The French-American father-daughter team running Vérité make some of the world’s most sophisticated red wines, inspired by French classic styles, from vineyards in Sonoma, California. Darius Sanai catches up with Hélène Seillan to sip through a glorious portfolio
Like with most luxury goods, France has long been the global reference point for fine wine. If you are hosting a banquet for a monarch, your default is to serve something French; similarly, if you are gifting a wine to someone whose tastes you don’t know, the default is to go French.
And yet, just like the rest of the luxury world, there are major players from elsewhere. Red wines from California and sweet whites from Germany, to give just two examples, can command the same or even higher prices than great French wines. And they are made in different styles.
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So what would a tasting of one of California’s most celebrated red wines, with a French name, Vérité (meaning “truth”), with individual wines called La Joie, Le Désir and La Muse respectively, conjure up? To add further intrigue, Vérité’s founding vigneron Pierre Seillan is French, and our tasting was conducted by his daughter and the current custodian of the estate Hélène Seillan, who is entirely bilingual, her life straddling her family’s native Bordeaux and her adoptive homeland of California.
Vérité’s wines are made not in California’s celebrated wine valley of Napa, but in the next valley along, closer to the Pacific Ocean, Sonoma. Each of the three is made with Bordeaux grapes: Le Désir is based on Cabernet Franc, La Joie is based on Cabernet Sauvignon and La Muse is based on Merlot. The wines regularly get top scores of 100/100 or thereabouts from the wine world’s critics.
Hélène herself is delightful (like her wines) and sparkling (unlike her wines). She has the glamour and charm of a French luxury leader, but the easygoing directness of a California winemaker.
Hélène says working with her father is both inspiring and enjoyable, and she shares his view that “the most important part is the vineyard”; that soil and nature are essential to the creation of a fine wine.
Would the wines be the same blend of French sophistication and California brilliance? In a word – yes.
A tasting of Vérité wines with Hélène Seillan; tasting notes by Darius Sanai
Vérité Le Désir 2019
A 1970s Chanel ball gown, worn down the flowing staircase of a Loire château, still owned by its pre-Revolution aristocrat. This is a wine that will live forever.
Vérité La Joie 2019
A classic 80s power suit worn by a woman CEO breaking through the glass ceiling: complexity, intrigue, delicacy, balance and nerves of steel, and a harbinger of many things to come. We would buy and keep this for decades.
Vérité La Muse 2019
An astonishing wine that you would serve to a president at a banquet at the Élysée Palace, and also happily drink at Le Club 55. Delicious and rich and striking.
Vérité La Joie 2013
With a few more years, La Joie is the same but with more layers, more experience. The intriguing thing about these wines is that, while they are as complex as almost anything from Bordeaux, they don’t go through those very French adolescent periods of being difficult, uptight and grumpy.
Vérité La Muse 2007
Wine snobs don’t think it’s OK to have favourites – you can say a certain wine “shows better” than another. Hélène is no wine snob, though, because I told her this was my favourite wine of the tasting and she laughed. Maybe it’s the age, a sweet sixteen, but it had the freshness and richness of the first four, with a kind of perfumed soulfulness that was all Billie Holiday.
This is a library wine, no longer easily available, showcased in this tasting. For me it tasted like an aged Grand Cru Burgundy (even though those are made from a different kind of grape), silky, subtle, gently revealing itself. At 25 years its no longer bold, like the others, and merits sipping over foie gras (or grilled chanterelles on a biscotte-type toast, if you prefer) while musing out of the French windows of your chateau in La France Profonde, looking at the rain washing over your long lawn, in the autumn.
Vérité wines are occasionally available from stockists around the world: check www.winesearcher.com for details