ADVERTISEMENT: Advertorial — The French class

A week ago, Saturday, we were lucky enough to host a special tasting here at the shop. Over the years we’ve been in business here in Coeur d’Alene with our boutique The Dinner Party, we’ve been fortunate enough to forge some wonderful partnerships. None was more meaningful or successful than the one with our dear friends Laurent and Patricia Zirotti formerly of the Fleur de Sel restaurant in Post Falls. Over so many years hosting wine dinners at their lovely restaurant, we have developed a deep bond and a deeper understanding and cooperation of how we operate as business people.

A few months ago, over dinner, we began planning how we could translate this magical cooperation to a smaller scale that included our mutual strengths in food and wine. The idea of ​​The French Lesson was born. Our goal was for our guests to understand some of the nuances of the wine industry in France, for us all to be better at pronouncing the names, regions and French grape varieties of the vineyards, and also to see how the expression “if that push it goes” refers to wines from all over France.

Backed by the reactions of our 60 guests spread over two tasting periods, we achieved our objectives in spectacular fashion! We couldn’t be happier. The food that Laurent prepared and paired with the wines was perfect, not only was it delicious, but it did what wine pairing is always supposed to do, it made both the food and the wine better. The food was all prepared and presented in small one bite portions, and as usual by any other standard other than Laurent’s generously portioned.

Patricia took on the job educating us all on the correct pronunciation of regions and vineyards and explaining the intricacies of growing areas. Combined with his service expertise from years in the restaurant industry, our event took on a whole new dimension.

Mary and I focused on wine selection in advance and pouring for everyone who attended for the day. The range of wines spanned four appellations in France and began with Schlumberger Pinot Blanc from Alsace. Alsace is located in the northeast corner of the country and bounced between France and Germany for centuries based on the war that was going on at the time. This is definitely white wine country and the Pinot Blanc was delicious. Laurent paired it with his homemade boursin and his own smoked salmon on a slice of baguette.

We followed with a wine that was the surprise hit of the evening, the 2020 Château de Ciffre Saint Chinian Rouge from the Languedoc region. Laurent and Patricia talked about the great Spanish influence on this region that we didn’t know. The wine’s blend was mostly Syrah and Grenache and showed lovely fruit flavors with minimal oak influence and robust tannins on the finish. The pair Laurent found was another hit, a Toulouse meatball with piperade. It perfectly showcases the wine and the region.

Then there was a wine that many of us are familiar with, Malbec du Clos la Coutale from the Cahors appellation east of Bordeaux. Cahors is unique because Malbec is the only grape grown in this small region. This wine has been on our shelves for years and was a regular feature on the Fleur de Sel menu. While Malbec from Argentina dominates the category, Malbec from France is a treat and a completely different wine. The pairing this time was with a cabbage beef tartare.

We finished the evening with a Bordeaux Haut Medoc blend made by Chateau Liversan from the epic 2018 vintage. and aging of a much older wine. It was accompanied by pork rillette with Laurent’s house cherry chutney on a portion of his own brioche, a fabulous way to end the tastings.

A big part of the magic of the evening was undoubtedly that the four of us were together again. There was an outpouring of emotion for Laurent and Patricia who have had such a special following in this community over the long years they have had with Fleur de Sel. We all miss the restaurant terribly. Unfortunately, he will not return, and it is difficult to get the Zirottis out of their current occupations. While we expect there to be more events like this down the road, it won’t be frequent. We will save them for the most special occasions.

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George Balling is co-owner with his wife, Mary Lancaster, of Diner, a wine and gift shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. The diner has won the Best Wine Store in Northern Idaho twice, including for 2018.

George is also featured in several other publications across the country. After working in wineries in California and judging numerous wine competitions, he moved to Coeur d’Alene with Mary over 10 years ago to open the boutique.

You can also follow us on Facebook at!/dinnerpartyshop.

Elisha A. Tilghman