Paris may not be Rome, but it does have a few hills. Accordingly, I like walking up to the heights of Belleville to stop in at Le Baratin. Last night, I did this, and sat down to a nice terra cotta dish of tripe and veal foot stewed with chick peas and chunks of red bell pepper.
A glass of NV Lassaigne Vignes de Montgueux beforehand was shockingly, and wonderfully, vinous. Where had the green apples and the asparagus gone? It was all winey and deep.
The followup was intended to be a 2007 Foillard Morgon, but as it turns out, they were fresh out of stock, so the young barman suggested something I had never had nor even heard of prior to that instant.
2006 Foillard Morgon 3.14 - Yes, the name is a pun on Côte de Py, where the cuvée is from; yes, punning is contagious; no, I'm not proud. What I am is enthralled by this wine. I stuck my nose in the glass to smell a short pour and make sure it wasn't corked – and did a double take. No. Fricking. Way. Intensely aromatic, it was a sucker-punch of glorious fall berries. I looked up at the barman, as though to say, "You've got to be kidding." He nodded, the pantomime, "Eh, oui." I tasted it, and it sent my brain circuits briefly on the fritz. I was not in the Eternal City, yet here was some kind of big ecclesiastical mass of vinous choir and song and organ and vestment and hell, god, it was just so good. Trumpets.
It was in a decanter, which was all the better for its continuation, as it smoothed; there was something a slight bit coarse to the tannins at the start, like a pleasant cat-tongue, just to show it wasn't some kind of manufactured thing.
Because really, if someone in a lab could make this, well, I'd have it running out of a faucet in my pantry.
But let's come down from our cloud. My only niggle with the night was the rushed turnover of the tables. Mine I could squat only from 8pm to 9:30pm, so it was over to the end of the bar, after, to pay my last devotions to the 3.14. Which it resoundingly deserves.
At the bar at Fish, things were getting loud. We'd gone through some Gatinois champagne and some ethereal form of Alsatian riesling; now it was time to buckle down and go tannic.
2006 Gonon Saint-Joseph - I have had this wine a number of times in the past year, but this time, it was utterly brooding. A knockout nose of depth and berries and smoulder, yet on the palate, the tannins bruised. It softened a little with air, but this was some form of minor medieval warlord of a St. Joe.
A couple of nights later, it was on up to Montmartre, back to the rundown hole-in-the-wall I adore, the Cave des Abbesses, forthwith to order a bottle of:
2007 Graillot Saint-Joseph - Ah, here we were in a different idiom. No longer draped in crusty leather and holding a mace, this was light and harmonious. So slick, smooth. Something that plays around with your tongue and leaves you smiling. A witty, eighteenth-century St. Joe with nice calves.
Then, of a solitary evening, in recent days, I opened a bottle of 2007 Dard & Ribo Crozes-Hermitage. But, hey, to write about it would destroy the trinitary unity of this blog post. And as god knows, blog posts are all about classicism and coherency.
So, let's use the well-traveled literary device of the flashback.
2007 Dard & Ribo Saint-Joseph - It was spring in New York, and very hot. I was at the Dressner tasting and had just discovered the astounding white and red Châteaneufs of Eric Texier. I then made my way to an unmanned table, but was not, uh, unwomaned by it and was able to pour my own tastes. This was a wiry, coiled, energetic thing. It didn't have the same tangle as the Crozes-Hermitage (regular bottling), but had a kind of undertow that instantly gave the feel that it would age. How would I describe this St. Joe?
I dunno. My prose has run out of steam.
One weekend day this summer, I was deep within a cold cellar, talking with a fellow wine geek. We were slurping at a 1997 Clape Cornas (wonderfully funky, like an exploding cherry tinged with brettanomyces) and started evoking the visions of food that were beginning to shimmer into solidity in our minds as we tasted it. I was thinking something simple: a grilled piece of meat, or some such.
And then I had to admit that I carry around a little box of index cards in my head – this food goes with that wine; never pair such-and-such with such-and-such – but despite it all, and despite many pairings in the course of my life, I don't usually get much out of it. I'm never awed and pleased at a thunderously good pairing, or disgusted and outraged at something that skews wrong or falls flat. I guess you could say that, in short, things don't flow together, vinously and culinarily, creating a melded whole that works or does not, for me.
Instead of looking at me strangely, my fellow wine geek said there was a much simpler rule: just make sure the two don't fight. Not only jarring pairings, but the complexity angle. His rule, which I found persuasive, is that a complex wine needs a simple food for it to show its many facets; a complex dish needs a simple, well-built wine.
So here's to a tricky culinary act of complication with a frank and pleasant Dolcetto or Chinon, a standby Sauvignon.
And then to sipping at a lovely Jean-Marc Brignot Trousseau with a piece of meat. A gorgeously twisty and leesy Valette Mâcon-Chaîntré VV with some whelks. A bottle of really old moelleux Huet with foie gras. (Huh?)
I wonder what I might have with foie gras, actually.
I mean, it's really a staple.
In the countrysides, the harvests are getting under way, and in the cities, the fall Foires aux Vins are stocking shelves in air-conditioned supermarkets with gleaming bottles of Bordeaux. Special offers are sliding into mailboxes and popping up on computer screens.
It's la rentrée, and, as opposed to the more paschal renewals of spring, this is the golden-leaved time for revisiting wine. Soon, we'll be drinking a glass of carbonic bernache, or seeing just how much a favorite from last fall has changed before bottling. I've been giving in to the irresistible impulse to revisit things (I thought) I loved, just to see how they and my palate have evolved. It's a fun exercise, and also helps tame the overgrown cellar.
(And this will come as a spoiler to no one: I still love those Selosse champagnes.)
Last night, I opened a curio: the darkest rosé in the world.* It is the Domaine de Rapatel's "Ça, c'est du rosé?," purchased last year at the domain, which is situated just outside of Nîmes and whose wines are mostly in the Costières de Nîmes appellation. At the time, the wine had been slightly funky, still working in the bottle, a curious discovery.
Last night, it was angry. It had consolidated itself around a core of something it wasn't quite digesting, a kind of raspy backhand of not-quite-stilled CO2. Still, it had a top layer of fruit that was pleasing. This was utterly atypical fare. And as such, it made me smile as I looked at it, turned the glass, swirled, and thought, I am drinking the darkest rosé in the world. Ha ha!
A fitting close to the summertime months and their rounds of Bandol and Côtes de Provence and even, hell, the uncompromisingly taut and pale Baudry Chinon Rosé. Something dark, something not-quite-right, something transitional.
And soon, a new season.
*Readers may feel free to contradict and shoot me down, for my own edification.
In a week, a wine board I like to participate on will celebrate its first birthday. Realizing this, and thinking back over the many online conversations I have had, spanning from Tahiti to Burgundy, by way of Mount Etna, Rioja and Cornas, I thought it was an apposite moment to bring up the topic of why it's so important to have these venues for conversation, banter and arguments.
Knowledge and taste are such slippery, ever-changing things; our palates and opinions evolve, inevitably. And one great spur to their evolution is, along with the simple tasting and drinking of wines, discussing them with people who have a similar fervency, people who are informed, ask questions and spout thoughts.
What I have found fascinating in the eclectic, angry, roving, uncommon group of oenophiles on the Wine Disorder board is the challenge of it. In order to join in the fray, to confront a conflicting or ill-formed opinion, one's own opinion needs to be clear, expressible, and thought-through. Even to chip in with related commentary requires a cataloguing and systematizing act of the brain. Someone will call you out – and that's part of the fun.
This I love. I also enjoy the play with the rigor, the allusiveness, the humor, the extraneous, geeky nonsense. Because ponderousness is a bad old saw in the wine world, I like that I can flee preconceived notions and skip off to a playground for sharp winos.
My palate has changed and evolved over the past year, and this is in part due to the questions other oenophiles have put to my set of prejudices (which I also try to assail here, but in a less back-and-forth way). I would never, too, have thought to drink Overnoy Poulsard, say, or Clos Roche Blanche Pineau d'Aunis, or orange wines without the steady tide of fresh thoughts and tastings provided by that group.
Which is why I have decided to toast Wine Disorder with a nice glass of leesy chardonnay.
Baudelaire wrote that the shape of a city changes faster, alas, than the human heart, but in truth, the days of Haussmann are over. Paris has achieved a sense of equilibrium, and one can walk past the same buildings and shops, look in the windows, and see that what has changed are the vintages on the wines.
New producers sprout, too, though. Fittingly, while in recent days I have come back to favorites (last night's 2007 Graillot Crozes-Hermitage was fresh and lithe, just like I like it), there has also been room for discovering new fodder, including this interesting Chambolle-Musigny, pictured. Unfortunately, the photo's too dim for me – dim, too, it would seem – to read the producer's name any more.
But, oh well; there will be new finds. And of course, I know where I found it, so I can find it again.
I think it was Richard Juhlin who said that it was hard to make bad wine in Cramant.* I have to concur: that village on the Côte des Blancs turns out some of the most deep and racy champagnes there are, from Diebolt-Vallois and Lilbert Fils to the profound Vieille Vigne de Cramant from Larmandier-Bernier.
So, a small caviste in Montmartre was selling the champagnes of Lancelot-Pienne, from that burg. Why not? I thought, given that the rest of the store held some nice little gems. I was having a friend over for dinner, so I picked up a half-bottle of the NV Brut Tradition.
Night was flooding through the window when I popped the half-bottle and poured some of its frothing contents into two glasses. After handing over the one, I stuck my nose in the glass in hand. Mmm, that Cramant smell. Chalky and biscuity. On the palate, this was even-handedly dosaged, with good balance and a savory quality to it that was very pleasing – and very much of its place. Part of me wondered if its mature drinkability had to do with its being in a small vessel, because in recent months, I've had some champagnes that really did need more time (people don't give champagne enough bottle age, often). Whatever the case may be, this was a small, happy pleasure; a little drop of Cramant elixir to open the palate.
*Though, to be honest, he used it backhandedly to criticize a certain grower: how can one screw up Cramant? Look!
Last night I had a dark and cobwebby bottle of 1976 López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva. It was whitish with the work of long-dead spiders, and a thick black layer of something frighteningly giving lived in the punt. After a slight jump back (trying not to disturb the sediment, nonetheless), I opened the bottle over a trash can (wax covering the cork; one of those things that goes everywhere if one's heedless, the way I had been the first time I had a bottle of Clos la Néore), decanted for sediment, poured out said sediment, rinsed the bottle and put the wine back in it, cut off the musty end of the cork and recorked it.
A balmy night out. Up the street: a restaurant that allowed corkage. The preliminaries done, the waiter turned his attention to the bottle of wine standing there in all of its ashen glory. He saw it was already open, picked it up, pulled out the cork, then to pour it, took the bottle in the way waiters everywhere are trained to – thumb straight into the punt. A black hole of decades of cobwebby crap. He gave a start. He tried to smooth out his expression and continue pouring, but I leapt to his aid. I should have warned him, I said, and of course it was OK to pour holding the bottle around the side. This he did.
A bottle of 1973 Tondonia two days earlier had been youthful with that light, leafy fruit I so love, but there had been a hovering uncleanness that marred what was otherwise a lovely wine.
Here, none of that was the case. The 1976 López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva was straight-on lovely, darkly lovely. Inexplicably teasing and tangled on the palate, it was opulent yet firm, the kind of wine that makes you want to close your eyes, then open them, then go running around the room. A dream of a wine. A dark, hidden dream that had been coaxed out into the air.
The title here is a feint. I was scribbling messages with a friend and wondered what might be interesting to talk about on this blog. His suggestion? Knowing my proclivities: "Riesling: foe or waste of time?"
Of course, I countered that the answer wouldn't make for a very long post: "Both."
Now, I try to be open-minded in my approach to wine. I will even go back for certain punishments just to make sure I really, really don't like a vinous thing.
Then I get all bombastic and pretend I have set-in-stone tastes.
Thing is, for all of my railing against riesling (there's been a bit of that, as well as passing off glasses to friends, liberal use of a dump bucket, &c.), I have in my day quite liked quite a few.
Since I have my very own personal palate issues with residual sugar, the rieslings that have managed to curry favor with me have tended toward the Austrian and Alsatian side.
Yet exceptions abound. Some older Germans: yum, who knew? Some nasty Clos Sainte-Hunes: need to replace my tooth enamel!
So, roll it all up into a ball, and say, well: both, and neither. The exuberant aromatics of riesling can be enormously appealing; the body can be viscous; I do like that petrol thing. But the riesling grape is not a reliable friend. It's a friend who sometimes kicks your dog and sometimes gives you a bunch of lilacs tied with a ribbon.
So I'll stick with the chardonnays and the romorantins and the grüner veltliners of the world. Until their green-blue corks start heralding premature aging and walnutty oxidation.
Then I'll have no recourse but chenin....
This blog post is a public service announcement for those interested in wine. The picture of the seemingly harmless bottle above is one you should stamp into your retinas and retain. Blink twice. You see this bottle, here, now, safely virtual. If you see this bottle in the real world, flee. Or else give in. I'll have warned you.
Sometimes wine crosses you over to the dark realms of craving, though it's not often. Well, the bright and sunny bottle you are being shown here in fact hides a terribly addictive philter within its glass confines.
2008 Clos Roche Blanche Sauvignon Nº2, with its headily aromatic nose and will-breakingly deep palate, redolent of all those things you want in a sauvignon (lemon zest, rocks, white flowers, and then a fleshy hint of calisson or apricot), bests a whole host of Sancerres and other supposedly higher-end regional fodder. Sip it alone, sip it with shellfish, sip it at the beach or at the Buttes-Chaumont or on a deck festooned with striped deck umbrellas or in a city apartment.
Then be prepared for the consequences. You will want more.
A vaporous collaboration with VLM, who let me drink almost all of the Radikon
I was sitting at my desk on a dark, cloudless spring night with a lamp shining indirect, yellowish light. I had a bottle on the glass desktop, next to the MacBook. The bottle was cool to the touch. The label was minimalistic, hand-drawn, and from the side peeked out the recognizable font of the LOUIS/DRESSNER importer label.
Opened and poured into a large stem, the wine shone ocher through the glass. I swirled and smelled. 2006 Cà de Noci "Notte di luna" has heady perfumes of spice, cardamom, orange peel, gingerbread. I sipped and felt it expand in my mouth, sending floods of complex quince and tannin over my palate. This is god wine.
Before last fall I had never had an "orange" wine, and did not even know they existed. That a disparate and geographically diverse handful of natural winemakers would choose to produce pungent, tannic skin-contact white wines in an unmistakable style, relying on barefoot crushing, on wild yeasts, and, for some of them, on amphorae, hadn't been part of my wine lexicon. Especially as there wasn't anyone doing it in France.
So, my first dalliance with Notte di luna was memorable, and I blogged about it at the time. But I didn't realize that what we had on our hands had been, for all of its remarkable uncommonness, of a style. Thus, I was still the novice several months later when, during a dinner, my friend SFJoe got out a skinny 500ml bottle with a blue label. I rolled my eyes, thinking he was once again slinging the sweet stuff, as he is wont to do. Wrong. And how.
2003 Radikon "Jakot" - A dry, bright wine with hidden depths. This hits your nose before you get anywhere near the glass. What I loved about the wine was its offhand, palate-flattering approach, which then spirals wildly into great length and complexity. It's both easy and tricky. Its name is a joke, too, being the backwards of Tokaj, which is its grape, but which it is not allowed to be called any more. This is a natural wine that is impudent, jokey, the fool, and foolishly good. (It also fools you by making you think it's light in alcohol; then you find yourself tipsy and realize that despite its balance, it carries 14% abv.)
The Radikon was both an epiphany and a spark in my mind: I wanted more of this. But "this" was both a particular and a category. If other wines out there could bring the heady category confusion of Cà de Noci and Radikon, I wanted to taste them, to test them.
One day, when it was raining really, really hard, it was time to open a Gravner, after having kicked off shoes so wet they could have been wrung out.
2002 Gravner Ribolla Gialla "Anfora" - A more austere wine, in comparison to the Radikon. Deep amber in color and with heft on the palate, it stretched out in dark slices of pain d'épice, but was as tight as a fist. Closed and stern, it was fascinating like someone who won't tell you what he's thinking. This needs far more time – years – but promises to be a gorgeous butterfly when it gets out of its cocoon. It'll have stories to tell. It'll spill the goods.
I had now sussed out what this orange wine phenomenon was all about, and was all knowing with another bottle – this I enjoyed less, and didn't retain the producer's name – quaffed at the restaurant Convivio over a plateful of crab and sea urchin malloreddus. Yet to my mind, I thought it was an Italian thing.
Last night, Josh Raynolds came at me with a bottle bearing the brown-toned label of the California winery Wind Gap. I waved him away. "I've had their wine before!" I demurred, recalling a very even-handed (12.5% alcohol!) unoaked chardonnay about which I'd thought: Sure, but they can do this in France in their sleep.
Josh said, "But this is an orange wine."
I turned around (yes, I'd already turned my back on him and was retreating toward the last sip of a glass of Donati Malvaisa frizzante). He smiled wickedly and poured a healthy pour into my now emptied glass.
2008 Wind Gap Pinot Gris Here we go; clove and quince and thick delightfulness. "Look at that color," he observed. Slightly cloudy, it was deep. And as it opened and unfurled in the glass, I found those tastes again.
Those unnaturally natural orange wine tastes.
This post is part of the natural wine month series at saignée.
It has been pointed out to me that of late, I have been doing more of the tactile (tasting, drinking) approach to wine than the cerebral (writing). That must change, now, as I have agreed to parnter up with VLM, of the stupendous wine blog The Vulgar Little Monkey Translucency Report, for a pair of posts about natural wines.
This we are doing as part of saignée blogger Cory Cartwright's month of guest scribblings. The man has been bold enough to ask mad vinous web log scribes to churn out prose on the topic of, funnily enough, natural wines. It may be an unnatural turn of events for a blog you never thought would see the word "fuck" used on it, but a natural affinity for natural wines can churn up all kinds of unnatural antimatter, now can't it?
I mull this over as I sit here letting the last vapors of a hangover produced by quite a bouquet of natural wines waft away from my being. I am at the keyboard ready to sing of the rosy-fingered dawn of orange wines.
The posts go up tomorrow as part of the series that's running on the site linked to below.
As Joe Dressner would say: Enjoy.
Spring is for lightness with a bit of residual sugar, I've decided. Light whites, Loire whites, chenins, romorantins, weird Monts-Damnés Sancerres from hills so aslope, their aromatics explode and they persist on the palate with a heady blend of alcohol and sweetness.
These things we can deal with, now that the sun is out and flowers bloom in buckets in front of florists' stores. You want to mash basil with a mortar and pestle. Sauté some seasonal greens. Eat fish that only come around once a year, and maybe their roe, too. And pour things like the following, for a start.
1991 Pichler Ried Dürnsteiner Kellerberg Riesling Smaragd - an Austrian riesling with age and smoothly matured aromatics. A lovely thing, long and sinuous on the palate. Great while scarfing down focaccia.
2006 Bornard Arbois Melon "Le Rouge-Queue" - Oxidative delight! A Jurassian chardonnay that delivers ample funk, like a mountain stream in an opium dream. Let it tangle with your tongue. Who knows who the winner will be?
2000 Brégéon Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine Gorgeois - Long, involved, complex, noble of brow, yellow. Deep and ponderous and lovely. And something to slurp oysters down with – if ever one should admit to eating oysters at this point in the season.
NV Mayragues Vin de Table de France Brut de Mayragues - a méthode ancestrale bubbly made from 100% Mauzac. With its lazy bubble, slow and happy on the palate, like a turtle sitting contentedly in the sun. Somewhat lavish, despite zero dosage; round, fruitful, good, made to quaff.
2007 A. & P. De Villaine Bouzeron - City mouse and country mouse, at once. Expressive, floral, and stony; another mountain stream – this time, sans opiates. Sharp, sleek, too: a flash of light off the hood of a very shiny car, which you walk into, because you're momentarily blinded.
2007 Ostertag Sylvaner Vieilles Vignes - once, this wine had an off-putting dill note to it; now it has a bit of honeyed oxidation. Ah, that's certainly more like it. A heavy-hitter of a sylvaner, but still, true to its sylvanerism, affable and easygoing. A patch of sunlight in the grass back onto which to lean after you've had a couple of glasses and are feeling blithe.
2008 Clos Roche Blanche Sauvignon Nº2 - perfect. A platonic spring wine. A platonic wine. A wine that is soon no more, because you drink it all. And I mean all.
Others, of course, could be added to this roster. More keep sprouting like new buds and stalks. And I haven't even gotten to the Tale of the Bubbles.
It's time to step out for some air and light.
Mark and I sat at the bar and sipped Rioja while picking from a huge pile of olives on a glazed terracotta platter in front of us. There would be a long night of sipping and quaffing ahead, but here we were reconnoitering and enjoying the solidity of heavy, tall bar chairs. I leaned back.
When Carrie and I walked into Ten Bells, it was dark and crowded, but the instant Jorge splashed a taste of sparkling pink Bornard poulsard into a low coupe, the room went bright.
The cork was crumbling, and even after twisting it off the corkscrew, left bits in the worm, but Joe had managed once again to best the elements that were rife with treachery for any lover of older wines. He reached for a round glass decanter and poured the ocher liquid seamlessly from the raised bottle.
Nathan swaggered over with a magnum of some 1982 Brovia and in a hesitating half-step, seemed to wonder if it were really worth it to continue punishing me over an inability to taste German riesling – not to mention the fact that I had bogarted the 2003 Radikon Jakot. Would he relent and tilt some Brovia into my empty glass?
The phone rang on a Tuesday morning. "Hi, it's Michaël. Do you want to go visit Selosse in Avize next week?"
"This is really good," George said, looking deep into his glass of 2000 Marquis d'Angerville Volnay. "It's like an Oregon pinot noir, only so much more elegant."
The room was turning around in the dark. Dark tendrils of Chambertin ran through my mind in swirls and whorls. There was the bed; it looked low, soft and flat. Voices next door may have been wondering where I was, but the bed was speaking in a silent rush of softness. I could sneak beneath the covers and dream of smooth, dark-cherry opulence.