano with lump crabmeat sautéed in butter—a signature dish at Antoine’s in New Orleans.
A defection? An invasion? How to characterize the decision by Folie à Deux to uproot itself from Napa Valley and hit the road for Sonoma? Whatever it is, the highly regarded wine company—opened in 1981 in St. Helena, and creator of wildly successful Ménage a Trios Red, among many other acclaimed wines during its three decades—has released its flagship wines, again. This time, each bottle features Sonoma County AVAs.

“I think this is very much in our strike zone,” says Bob Torkelson, President and COO of Trinchero Family Estates, which owns Folie à Deux. Torkelson sees the move as an incredible opportunity to work with and within another great California wine region. “We’re very impressed with some of the innovation and growing conditions in Sonoma. There are great growers in Sonoma. And we really wanted to be a part of it. This is the first time in Trinchero’s history that we’ve been able to take a brand like Folie à Deux and transfer it to some key growing regions in Sonoma and re-introduce it to the public.”

Already known for an impressive, expansive Napa Valley portfolio (including Sutter Home and Napa Cellars), Trinchero now has a stake in AVAs such as Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and Dry Creek—because the team at Folie à Deux successfully switched sides of the county line.

“An exciting pairing”: Folie à Deux Dry Creek Zinfandel with the signature steak au poivre at The Chop House in Ann Arbor, MI.
“Yeah, sometimes I think our people might need a passport for getting back and forth,” Torkelson jokes. “It’s a complete address change, so there’s no turning back now.”

In truth, there’s no need for turning back. If part of characterizing Folie à Deux’s endeavor includes tasting its new wines, then the move surely proves prescient (see Tasting Notes). Torkelson says he’s aware of increased consumer interest and knowledge of “Sonoma wines,” and so Folie à Deux’s move is good for them and good for restaurants and retail partners that want a broad spectrum of offerings.

Eric Arsenault, Certified Sommelier and Director of Wine & Spirits for The Chop House in Ann Arbor, MI (as well as several other regional and national restaurants), believes that Folie à Deux’s move to Sonoma was an instant boost to the brand’s already high-quality legacy. “Considering the wines are being sold at the same price point as they always were, it’s obvious that they are now getting much better fruit for their grape dollar. This higher level of fruit quality is evident throughout every wine,” he says.

Eric Arsenault, Certified Sommelier and Director of Wine & Spirits for The Chop House in Ann Arbor, finds a higher level of fruit quality in every Folie à Deux wine.
“I’m most impressed with the Dry Creek Zinfandel. It’s a phenomenal wine paired with our signature steak au poivre: pan-seared, pepper-encrusted New York strip with peppercorn cream sauce,” Arsenault says. “There’s a considerable amount of heat here, and then this Zin’s alcohol [14.5%] amplifies the heat while the Petite Sirah keeps the structure sound. It’s an exciting pairing.”

At Grand Central Oyster Bar in New York City, General Manager Jonathan Young finds that Folie à Deux Chardonnay “lets the fruit talk.” Young is shown at the famous bar with Blue Point oysters on the half shell.

Arsenault’s sentiments about Folie à Deux’s quality and value, especially for restaurant customers, are echoed by Jonathan Young, who runs Grand Central Oyster Bar in New York City. “If you have a list like mine, where there’s already so much Napa, I can offer [customers] something different but that they have also heard about,” he says. “Tourists in New York, especially from Europe, they know Sonoma. Of course they know Napa Valley, but they look for Sonoma wines, too.”

Folie à Deux’s move helps Young expand his pairing options for such classic dishes as oysters on the half shell: “Typically, California Chard is not good oyster wine—it overpowers the oysters. I love the acidity in the Folie à Deux Chardonnay, and the flavors are not sitting on a lot of oak. There’s not as much vanilla; this lets the fruit talk.”

If a company goes to the trouble to forward its mail to Sonoma Valley because of the vineyards, it’s probably a wise move to let the fruit talk as much as it wants.

The “Passion Shared By Two” Is a Recipe for Success in New Orleans

In the French Quarter of New Orleans, time travel comes easy. Particularly when ensconced in Antoine’s, the oldest continually run family restaurant in the United States, established in 1840 by Antoine Alciatore.

Rick Blount, CEO and fifth-generation family member, sits with his Wine and Beverage Director, Matthew Ousset, in one of Antoine’s 14 dining rooms, the spent plates that not long before held classic Creole dishes arrayed around us as if we were kings—or Frenchmen. With the perfume of Folie à Deux Chardonnay on all our lips, Rick finishes the tale of how his grandfather, Roy Alciatore, built a secret door in the ladies room that entered on the speakeasy and then—historic tidbit by historic tidbit—downshifts into the modern day subject at hand: Antoine’s wine program and their relationship with Folie à Deux. Oui, it’s oyster slick to time travel in New Orleans.

Matthew Ousset (left), Antoine’s Wine and Beverage Director, shares a glass of Folie à Deux Chardonnay with Antoine’s CEO Rick Blount in the restaurant’s wine cellar. Comprising the length of four buildings, the cellar’s capacity is 24,000+ bottles of wine.

“So wine’s been an integral part of Antoine’s tradition literally forever,” continues Rick. “Even during Prohibition: Roy firmly believed that federal agents would never be brave enough to go into the ladies room—and they never were.”

“He was also cutting edge,” interjects Matt. “Roy was the first—or among the first—in New Orleans to get into California wines.”

“Yes!” agrees Rick. “Like Folie. And that is very much what Roy was into. He was an aficionado but he wasn’t a snob. He loved to offer—and to drink—the kind of wines that people could enjoy and afford to drink every day.”

“That’s why Folie is our house wine,” adds Matt. “And we also sell it by the case for banquets. Large parties have several choices from our wine list, and Folie is a wine that sits well with people.”

“Simply,” says Rick. “Folie à Deux is one wine from a successful family company—Trinchero—not unlike my own. I’m fifth-generation, they’re third. They work incredibly well for us because they’re all wonderfully made at a wonderful price point.”

And then he pauses, his eyes caught in that New Orleans time travel: “Sure, we carry the most expensive wines we can get. But Roy asked, ‘What do people drink every day?’ And I’m asking it, too. They drink wines like Folie. And we give our guests what they want.”  —Brian Huff  

Tasting Notes

Folie à Deux 2010 Chardonnay, Russian River ($18)
Sexy, tropical and leaner than typical California “big Chards.” This is dressed to reveal the varietal’s allure, with the toasty/woodsy flavors enhancing rather than covering up all the good parts.

Folie à Deux 2010 Merlot, Sonoma County ($18) Juicy, clean and concentrated. The dark purple fruit and cool spiciness are elegant and lasting. This isn’t overly oaked and the tannins are in check. It’s a great expression of the grape.

Folie à Deux 2009 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley ($18) A Zin to put Paso Robles on notice. This is balanced and approachable, and because it’s laced with enough Petite Sirah to add structural support, the character remains steadfast even as the spirit goes bold.

Folie à Deux 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley ($24) As if it’s just letting the land introduce itself, this 100-percent Cab soon becomes familiar Sonoma territory. There’s little tannic resistance, lots of fruit and lingering body.

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