There's always someone to tell you you're wrong, in wine. (Or to ask awkward questions like how much you paid for something you're wild about, when you don't want your boyfriend to know - but that's another story.)
Yesterday I posted to the board Wine Therapy about an Yves Cuilleron Saint-Joseph I had this weekend in Lille, which I loved, and which was (drum roll...) aged in oak, of the new persuasion.
Well, it may not fly for the oak-shy (which reminds me: one of the most egregious oak bombs I have had was the often-praised Cahors from Lagrézette, the 2000 Pigeonnier, selling at something like $150 ex cellar and undrinkable in the extreme)... Anyway, I have my tastes, and they do sometimes include discreet wood.
This weekend in the north of France was full of new landscapes - and the safe haven of La Part des Anges, a wine bar/restaurant that has my dream wine list. Five of us went there for lunch on Sunday and had some delicious and offbeat fare. But for the second time in three days, I was working around the wine hates of one of our party - and for the second time, those hates were firmly targeted on Burgundy, both red and white.
Now, I know I started this post with the complaint that there were always people to shout you down in the world of wine... But no Burgundy, red or white?! Get REAL!
The only solution was to get a white anyway and hope that the word "Rully" didn't ring a bell...
Here are a few notes from Lille.
NV Pierre Moncuit Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs "Moncuit-Delos" - Lively tiny bubbles and a delicate nose of little white flowers. On the mouth, great minerality and acidity with green apple.
1999 Alphonse Mellot Sancerre "Edmond" - Curious. I hadn't had an Edmond since the 2002, and that was in 2005. This was an odd bird for me. Good "wine" but not very typically Sancerre. Aged in oak, it had by now smoothed it out, but maybe that added to its curiousness. A great deal of body, unctuous on the palate, extremely young for a nine-year-old sauvignon blanc. I would have loved it, but there was a serious dash of residual sugar that I found out-of-place.
2005 Vincent Dureuil-Janthial Rully 1er Cru "Meix Cadot" - Plump young white Rully from my favorite producer of the appellation. An inviting, toasty nose, and on the palate, it wears its oak fairly discreetly, has a lot of body yet some rocks to it.
2005 Yves Cuilleron Saint-Joseph "Sérine" - I heart Yves Cuilleron. This was just a beautiful expression of northern Rhône syrah. A touch of caramel on the nose, and amazingly expansive yet suave on the palate. Everyone fought over this one. Me too.
2004 Alter Ego de Palmer - Haven't tasted this since a year ago. It is still pretty green and wiry stuff. The nose is quite heady and "racé" (i.e. lots of class), but on the palate I think it needs more time to smooth out. It is long on the palate, though, evolving into bark, chocolate, minerals, and violets.
P.S. Back in Paris, Zalto's time is nearing... I can feel it...
Well, well, well, if it isn't Zalto... Yes, someone showed up on my doorstep this morning, at long last. Big box, very light, and I attacked it with a pair of scissors.
No, it wasn't, as labeled, six Bordeaux glasses, but rather a pair of champagne flutes.
First reaction: Oh? That's it? So small and light and not in some way the splendid grail of wine-glassery.
But of course, we'll have to give them the chance to prove their mettle. Heading down to the cellar soon to fetch something I can chill for this evening...
To be continued...
I drink wine (a lot, even); I explore wine; I discover wines; I seek them out, sniff them and sip them. Cheapies I glug, sometimes.
But I have trouble collecting wine. Cellaring it. Purchasing it in quantities sufficient to allow long storage, untouched. Of bottles that need that kind of lengthy slumber before being mellow and right to pour.
To me, collecting age-worthy wines is an act of wild optimism - folly, almost. I have trouble even taking out a magazine subscription - I mean, how do I know I'll still live in the same place a year from now (let alone two)? Or that I'll still be alive? Given my gun-shy attitude toward something as simple as a monthly glossy in the mail, how can I grapple with the problem of amassing many, many heavy objects that you can't take with you anywhere, unless you hire a big truck?
I don't know if I'll ever be able to make the shift from backfilling (since I'm not so crazy as to drink age-worthy wines young) to... aging them. We'll see.
It's been so nice out in Paris that the birds are singing in my courtyard. Sunday, under blue skies that were dipping into sundown at the end of the day, Arnaud and I left the house to go meet up with Michel and his friend for a drink by the Canal Saint-Martin. Suddenly we realized we were stopping before a Vélib' bicycle stand. We took bikes and hopped on them, pedaling off across the Pont de Sully toward Bastille and beyond.
When we got to the Canal, we headed for Le Verre Volé, which is one of my favorite wine bars/restaurants. As we entered, however, a disconcerting vision met my gaze: yellow post-its on every table except one - a two-seater. Gulp. Arnaud spoke to the waiter: yes, if we were really four and not two, then there was nothing before 11:15pm.
Back out on the sidewalk, teased by bottles of Cornas and Volnay in the window, I pulled at my lip. Michel and his friend showed up, and we plotted our next step. A quick phone call to a friend in the 11th arrondissement for inspiration and we were off: Astier! Of course.
And so, at Astier, we "found our happiness" as the French would say, in the form of a traditional, good-humored and tasty repast, along with two Burgundies, red and white.
2004 J.-M. Boillot Puligny-Montrachet - I had never had a wine from J.-M. Boillot before. Now I am going to make a point of it, and a habit. This village Puligny was a brilliant, cut-jewel beauty. Incisive, yet evolving on the palate into a round bauble of tiny white flowers, lemon, cream, butter, and walnuts, I was in love.
1998 Jacques Prieur Beaune 1er Cru "Clos de la Féguine" - This we ordered early on so the sommelier (nice, knowledgeable and good-humored) could decant it. When we later poured our first glass, the nose that leapt out was of a swoon-worthy, plush Burgundian redness. Swirl, taste. Unfortunately, it was closed on the palate, with a suggestive, red-fruit attack - and then a sharp metallic tang and a clipped finish.
But we took our time, talked, ate our dishes (lovely aromas of guinea hen wafted over from my neighbor's dish, as I got to eat tête de veau for the second day in a row - here, a rustic version in a small enamel pot).
The Beaune, with time and air, smoothed out and became quite suave, teasing itself out into a red ribbon of silky Beaune-ness. Mm...
When we came back to the Puligny with the cheese course, it too had fleshed out. A delicious new look at it; I liked both of its incarnations.
Oh, and as for the title of this post... I just may be drinking another fine Puligny in the next couple of days, while I'm at it...
We ate out last night at a nearby restaurant called L'Equitable. I can only describe the experience as... complex. The good and bad aspects of the evening went pinging off each other like so many BB-gun bullets bouncing off of the walls of a racquetball court (or some such image).
We started by walking the two-minute stretch from our apartment to Guy and Anne's around the corner. The four-year-old Arthur was hyperactive. As we walked in, Marc-André was repeatedly throwing him onto the sofa, from which he would jump back up, squealing with laughter.
Guy came in with flutes and a bottle of NV Pannier Brut and set them on the mantlepiece. He knew his tactics: he had Arthur calm down by asking him to bring each glass of champagne to each of us as they were poured. This Arthur did with the serious concentration of a candle-bearer.
Afterward, when the babysitter showed up - greeted with a glass of champagne; how urbane! - we left for the restaurant, a four or five minute walk away on a quiet little street in the Quartier Latin.
The décor was decidedly out-of-place for Paris. With large, rough-hewn white stones for walls, with thick dark wood beams and amateur paintings on the wall, the atmosphere was right out of a country restaurant.
We were served some gougères and ordered a bottle of 2004 Borgeot Puligny-Montrachet "Les Charmes." The sommelier came out with it and seemed taken aback that the others indicated me as the taster. Already on the wine front, the restaurant was off to a terrible start - the wine list was as patchy as a football field after a mad riot mob has run through it with cleats. Out of the five or six choices for each region, two or three were crossed out...
The Puligny was nice - good minerality, but not jazzy. Lovely nose, a discreet use of oak, all the right notes in all the right places. Decorous.
Our first courses came, and I had the highlight of my meal right there: tête de veau with a roquette salad. Now, this was the first time I have had a tête de veau with a piece of fried brain on top. Genius! The brain was soft and extremely flavorful beneath the crunch of the breading.
Things got a little more concerning with the main course, that said. Everyone had had well-prepared first courses, and as the others' mains came, I saw that they were both artistically displayed and, well, smelled good. We ordered a bottle of 2005 Prieuré d'Arras Saint-Joseph - for red Rhônes, it was either that or a 2005 Colombo Crozes-Hermitage. That was the whole Rhône list. Not to mention that all the red Burgundies were dubious 2004s from places like Santenay by producers I had never heard of...
The Saint-Joseph was varietally correct, but had no real sense of place.
Marc-André's duck breast with celery root blinis looked appealing.
And then... they brought out my main course...
It was billed as a marmite of salmon, dorado, and mussels, which I had seen in my mind's eye with a cream sauce.
Its broth was insipid, the fish hiding under the lashings of seaweedy leeks and spinach overcooked. As is clear from the picture, the only thing that saved me was being passed Arnaud's marrowbone, as he (inexplicably!) doesn't like marrow.
As we finished up the meal with warm thin apple tarts with quickly melting caramel ice cream atop them, paired with a glass of white Gaillac apiece (another run-in with the odious sommelier, who would not serve us the whole bottle, since the sticky wine list was by the glass only. "But there are five of us," Guy said, in vain.), we were well-fed, laughing but of course slightly confused by the sum of the experience.
I was also in something of a marrow coma. Yes, Anne had slipped me her bone marrow, too.
Pretty tasty, though.
While we wait for the Zalto flutes to come, I've been drinking around, some reds and whites (plus two different Pineau des Charentes last weekend while in Charente-Maritime on the Atlantic coast).
The best quaff was part of a pair: a platter of pristine oysters with a sharp, nervy 2006 Pessac-Léognan from a château I did not note down (slap on the wrist). (And to continue my badness, I drank a couple of 2000 Château mumblemumbles and a 1995 Domaine hrmhrm Bourgueil and, oh yeah, a 2003 whatsit Chinon.)
A letdown - surprisingly - was a bottle I picked up on a whim to go along with what turned out to be God's gift to roast chicken - from the charcutier-traiteur in Fouras - a succulently golden, gleaming, moist and unstoppable force of nature in the form of silken flesh. The wine, however, a 2005 Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage "Petite Ruche," was a complete washout! The thing had no body or heft at all, just a rainwater quality (all right, it wasn't Mamie's glass of wine cut with water, but it certainly played the card of... um... discretion.)
P.S. My latest article is out in the new issue of Gastronomica!
Why is the wine world so old-fashioned in Europe? I read a US-based wine-related bulletin board, as some may know. So I see a lot of what's flowing through the pulse of American wine drinkers and oenophiles. Something that struck me a few weeks back was a sudden gush of enthusiasm for champagne flutes from the Austrian glassworks Zalto.
Revolutionary! I read. Incredible! They make the champagne in the glass come to some new, epiphanic life!
I resisted, but the news just kept growing; the champagne glass, crushed in a mash of mash-letters, was becoming irresistible. With one problem: it had found an American importer. Not a French one.
So, hardy soul that I am, I went straight (after a number of fruitless searches) to Zalto's website and ordered a pair of champagne flutes. Only at the final stage of the online ordering process, I discovered a break in the chain of digital modern shopping: I was now supposed to write a check and mail it to the company in Austria.
After scratching my head, shaking my fist, and finally laughing, I studiously wrote out a check, a cover letter and the next day, went to the post office to procure the appropriate stamp.
Two weeks later, I have now received an e-mail: apparently, Zalto was unaware of the bank fees associated with drawing funds via check from a French bank. Now they want a wire transfer.
Back to the drawing board.
In the meantime, with each passing champagne, I feel I am missing out on Elysium!
It was supposed to be -5°C (about 20°F) in the Jura this weekend, where I was headed for the Percée du Vin Jaune, the annual - outdoor - celebration of the "new" vin jaune, in this case the 2001, since vin jaune requires six years and three months of maturation.
Fortunately, the sun was blazing and it was a comfortable 7°C (closer to 45°F), so my two shirts, sweater, sweater vest, sleeveless parka and overcoat were slightly excessive, and most people had their gloves in their pockets.
The tiny neighboring villages of Sainte-Agnès and Vincelles were cordoned off and filled with the stands of 81 producers of Jura wines. Once you entered the villages, it was tasting time. Along with various comestibles along the way - Morteau sausages, Comté cheese and snails cooked in vin jaune.
Because I'm that way, we started with the best tasting of the day. I knew I liked this producer, but nothing else we tasted afterward was at that level.
Domaine de la Pinte
1996 Arbois Savagnin "Terres Bleues" - this is not a vin jaune but a Savagnin white (same grape, just not aged with the "veil" like a vin jaune); a rich, nutty and deliciously complex nose, and mouth-filling, oxidized palate with a good slatey minerality. Absolutely delicious. My non-vin jaune wine of the day.
1991 Arbois Vin Jaune - what?! After the Terres Bleues, this was a big letdown. Characteristic nose, but completely uncharacteristic on the palate, with lots of slate and no body; very thin. The reason I had liked Domaine de la Pinte (aside from the fact that it was recommended by the eminent wine taster and sometime fellow Champagne traveler Michaël Lux) is that last year, they had their 1979 at the tasting, which was just incredibly rich, profound, with melted caramel and walnuts. This was not that.
1998 Arbois Vin Jaune - Mm, here was a delicious vin jaune. Far more body and more typicity than the 1991, it was the perfect (young) expression of the style. We'll let this one age.
Since there were 81 possible domains to taste, it was time to be picky. Last year, we'd had a couple of real stink bombs. Unfortunately, our favorite producer, Lucien Aviet, was not there this year, but there were a number of excellent choices. I made the wrong turn of heading down a set of stairs into a cellar for Overnoy... only to discover that, like in Burgundy, you have to check the first name. This was not the famous Overnoy, but another, and the wines were thin, forgettable.
2005 Chardonnay - We had a bottle of this at an escargot stop. Apparently (and I didn't know this), the domain has been bought by Henri Maire, the huge and much-reviled evangelist of Jura wines and creator of the "vin fou" (crazy wine). Jura Chardonnay is weird stuff, but this was fairly tame; a nice, wiry aspect to it and good length, that said.
Another top domain and a favorite of mine from last year. But just as last year, I found the well-respected Berthet-Bondet absolutely undrinkable, this year, I was disappointed with Macle.
NV Crémant du Jura - 100% chardonnay méthode champenoise; light and inoffensive, it didn't have enough character to warrant further attention.
2000 Vin Jaune - I'm starting to sense that 2000 in the Jura was a fairly weak year. This was also a very acidic vin jaune with not a lot of roundness or oomph.
1999 Château Chalon - The top of the line for Macle. Apparently, they made no Château Chalon in 2000 because the grapes were not healthy enough to qualify under the much stricter regulations for that tiny vin jaune appellation. The 1999 is fascinating stuff, though. Seemingly discreet on the attack, it gains in complexity and is extremely long on the palate, evolving into a series of mineral and fruit/nut notes.
2005 Arbois Savagnin/Chardonnay - A zippy, delicious young white where the Savagnin and Chardonnay play off each other, with a bitter, mineral and oxidative streak in the Savagnin rounded out by the more conventional, tame Chardonnay.
1998 Arbois Vin Jaune - An elegant vin jaune, with notes of fresh and roasted walnuts.
1986 Arbois Vin Jaune - Another favorite of the day, sipped standing in a courtyard overlooking Vincelles, as the mouth-filling notes of caramel and walnut tart took over. These are just better and better with age.
2005 Côtes du Jura Savagnin - Much better than the 2004 tasted last year; real terroir character, though much more limpid and with less body than the vins jaunes we'd been tasting.
2000 Château-Chalon - Well-balanced vin jaune with all the elements in place to age well with nice body to it; I am surprised I was so negative about this domain last year.
And so we looped back around to Sainte-Agnès to pick up our wine at Domaine de la Pinte, and re-tasted the 1998, which was still our favorite of the day. Now all that was left was to walk the mile, carrying bottles, back to the car as the sun began to set. And James Brown's "I Feel Good" started to play from loudspeakers into the Jurassic gloaming.
I almost look like a pro, no?
Last week I went to a lunch organized by the winemakers of Cahors. Twenty-five crus to taste, lined up in orderly fashion on tables. I got my feet wet - my hand, too, with a few drops of wine that left a purplish tattoo for the rest of the day - and discovered a lot about the Malbec grape, which was kind of cool. At each table, I took my glass, poured some wine into it, sniffed, set the glass on the tabletop and swirled it vigorously, sniffed again, noted down a few things on my pad, then sipped, slurped, and spit. (Once, a bit of wine came splashing back out onto my eyelid; oops.) Afterward I added more comments to my pad.
Of course, I've spat before. Many a time. Into spit buckets, onto gravel cellar floors, and even onto a tree outside of Augé when they were holding their big Burgundy tasting last fall. But I have never spat so fully, so systematically, so, well, professionally. I was a scientist, here; a researcher and not a sybarite.
After the tasting was a lunch, and as I sat in front of my truffle risotto and swallowed the first sip of a 2005 Clos Troteligotte CQFD, my throat did something weird, something like a double-take. As though it were saying, "Hey, wait! This is going down." Yes, I had spitter's palate.
A serious first. But don't worry, I won't make it a habit.
The fun thing about having friends with two young children is that when they can't get a babysitter, they suggest coming over to their place instead, auberge espagnol style - i.e. I make the food and bring it, and they bring nice wines out of the cellar. Happy all around.
Guy said, on the phone, "I have an older Saint-Emilion. Not sure what it'll be like. It's called... hold on... Ausone. Do you think it'd be any good?"
NV Pannier Brut Sélection - this is my friends' house champagne, and it's nice, with a good yeasty mouthfeel and fairly discreet dosage.
Celery and celery root velouté.
2004 Jaboulet Crozes-Hermitage "Domaine de Thalabert" - Suave, discreet Crozes-Hermitage; a nice, light menthol touch that paired well with my cream of celery soup, which I had spiked with a bit of piment de Cayenne.
Blanquette de veau au paprika.
1996 Haut-Brion - On opening this a couple of hours earlier, I swooned. While not a Bordeaux fan, this was just so perfectly elegant, so seamless and yet uncommon, I was won over. Silky tannins and offhand length and complexity made it a pleasure, and it went well with my veal dish. I felt that it was at the right age, harmoniously on the cusp between youth and maturity, and well mellowed.
1989 Ausone - I was worried when I opened this at the same time as the Haut-Brion. First, the cork crumbled, and Guy, a former boyscout of course, had to use all of his skill to extract the thing without an ah-so and without so much as letting the smallest cork crumb fall into the wine. The nose was bright and sprightly, with that merlot-y right bank thing going on, but when I tasted it, there was a disconcerting dry leaf taste. We left it on the sideboard to do its Audouzing*. Well, a couple of hours later, after the Haut-Brion, it had blossomed and become absolutely voluptuous in the mouth. With some light red fruits and cigar box tertiary aromas, it was drinking beautifully.
* to Audouze, v.t.
Last night, one of those Sunday nights where you feel so relaxed, you just make a picnic on the bed (in our case with some goose rillettes, sausage, and a platter of cheeses, along with a bottle of 2006 Domaine du Cros Marcillac), I decided to rent a car a couple of weekends down the line.
Done. Now from Friday afternoon to Monday morning, we have a means of locomotion and 1200 km to burn. Where to? Our friend Philippe has invited us to La Percée du Vin Jaune in the Jura, but... well, we did that last year, and... it's cold, cold, cold, and that's also a lot of vin jaune.
We were in Chinon then Bergerac last month. This summer we hit Champagne and Saint-Emilion (and Chinon). At various times it's been back to Champagne, Burgundy and Sancerre, with a couple more stops in Chinon thrown in. So...
The Rhône seems too far by car for just a couple of days. Ditto Alsace. My heart is therefore turning once again toward that shining gold coast, those deep, golden Meursaults and bright raspberry Chambolle-Musignys.
Unless we do head for the Jura and manage to zip on over to Switzerland from there, to discover what in the world seems to be going on with very highly regarded wines absolutely no one has heard of...
OK, I still haven't opened a condom to ruminate on wine pairings. It could be like some rap video, in grainy film and yellowish light with a big 4x4 in the background, filling condoms with Cristal until they explode.
The pace of things has gotten ahead of me and I'm barely able to juggle the different projects going on, let alone add new twists to my, uh, down time...
So I opened a bottle of 2000 J.-P. Mugneret Hautes-Côtes-de-Nuits "XL" (wait a second; XL... hm...) yesterday evening to go with porcini ravioli. This is a wine he aged in its (old) barrels until a year ago; it has an extra smoothness and density to it. Good, round, if somewhat drying pinot-y-ness. Nice fare, but not to be stored for an eternity. Of six, this was the last bottle. As Jacques Brel would say, "Au suivant!"
It made me think, too, about how my wine tastes are evolving, or becoming more demanding. I guess like anyone who learns something about a given topic, niggles start worming out of the woodwork. The top-ten list of someone who goes to the movies a lot but has never seen any classics might not carry much weight in the grander scheme of film appreciation, and if that person started boning up on older reels and art film, he himself might look back at what he thought was superb cinema with a more critical eye. So, too, with wine. Though I still enjoy a really pure, direct Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire. Poured a neat 2006 Jacques Rouzé Quincy with some blackened shrimp on Saturday. Satisfying.
So - how many veiled references to sex did you find in this post?
Yesterday night our friend Marc-André, a.k.a. Le Roi de la Capote ("The King of the Condom"), came over for some champagne and nibbles. We got to talking, after downing a tasty NV Pierre Moncuit Grand Cru "Moncuit-Delos" and moving on to a 2005 Pascal Thomas Sancerre Cuvée Réservée, about wine.
Slicing the dried sausage into thin rounds, Marc-André said, "Have you ever considered writing about wine and sex?"
It was a fascinating idea. We got to talking, the three of us, with Arnaud pouring generous servings of wine and then a red Burgundy I went and fetched from the cellar. "Matching wine to sex, before, during, and after... How would your choices evolve? And of course, taking into consideration the smell of latex."
By the end of the evening, I had given the green light to a wine-and-condoms collaboration with the King.
Arnaud and I went to sleep somewhat tipsy and woke up late. The doorbell rang. It was a courier, and Arnaud came back to the bedroom with a small cardboard box. The label said Pandora Corp. I opened it and discovered two boxes of condoms, one with integrated vibrating rings. "For inspiration."
This is going to be an interesting project!
All right, life cannot be all about righting journalistic wrongs!
Last week, I went to another evening of the Académie des Vins Anciens. This time I had a feather in my cap: its organizer, François Audouze, invited me to come to the location - the restaurant Macéo on the rue des Petits-Champs near the Palais-Royal - early, at 4pm, and watch the bottles being opened. The fun thing is that in French, the word assister means both "watch" and, well, "assist." So guess who rolled up her sleeves?
There were forty-plus very old bottles to open, lined up on a marble bar counter, with François and two knowledgeable friends manning the corkscrews, capsule-cutters and, yes, lobster picks (long metal tools which are extremely useful for getting out minuscule bits of cork, should the treacherous bouchon ever cede and fall to pieces into the wine).
I was started on one of the youngest of the batch, a 1982 Château Clerc-Milon, and was pleased to feel the cork come out in one solid, stolid piece. A second try with a second bottle, this one from the 1970s, was just as triumphal. But a third bottle, as I dipped back into the '50s, was less fortunate; the cork broke in half, and though I didn't need to use the lobster pick, I did need to ask one of François's friends for help.
By the end of the session, there were six or seven dinner plates on a sideboard with the capsules and corks in different states of brokenness. The fruit of our work.
And I had been able to smell the bottles as they were opened - sometimes to pleasant surprise, such as with a 1947 Puligny-Montrachet that had, well, just a pure nose of minerally Puligny chardonnay; others, to uncomfortable recognition of musty odors of damp rug or rotting leaves. The miracle would come four hours later when those dubious specimens had breathed away their must and would come back to vinous purity in the glass.
And so in the evening, after a stroll around the neighborhood, I came back to Le Macéo, which was now filling with members of the Académie (a large upstairs room with finely clothed tables had been retained for our soirée). That frisson of anticipation was in my stomach as I waited for the first champagne to be popped.
Here is a link to interesting interviews about the Académie and that particular evening.