Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Zidarich for a chilly day

This post takes us to Slovenia, by way of Greenwich Village.

A winter weekend lunch in a now chilled Manhattan, wind finding its icicle way up cuffs and sleeves, and a revolving door pushed around to a warm interior. Warm walls, warm colors. Reds, oranges. The smell of garlic and flatbread.

What to order from a list so long, in such tiny print it makes one think of miniatures and meticulous manuscripts? Italy sprawled out, not only geographically, but in the hills and gullies of winemaking styles. A Super-Tuscan? A carbonic natural wine? Something aged in anfora? A spit-clean Brunello? Something luscious from Paolo Bea? Well, not with the bottarga, please.

Sitting on the left side of the page was a small series of words that drew my eye: three or four in a row, lines ending in "Vitovska."

Having spent most of my wine-drinking life within the pleasantly diverse confines of the Gallic hexagon, I still get a thrill from forays into the beyond. Oh! A Ridge Zinfandel! A Nikolaihof Grüner Veltliner! Dry furmint from Hungary!

Vitovska is still a grape that looks like a vista I will not know. A sea of crisp, floral newness.

So a bottle of 2007 Zidarich Prulke was ordered. It's not actually a vitovska, just most of it. (It's got malvasia and sauvignon blanc in the mix.)

The wine was poured and, though still on its first breath of air and a bit of a refrigerated chill, it showed the skin-contact tannins and spicy appeal of its style. It was taut in the glass, with a lighter color than I had expected, a kind of orange iridescence.

Over the next hour, it went places. Places I wanted to go along with it. It opened into something of increasing textural complexity, with spicy and floral playing together in an offhanded and compelling way. The wine was also exceptionally pure.

Pure is not usually a qualifier that comes to mind when describing the so-called "orange" (skin-contact white) wines. More often, such as Movia's Lunar or Radikon's Jakot, they're a bit cloudy, and their appeal stems from their bold contradictions and intemperately prepossessed oddity rather than from any sense of fineness, chisel or purity.

Yet here it was in my glass, a chiseled thing. A chiseled orange thing.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Talking wine

Often times, as wine fiends, we think we know our tastes, supremely confident in the knowns and unknowns to us, the preferred and the shunned or slighted. Some good friends of mine (more in America, as France doesn't have the informatique infrastructure) make their wine purchases online and have the wines sent to their home, bypassing any physical act of wine store purchase.

To my senses, they're missing out on something crucial: shooting the breeze with smart, like-minded folk.

There is nothing to compare to stumbling into Caves Augé or Chambers Street Wines and seeing familiar faces and talking about the latest tastes. If travel expands your world, I think that talking to other people who are passionate about wine expands your palate, pushes you to new fields (regions, grapes).

Of course, there can be flubs. Poor pairings, let's call them. Or a careless caviste. I'm never going to like that Riesling, mea maxima culpa. And I'm certainly not interested in paying thrice as much as my enjoyment for something I don't quite enjoy.

But when I think back over the past months of my wine experiences, I get a little smile on my face when I see Chris Barnes at Chambers Street bringing over a Valdespino Inocente sherry. (Salty sharp zap to my brain!) Or Tim Mortimer offhandedly mentioning Lioco Indica at Discovery Wines in the East Village. (Oh, how pretty that is.) Or Max Delorieux giving the down-low on black wax Overnoy at Augé in Paris. Or Josh Adler at Spring Boutique pulling a cork on a Burgundy I have never tried.

This is our tribe, after all. Tempting as a thousand, thousand candy stores, the smart friends of the bottle wait for us to push the door open and embark upon new landscapes.

It's a playground sprawling throughout the city, throughout the world.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Wine Importer, Joe Dressner

Joe Dressner has left us. I choose that expression carefully. In concrete reality, he passed away from brain cancer on Saturday morning. Also, though, he has left us, well, so much.

He was an impassioned importer of "real" wines from France, Italy, and Spain. A champion of candor who tirelessly cut away the bla-bla of marketing and aspirational thinking and swindlerism. A friend of honest work in vineyards and cellars. An unabashed curmudgeon of unpredictable views and angles. A man who gave to Doctors Without Borders and Partners in Health. One of the funniest people ever, who left us with a body of writing in which kernels of truth hide amid uproarious floods of the absurd.

He was also a friend, to me. We shared wine, and didn't talk about it. We could argue or gossip in that particular brand of French that was his own. His real frankness and humanity allowed for conversations to swing from the acerbic to the intimate.

The wines he imported to America and which his team will continue to bring us are a good reflection of him: Clos Roche Blanche Sauvignon is preposterously good, almost blindsiding you; Domaine de la Pépière Clos des Briords is limpid, earthy, frank; Eric Texier's Rhône wines are deeply intellectual; Christian Chaussard's are hilarious, until you notice the firm backbone of seriousness.

The wines speak Joe Dressner, as do the writings and memories of him we have.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Catching wine

I just read an amusing article about a drunk elk that got caught in a tree in Sweden. Apparently, it was running after fermenting apples. Fortunately, I have never so much as gotten my foot caught in a sewer grate running after bottles of wine in the city.

However, several recent events have reminded me that when you catch the wine after running around town after it, you might not want to lose it again. Let me explain what I mean by that. It's that my mind has once again been jostled into the recognition that writing down the wines you taste is a good idea, along with maybe a word or two about them. (One hates to be stuck thinking: Was that blaterle* a white or a red?)

Exhibit A: "Any recollection of what we had on Aug 7th and Aug 9th?" writes S, a couple of days ago. Oh yeah, those two great dinners with friends and stupendously good food and lots of bottles. My brain now saw the evenings, though, like a scattered puzzle—of which many pieces had skittered under the radiator or behind the sofa. I remembered a Coche-Dury and offered, "I think it was a 2002, but which?" To which I was, humblingly, told: "Right, the Volnay." Ah, right. Coche-Dury red. Now I remembered, though my slipshod recall had been casting about for various Meursault Rougeots or the like.

Exhibit B: I went to a lunch just a few days ago—vibrant food and company, and a set of wines I had never seen nor tasted before, a sneak preview of imports soon to hit these shores. Talking about that meal with another friend who had not been there, I was asked, "What were the wines?" One might hang one's head to admit it, but for almost all of them, I had to go look at the pictures one of the lunchmates had taken and posted on a social networking site. For shame!

"Remember," said my friend, sitting there in scentless sensibility, "it's not unimportant to write down what you taste. There are reasons we do this."

So I will. And here, too.

*Don't worry, dear reader, I am certain that you know which color wines the blaterle grape makes.

Photo by Melody Dye

Monday, June 13, 2011


When I was a teenager, I liked to talk with my uncle about his early days training as a clinical psychologist. We would talk about the different approaches and schools. The fact that the mind had so many ways of coming at it fascinated me, and I read around, ranging and rooting for ideas. One day, we started talking about behaviorism and B. F. Skinner.

My uncle said, "He was a failed writer. He wanted to be a novelist, you know. But he had nothing to say. So he went back to the lab with his rats. Much more comfortable with the rats."

My uncle was teasing me, because he knew my perfectionism, my striving, sitting on the stairs with my composition notebook and my fountain pen. But attempts at perfection in writing do not create diamonds; they create a blank.

So, here I am before a blank blog page, and I ask myself: do I need rats, or can I grow words out of wine?

I put a picture of Causse Marines' Gaillac above, because I have always found it amusing and inexplicable that they should boldly state that no badgers are allowed in, on, or around the wine. I think I should use this as an allegory and impetus to avoid creeping beasts and get on with it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Earth and wine in Champagne

Champagne is not dead!*

It is fairly telling that a tasting organized by a group of like-minded young Champagne growers and held on a sunny spring day in the town of Aÿ would drape itself in this rebellious slogan:


One day, eighteen growers, pouring vins clairs and finished wines. Coming from all corners of the region, from Merfy, north-west of Reims, all the way down to Les Riceys, some 200km south, and all the way west to Crouttes-sur-Marne, almost abutting the Paris region: these were the vignerons of Terres et Vins de Champagne. If their vineyards were relatively far-flung, a shared spirit of revolt united them, however.

Revolt. The word is important. It snaps off the tongue; it is a banner and a flag of pride for the group: a front united by friendship. Ask anyone, even wine geeks who like champagne, and you're likely to hear that it is the most "artificial" of wines; that it bespeaks its terroir the least; that it is a marketing entity; that the landscapes of the region are dead.

To a large extent, commercialism and the lucre-seeking tactics of some big négociants have made this true.

But Champagne is budding. This new guard of growers—and what is equally exciting is that I can think of many others who are doing similar things in a similar spirit—believes in place. Believes in both tradition and the earth.

I was struck when Aurélien Laherte told me that his cuvée Les Clos, which is a field blend of all of the 7 authorized grape varieties in Champagne (chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot meunier, arbanne, petit meslier, pinot blanc and fromenteau) was not a wine that had been calculated with such and such a percentage of each to create a technical marvel. It was done as a "kind of archival act," he said, of conserving roots in the past, keeping alive those little berries that had their use (petit meslier keeping up the acidity in a warm year when the pinot meunier might get too flabby). "Who knows, if we have another vintage like 2003"—the heat-wave year—"we might be saved by petit meslier."

Some of the growers have ungrafted vines, like Chartogne-Taillet's Les Barres and Tarlant's Vigne d'Antan, both distinctive, and deep. Some forgo sulfur, such as Benoît Lahaye in his excellent cuvée Villaine. Many opt for low or no dosage, which ripeness allows for. We are worlds away from technical laboratories and vast quantities of wan juice tricked up with sugar and a little bit of old wine so that they taste the same from year to year.

These growers are aware of the land, the soils, the climate, and what their practices are doing. Pascal Doquet has been converting his vineyards to organic farming over the past decade, and he said with startlement that very quickly, the roots of the vines went from being spread out almost horizontally very shallowly beneath the soil to plunging downward—here, with the gesture of a hand, he showed the roots no longer rebuffed by the tight, unbreathable soil in which everything had been killed by pesticides.

But of course, the cool thing is that this is not just talk. Tasting the vins clairs showed the stuffing of what would be elaborated into finished champagnes. And those champagnes. They are so good. This is why we care.

At the end of the day, all I had in front of me was a comfortable train ride from Epernay back to Paris. How could I not beg a glass of Pascal Doquet Vertus here, or René Geoffroy Pureté or Bérèche Vallée de la Marne Rive Gauche there?

I did so. I drank them down, and every drop was real good.

*By the bye, this lovely picture of vines in Vertus was taken by Pascal Doquet.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Thursday, February 10, 2011


When people have asked me over the course of the past mumblemumble many weeks why I've been away from my blog, I've responded, "Oh, I haven't been away. I've been lurking."

I kid, but it is clear that I do need to feel the firm grip of vinous passion wrap itself around my, say, upper arms, straighten me in my chair, and put both of my hands on the keyboard, index fingers on F and J.

Tap, tap, tap—but where to start?

A wine post is a snapshot, a burst of light and words. Wine itself is a crystal ball.

The last glass of 08 L'Anglore Sels d'Argent is a snowglobe of... what?

If I can look through the specks into the depth of its gold, what do I see? Actually, it is a good marker, for me, of two things. I discovered this wine last summer and have since come back to it with enjoyment, enjoyment, enjoyment, and delight (and maybe a couple more enjoyments and a delight or two).

For me, it marks both the discovering of new wines and the low-level thrill of tasting the variations of a single pleasure. (On that note: there is nothing wrong with drinking Prévost's La Closerie early and often, or vice versa.)

Let's take it a shade darker.

Some of the most compelling wines I have had in the past months have been uncompromising, heavy wines. Wines that are hard to follow up with another, "meditation" wines. I should suspect myself for that. But how can you not go limp with a glass of 2001 Radikon Oslavje, all deep spice and wonder, in your hand? You can't not. You'd have to be an ascete.

1999 Ganevat Vignes de Mon Père spent 130 months in its topped-up barrel and left me, one night a couple of weeks ago, sitting on top of the butte Montmartre as though I were on the highest spot on earth. You could smell it from the decanter across the table.

But just as music that is all clash and bombast gets tiring, we need a little flutey lightness to get a kind of contrapuntal vibe going.

It was not felicitous to follow god's own Ganevat, that night, with a frilly little carbonic grolleau. But I will admit It was a nice evening out, a week later, the night I wended my way over to a wine bar in a sooty part of the 9th arrondissement with some contraband chicken liver pâté I had made at home to share a bottle of 09 Landron Muscadet Amphibolite with a friend.

My dabbles with the Melon grape have been middling to poor, but I won't give up. A current thrill is the 09 Domaine de Cadette Melon, from that variety's native land, Burgundy. I don't love it (only) for its woodcut or for the memories of Vézelay that spring in my head when a bottle gets near (or for that matter, for a happy memory of an insufficiently air conditioned hotel in Avignon where a cool bottle of Cadette Melon was a chill and a breeze and a delight)—I love it because it's deceptively simple. Something you can drink down, but then step back and nod with that pursed-lip look of being impressed. And the lime curd thing, too.

These three aspects of wines have me thinking and typing again.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas lights and bubbles

A lot of people haul out champagne for the holidays; it's like that, it's suggestive. I, however, as someone who guzzles the stuff at every wine bar and restaurant and private residence in the land, rejoicing when a muzzle is offed and a conic cork removed—well, you'd think I would turn a sour eye at all the transient enthusiasm.

Hell, no. Are you, dearest reader, senseless? (I think not, and thank god this is only a rhetorical turn, because you, dearest reader who makes my blog worth continuing, are crazy like a fox.) Far from pooh-poohing the seasonal gold rush, I embrace it with all the more fervor. Everybody else wants to, too! More for all! More deliciousness!

Do it, it's les fêtes! Order another bottle of Lassaigne, of Prévost, of Egly-Ouriet, of Tarlant, holy crow. Get out the Bérèche, the Boulard, the Françoise Bedel, that crazy Vouette et Sorbée fizz. Remember your stash of Veuve Fourny, some stockpiled Gaston Chiquet or that vintage Jean Milan. Crack the new year open with Chartogne-Taillet or Diebolt-Vallois. Decide you don't have to afford to replace Selosse, 'cause it tastes so good now.

In that spirit, and in the spirit of my calamitous blog sparseness, which I intend to correct with the new year, I am currently enjoying a brand new site by the Boston-based champagnophile Peter Czyryca, Recent Disgorgements.

I would also love to hear, in my pruriently curious way, what anyone traipsing through this post might have in mind to drink, champagne-wise, for the night that turns this year into 2011.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

As the wine turns


Seamus wasn’t looking quite himself this morning. I'd made a Halloween pumpkin, carved out a carefully plotted set of eyes, one nose, one mouth. It glowed prettily with its fangs and squint, set on a windowsill. But that was a week ago. So long, Seamus, I glibly proffered as I clacked the door shut.

A week later, I'm back. Back in the night from a trip to the country, feeling around in the dim for just the right place to set the keys down, finding the way to bed in a trail of shoes and socks and pants and slipping into the covers.

This morning, I walked out in short clothes to make coffee. Oh, goodness. Seamus, no. He'd gone from ten to eighty in a few days. Time-lapse without the flow; a jerky leap into the derelict future. Wrinkled and cowed, he looked a pity. I should have kept him in the fridge like some Michael Jackson during my absence.

Farewell, fall friend.

–End flashback–

Wine is, of course, like that. Yes, I have it on good recommendation that such fare as Ca' de Noci's Notte di Luna can hold up when one leaves a part-empty bottle be for a bit. Ditto Radikon (but, sorry, when has a 500ml bottle of Radikon ever survived an evening?). Wine, though, doesn't hold once open to the air and all things that modify and corrupt it. It's an almost Dante-ish view of the world (everyone now reread the Purgatorio and hold hands).

Yet once again I'm curious about these different side- and after-effects of our passion for wine. I am, too, about how little is known regarding the chemical specifics. Why do some wines (I've heard) require a full-day decant? Others start to fall to pieces minutes (minutes!!! (she said, striking fear into hearts everywhere)) after uncorking?

Ah, it might be just that uncertainty and those flashes of unstable and unpredictable beauty that make wine such a wily and willful partner.

But it also might be that œnology should be considered a worthy science. Some money should be put into this stuff, smart people put on the case, and then we won't have to wonder and ask and do imprecise and costly experiments with aging and storage and all of the bugbears that thwart, challenge, and enflame wine lovers.

Despite my desire for a flippant conclusion, I'll remain staunch. Our fruitlihood is at stake.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Very pale bubbles

Oh, psssh, this blog hasn't flatlined, what are you talking about?*

Mysteriously, no post has appeared in two months. It could be that they do not sprout, like mushrooms after a rain, but rather must be hewn from the living blogosphere, like so many sculpted soaps.

The wine-writing bug is still jumping about in me, wearing a little sombrero—but like the fable of the grasshopper and the ant, I've been chilling with the cicadas in Avignon, rather than following those little Formicidae down a dampened Parisian street to, say, Spring wine bar, sipping something and running back to type.

I have things I want to talk about. Things I have only known since my last post here. Like 1996 Pascal Doquet Le Mesnil! 1970 López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva! And so much more! (All for only $29.99! Yours! With this free tea cosy!)

I am back. Fall's fallen. It's wet and the windows are closed, and I am here to sip, and to write.

*Though thanks to TWG for the clarion-clear reminder of just how many days it'd been. Noah and a half!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Wine & film

Every summer from mid-July to early August there is an outdoor cinema festival at the Parc de la Villette in the northeast corner of Paris. As night falls at 10.30pm or so in these long days of the year, the film starts late, leaving a broad expanse of time to go tipple elsewhere or—which is more gratifying—directly in the park.

Aside from a couple of shameful tourist spaces—I'll name names: the Champs-Elysées and the Champ de Mars (that flat mown park in front of the Eiffel Tower)—where boozing has been proscribed, everywhere else in this fine town, one may bring one's bottle(s) and corkscrew, stemware, whatever else seems apposite, and tuck in.

Picnics abound.

And, oh my brothers, a few days ago they showed (in the original with subtitles) "A Clockwork Orange."

It had been warm that day, nearly 80°F after a week of chill, overcast and mediocre dashed-hopes summertime. No, this day was hot and sunny. It was still fine out as night fell, but it was also nice to have a woolen blanket (rentable from the park) and to sit on a canvas lawn chair and watch that still startling, still hilarious film under dark and beautiful yet calm skies, with a wind that kicked up.

My friend Meg brought the last of her stash of 2007 François Chidaine Montlouis, bought in a frenzy of appreciative relief in, I dunno, March or so, at a wine festival.

We'd had a curious bottle of bubbly back at the ranch (viz., her flat nearby) before striking out to the park, whetting our filmgoing vinous appetites with NV Domaine de L'Ocre Rouge "La Perle," a méthode champenoise from the south of France, about 11 miles north of Nîmes. Half pinot noir, half chardonnay, it rides the back of a very Champenois blend. And it has an ace up its sleeve: the vigneron is in fact a son of those chalky hills—Ayméric Beaufort, of the family renowned for the exuberantly good Champagne Jacques Beaufort. But given the dramatically different climate, the wine was a curious creature; dry with a bit of citrus pith, but also a pearish tone. An interesting discovery, and a fair friend for the small round yellow zucchinis my host had prepared, stuffed with ground pork and spelt, robed with a few leaves of basil. We should all eat basil when we go up to heaven.

Then: the park. The film. That dark yet clement sky. The savory Montlouis (damn, Chidaine is a monster of pitch-perfect winemaking). The lovely silence amid many. All were quiet. I hate to say it, but films are better when lots of people are watching them. I always go alone, but here we were all alone, and all enrapt.

But we were drinking best.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Proust for winos (or vice versa)

I had a madeleine the other day.

Not the tea cake, but y'know, one of those things that jogs you, like a cobblestone sticking up that catches your foot and makes you stumble into the past. A wine remembered from earlier times, one that conjured up those times. So I thought it would be interesting, amusing and perhaps even illuminating to submit this blog (and myself) to the vinous version of the (in)famous Proust Questionnaire.

Forthwith, rendered into terms propitious for wine:

1. Your most marked characteristic?

In wine, I like being (as they say in French) a horse that eats from all the troughs. There are styles of wine I like less (moelleux springs immediately to mind), but I like to test periodically my so-called wine prejudices. Sometimes there have been fabulous turnarounds. I've been seen proselytizing for chenin, of late!

2. The quality you most like in a man red wine?

I like ethereal red wines. I also like a certain rusticity. What I don't like is overbearing viscousness or jammy fruit. My gamut might span from Pineau d'Aunis to Cornas by way of Pinot Noir and cru Beaujolais. (And indeed, I am mixing up grapes and appellations. At least I don't say "varietal.")

3. The quality you most like in a woman white wine?

I like slightly oxidative whites. Like a woman showing her flesh. Or a barrel giving a sigh.

4. What do you most value in your friends?

I'm friends with those wines that take themselves seriously. Not in their outer trappings (unless we're talking high-quality corks)—heavy bottles, designer labels or consequential pricing. But wines that are not funny. They don't referment or reek, just as they don't float, aromatically, with the remnant particles of toasted wood chips. They are honest but honed.

5. What is your principle defect?

I break stemware.

6. What is your favorite occupation?

Two, where wine is concerned. One is obviously sitting at a table with good food and opening bottles with friends, enjoying them over the course of the evening. The other is visiting a vigneron, seeing where and how the wine is made, by whom, and tasting it there.

7. What is your dream of happiness?

A really fine Burgundy with the right amount of age. Or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, something I have never heard of before that turns out to be astounding. I could make my short dream list. I have friends with quirky taste.

Hm, I feel so serious! So sententious! This is the first third. Maybe the others I'll do more Dada in style. Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hello, Grenache gris!

This is my latest thrill. And it's thrilling*

2008 Domaine de L'Anglore "Sels d'Argent," which I tasted a couple of months ago twice, two days in a row, made my eyes pop.

2008 Clos de l'Origine "Les Quilles Libres," tasted recently, confirmed that I must inquire more into the grape, which is simply unheralded. This wine has such utter acidity, such wiry and unpredictable aromatics, it cannot be from the Côtes Catalanes, yet it is. And it's gorgeous.

Readers (if I have any left, given my desultory posting frequency of late; a lapse I intend to right, right away), please do tell me of grapes I should be drinking more.

And do not correct the "grapes ... drinking" sentence structure: it's a synecdoche, I swear.

*Fittingly for a thrill, you'll tell me.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The "T" word, followed by the "N" word

I have nothing against tasting notes. Truly I don't. Some people write such lively and lovely ones, one wants to read them for the joy of it, not necessarily in order to bone up about the wines being described. Interesting, that: the tasting note is normally a thing with an expiration date. Who wants to know ten years down the line what a freshly released Sancerre tasted like, back in the day? But the effort of insight and originality remains persuasive, timelessly. Creative minds work with material and produce novelty and brilliance, and for this I am glad.

Yes, you can't go reading through the last pages of the Wine Spectator magazine, as someone (I forget who) recently wrote. But on the other hand, you can't simply have a lavish description of the winemaker or the bottle label or vinification practices or time in barrel or just say "we enjoyed it so much!"; a little more needs to be said about the experience of a wine.

Yet two days ago, I hit my tasting note nadir. I sat in front of a list of wines and my sharp memory of each, and there was just no way I was going to extract anything interesting, let alone a series of quips and quirks and potentially thrilling and enlightening material. I gave it a bash. But lord, it was wan. And I tucked the document away, and eventually, reader, I deleted the document.

I have nothing against points. I like stars and hearts and numbers, they catch your eye. I also have nothing against descriptions of dogwood and plums and pear tarts. Those are pretty, and evocative.

But it's true that a tasting note, when you get right down to it, is like a Schechuan peppercorn. It's a loud, spicy blast in the middle of what needs to be meatier to handle the intensity of its purported "objectiveness."

And points are like a metal skewer: eat around them.

Pic by genial writer Manuel Camblor.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Vin nature & andouillette... nature

Terroir, yes, indeed. It is often said—and rightly so, I think—that the foods and wines of a region flush, by nature. Some kind of terroir symbiosis. Some earthy confluence of tastes and angles. Swig that Sancerre with your local goat cheese (come to think of it, hit the crottin motherlode at a small boutique in Chavignol, if you're ever in that bend of the Loire Valley); pour some dark and stainy Cahors with your cassoulet (and avoid heart disease while plowing through duck fat and sausage).

Readers of this blog might know that sometimes I drink champagne. But what regional specialties does that call forth? Gougères have been sneaked in the side from Burgundy. Puffy interlopers. Oysters? Forget about it, they're from coasts afar.

But... Champagne production also gravitates around the more southerly town of Troyes. Whose specialty is a rare delight: the tripe sausage known as andouillette, grilled crispy and often served with a mustard sauce.

Thus it was that Troyes native and genial vigneron Emmanuel Lassaigne arrived at a natural wine tasting last weekend in Paris as an ambassador of his terroir. With a small array of bottles showcasing his compelling way with chardonnay, what else to taste alongside than a very natural andouillette, he opined. Served nature. So nature that it was simply raw, and Lassaigne took it from its plastic sleeve and cut it into thick rounds with his folding knife. Cut and serve.

Jarring to eat something raw that usually gets fried up, but the thing was fatty and tasty and a great foil to the chiseled beauty of the bubbles. With a pedagogical smirk, he explained that of course, you have to choose wisely the andouillette that can withstand the direct glare of raw eating. Often, seasonings include chopped onion and the like, which just doesn't do.

But this did. As did a magnum of La Colline Inspirée, Lassaigne's cuvée made from old vines and redolent of the sunny slopes of Montgueux, and the poem that inspired the bottling's name.

Pic by Meg Zimbeck

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Still bubbling up

Unable to contain myself, I have returned to my frequent thematic stomping ground of farmer fizz.

Just up, a guest post scribed by me for my friend Scott Reiner's blog, The Wine Explorer.

In the meantime, I shall sedately relax from the pleasant aftereffects of a few bottles of Lassaigne (07 Papilles Insolites, 06 Le Cotet) and Selosse (Rosé) shared last night with a pair of similarly champagne-hoovering friends.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Pommard. Like that.

Yes, Pommard. It's one of those things that people who don't know anything about wine know. Like Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Margaux. The word Pommard has a heft to it, a stately ring.

I knew Pommard when I knew little about wine—less about Burgundy, even, than Bordeaux (my early days were curiously canted toward the Loire and the western seaboard of France). Pommard, when I started to gather up the splinters of Burgundy information, well, Pommard was the Côte de Beaune's masculine wine, ruggedly flexing its muscles near the lacy Volnay.

(Then I went there. It was astouding to see a little string of Christmas lights, those villages, so close: a mere kilometer in distance, apiece, from Beaune to Pommard to Volnay to Meursault. But that should be the subject of another, daintily nostalgic post. (I'm sure you all know how dainty and nostalgic I can get, here.))

It took some time for me to debunk the standard Gallic wisdom: Volnay = girl wine. Pommard = boy wine.

I've had a lot of tangly, rustic Volnays (most recently a 2005 from Henri & Gilles Buisson that was angular; though traditionalists might argue that that was the bluestocking version of the feminine Volnay). And there are some supple Pommards afoot.


2002 Jadot Pommard. There you go. I wanted pinot. Burgundian pinot. I hankered for it, craved it. So I thought: well, I'm having dinner by myself and it'll be simple and lazy, some goose rillettes and a piece of Camembert*, or something. I uncorked this.

OK, yum. Just yum. Just yum. Silk and lace and (yuck, that's starting to sound like a Victoria's Secret catalog); scratch that. What I mean to say is that it was pure. Vibrant 2002 pinot fruit, little cherries, all the pleasure that a balanced, tasty Burgundy can bring. Glug-worthy, hell.

So if Pommard has to be the man's wine, I'm going to wear a hat and a fake mustache. I have no shame.

*For all of you cheese snobs out there, I gleefully invite you to indulge in an actual good, non-industrial Camembert. The poor thing got so popular for a reason, and despite the fact that 97.99% of today's Camembert is made in a factory in Laval (I approximate), the real thing is great. Perhaps too great for potential moderation, but that is another issue altogether.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Good nature: gamay

After several days in the Loire Valley tasting natural wines, I find myself back in Paris. Natural wines hold pride of place hereabouts, as well; so it was that I stopped in to a local store — Naturalia, an organic food store, for those curious — and picked up a bottle of 2008 Clos Roche Blanche Cuvée Gamay.

What can I say about this wine but that it gives vins nature a good name? It burnishes those tarnished images of sanctimonious flops: VA-riddled, Brettanomyces-laced catastrophes poured forth by certain natural winemakers with all of the earnestness of Moonies, proclaiming that inadvertent secondary fermentation is just the voice of the grapes coming out. Damn it: teach those grapes to sing properly.

Which is what they do, at Clos Roche Blanche. This wine is a joy. It is clean and balanced; the fruit is unabashed in its forthcoming freshness; the texture is silken; the whole has masterful transparency of its grape and earth. It avoids funkiness as a disgracedly tattered flag. This is a wine, like others of the domaine I have had the luck to taste and drink, that is Platonically simple, and ridiculously good.

It's a shame the Touraine appellation is almost a mar for producers who are doing such astounding work. As I've written here before, I would rather drink their Sauvignon Blanc than many, many a Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé, supposedly of nobler extraction.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Color in blanc de noirs

At a recent day of tasting in the small Loire village of Valaire, I joined champagne vigneron Olivier Collin at a table full of Italian wines. The Roagna lineup included a white, "Solea," that was mostly chardonnay, but which included a certain amount of nebbiolo in the blend (about 25%). Olivier Collin asked Roagna about its color, which to the naked eye was indistinguishable from the color an unblended chardonnay would have. As they discussed the way the nebbiolo grapes were handled, I started to think about color in champagne.

Olivier's own pinot noir, the Ulysse Collin Blanc de Noirs, is an uncommon treat. But despite the "blanc" part in its title, it is nearly pale pink in color. I first tasted the 2005 a year ago at the domain, and the vigneron had been considering calling it a rosé, then. (Or at least he referred to it as "the rosé.") But now it was slightly attenuated in tone, and while with time it has evolved into a lovely drink, it bucks the tradition of lily-white blanc de noirs in its unabashed and very natural tint.

Two questions arose in my mind: (a) why do makers of champagne want their blanc de noirs to be white? and (b) how do they get it that way?

Apparently, adding lees from chardonnay is one of the little rabbits in that magic-trick hat. Another is using activated carbon to strip out the color. This is not a happy thing for the finished wine, as far as taste nuances go, though.

Which made me muse on why it was so important to get the stain out. Why the search for whiteness? Whence tint as anathema?

Tasted that same day, a "gris" of pineau d'Aunis from Catherine Roussel and Didier Barouillet of Clos Roche Blanche was just a drop of pomegranate juice in a barrel's worth of off-white. Yet it is "the rosé."

At what point, then, does a wine become rosé? Is it a question of its taste, or of its color? Or of our perception of it?

I may need to pour some Ulysse Collin as I ponder this.

Or some Clos Roche Blanche.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Unexpected addiction

It was a month and a half ago, back in the dim gloom of mid-December, as the days were pulling tight and the dark, cold curtain of night fell with its heavy, blunt blade earlier and earlier...

(I should cue some atmospheric music or something. How about bluegrass? Nah.)

I went out to Le Verre Volé for warmth and boudin noir with fellow wine tippler Rahsaan M. (though I should note that he is not a fellow boudin noir enthusiast, despite an unexpected openness to tasting a tiny dab on the end of a knife). As is the wont of inveterate lushes the world over, we began the evening with champagne and moved on to darker fare, and against all reason, a third bottle for two.

Which he suggested should be a 2006 Champ-Levat Mondeuse. Now, my experiences with Mondeuse had gone from the catastrophic – a cooked mess of a bottle picked up on a lark at a shop in New York renowned for poor storage, in 2004, back when I'd had to ask what a Mondeuse was, by gum – to the pleasing – young fare from Franck Peillot at last spring's Louis/Dressner tasting. But it wasn't something I thought it'd be worth giving my liver the sock for.

However, it was. This silky purple thing, with piquant tannins but much peppery lushness, was like a mountain Syrah. It was so pretty, so lovely, so empty, by the end.

So it came to pass that a few weeks later, as the days were getting longer, but damn, it was still flippin' cold out, friends and I found ourselves at Le Bistrot Paul Bert, where after a fine 2005 Villemade Cheverny "Bodice," I jumped up and down like a monkey (well, verbally) insisting the Champ-Levat Mondeuse was the thing to try.

It did not disappoint, and even though the context was different and the foodstuffs dissimilar (I was eating a yea-big andouillette stuffed with coarsely chopped tripe, alongside gratin dauphinois), that unexpected elegance was there. That river of purple. That soulful bramble.

I can't wait to have this again.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Fizz, fizz

For all those who have an unquenchable thirst for more about champagne, surf away immediately to the excellent website Paris By Appointment Only and peruse my roundup of some fine bubbles I'll try to be drinking again post haste in 2010.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

As the palate turns

It's the end of the year, but I'm not going to do a "best of" or "top #" post. I'm just not. In fact, I'm just going to slap up a picture I like of a wine that pulls no punches, and then ramble about other things.

The year 2009 is drawing to a close, and my wine life, it would be fair to say, went through an unbridled overhaul, over these twelve months. Many discoveries were made (or offered my way, or stumbled into); some previous favorites discarded in light of new twists to the tastebuds; and former dislikes rallied to and overcome, until these days, you can sometimes find me ordering a chenin blanc.

Clearly, that's one of the fun things about taking an interest in wine: watching your palate evolve. Favorite Cali Cabs of yesteryear (all right, I didn't get to go through that phase, but you can imagine some similarly dark back-story for me, if you'd like) give way to shimmery Muscadet or wiry Albariño.

There's a Comments section, below; I'd be interested to hear some tales of vinous discovery and change from my ever-vigilant readership. What have you unearthed? What do you suddenly shun?

And a free bottle of Puzelat "Brin de Chèvre" for anyone who can guess one wine I used to adore but now can't stomach.

Friday, December 11, 2009

White, black, white

The intention was obviously to write about an astounding champagne I'd had a few weeks ago. But then other great bubbles came my way, and I realized it would be hasty to sum up everything in one epiphanic blanc de noirs. So I'll give you a pair, instead.

2006 Lassaigne "Les Papilles Insolites" - this is a 100% pinot noir with no dosage and no sulfur. I had been forewarned that it would be unlike most typical Champenois fare. (As though that would shake me!) So I popped it for myself, because in that case – this is the principle of going to movies alone, to avoid the dread "bad choice" that could alienate one's movie-going companions – there would be no one else to register shock, discomfort or, well, drink the rest of the bottle. I let the cork out and poured some into a Zalto champagne flute. The bubbling liquid was deep yellow in the glass. And a lean in to smell what was nutty and aromatic led obviously to a taste, which led to a few moments of internal parsing, then quickly, a contented nod. Oh, yes. This wine had everything I pine for in a good glass of champagne, but was, obviously, not something one fills one's stem with every day. It has depth and breadth, is vinous but detailed, streamlined. Crunchy fruit to it, and tannins to structure the whole thing. This would be a champagne to decant, if I could ever be that sensible. By the next day, it had developed roundly, and was even more compelling. I am itching to get back to one of the two wine merchants who purvey it and snap some more up.

NV Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru - ashamed as I am to admit it, I used to think pinot noir-dominated champagnes were not my style – Selosse Contraste aside, I would say with a dandyish chuckle. Well, not a bit of it. If Lassaigne's Papilles Insolites was already one colossal raspberry to that particular prejudice of mine, a recent bottle of Egly-Ouriet's Brut Tradition (75% pinot noir) was a kick in the pants, to boot. I can no longer claim disdain for that robuster grape. This bottle, disgorged in mid-2008, was of vinous depth that had me grinning from ear to ear. The notes of almond paste and toast were addictive. I vaguely recall that I had had too much to drink that evening. But this, dear readers, was worth the plunge into excess.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

It's mushroom season; we're in the thick of it, and beneath, say, a squab en crapaudine or a ballotine of wild duck will be a little heap of black chanterelles or mousserons or cèpes. A few days ago, I was wandering around with a camera and snapped these boletes raw. It was only later, looking back at the girolles and chanterelles and pieds bleus and sheep's foot mushrooms I had also taken in the "seasonal market" series that my eye was caught on the price. Well, 50€ a kilo! That's 75 of your American dollars, at this juncture. Sure, split it by 2.2 to get the equivalent in pounds, but in truth, that's not the price of leeks.

I stumbled upon an article in the Times (London) about organized crime visiting the forests of southern France. And whatever the validity behind the alarm (I have heard expert talk that the fear is slightly overblown and the situation a bit different than described) the truth remains that King Cèpe can only be had for a ransom.

So, in the spirit of populism, I will not write such siren song phrases as, "The murmur of voices filled the restaurant, and the cepes glistened in the dim light."

No, instead, I'll suggest a cheap quaffer that'd go well with that kind of thing. The bounty of good, unpretentious fermented grapes can be all of ours.

2007 Clape "Le Vin des Amis" - a little wine from a great Cornas producer; a little bit like a Cornas, with good tannins and a rustic back-end. There is fruit, there is bark. There is a certain spiciness, that of black pepper ground. It is a happy thing, and a friend of the forest. I had this recently, and I look forward to having it again.


Now for the cliffhanger: soon I will write about the best Champagne I have had in well over a year. A year, note ye, filled with... Champagne.

Sunday, November 08, 2009


It's November and is almost time for the "new" wines to come out. I got an early taste of one a couple of days ago when I stopped by at the unusual wine store La Cave de L'Insolite. (I say this with redundant literalness: "insolite" being the French for, well, "unusual.")

2009 Karim Vionnet Beaujolais Primeur - Vionnet used to make wine for another natural Beaujolais producer, Guy Breton, but is now making his own. If this is a glimpse of the 2009 vintage, we are in for quite a bit of fun. Gorgeously crunchy and light, carbonic yet weighty, this new gamay is uncommonly lovely. After sipping some of Vionnet's 2008 Beaujolais — a wine with a hard tannic edge but lots going on — this, on a return visit several minutes later, was lacy, spicy, and had a marked tendency to disappear in a snap.

2005 Villemade Cheverny "Désiré" - A 100% pinot noir bottling that Villemade, these days, only puts into magnum. The wine had been open for several hours and had finally digested its oak and was offering light, funky, soulful Loire pinot. I find this a much more expressive and racy wine than the sometimes angry "Ardilles." Gorgeous and also difficult to keep in the glass.

I came away from the day with something no one would expect me to be glugging in the dark Parisian autumn (or at any other time or place, truth be told):

Gérard Schueller Edelzwicker
- no vintage on this 1 liter bottle, but I believe, if I read the tiny coded small-print adeptly, it may be a 2004. In the glass, it is cloudy. Beeswaxy yellow and cloudy. The nose is aromatic, floral, very pleasing. And on the palate, this has an excellent balance between sweet and savory and sour, with a bit of yeasty umami. It's got persistence, it's got an unusual appeal for what is generally the throwaway wine of Alsace. I would not throw this away. I might even acquire more.

Insolite, indeed.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mushrooms, boar and blood

It was a dark, dark, dark fall night. The wind was whipping, and garish bright lights festooned the outside of the Cirque d'Hiver, where many children and balloon-holding parents streamed across the rue Amelot, blocking a taxi in which Barbra Austin and I were ensconsed, late for dinner.

One block later, we egressed from the cab and met Todd and Scott outside of the restaurant Repaire de Cartouche, a place as old-fashioned and wood-decked as a country inn in some tale of banditry.

One hour later, the scents of porcini cream steamily filled the air around a large, circular table, upon which an almost-empty bottle of 2005 Villemade Cour-Cheverny "Les Acacias" stood, beading.

Soon after would arrive dishes of game and mushroom; what better fodder to match them with than something redolent of the iron blood of the Mourvèdre grape?

2001 Grange des Pères Vin de Pays de L'Hérault
- What a fine thing this was: heavy on the blood, resoundingly echoing the sang that stood amid the flesh of a well-crusted venison steak to my left and the deep, stewed-wine daube to my right. (My own dish of pheasant picked up the ruffles of cabernet, I think.) I love this wine; this is the third vintage of it I've had, and each time, I have marveled and swooned; marveled and swooned. It is long and profound and exciting. It calls you back to it with great presence and is demanding.

The only way to follow up such a powerful wine was to slip into something similarly prepossessing, yet more coy.

2001 Allemand Cornas "Reynard" - The nose was slight, after the previous, with a curiously lactic note. But on the palate, the silky rush of it all was a jolt. It could hold its own after the Grange des Pères, and more. A lush beauty of northern Rhône syrah. It also paired well with the various game dishes, of which bites were being passed, here and there, across and around our table of eight.

We gobbled and drank.

Then there was no more food, plates were being cleared, and the wine was gone. It was time to turn back to the list.

Three of our party had just spent ten days in the southern Rhône, so perhaps it was time for a complete and total paradigm shift.

"Do you like Arbois?" I asked my friend Todd as I looked sharply up over the edge of the wine list.

"I've had vin jaune, but I must admit, it's not my favorite."

"What about a red?" I'd seen something that had sparked my desire.

There was general ignorance as to the reds of the region, so I filled in with enthusiasm. Words came tumbling out of me as I described poulsard, plousard, ploussard, trousseau.... Was I making any sense? My thoughts were on Overnoy. I was trying to convey the essence of Jurassics, but I'm sure clarity ran low. It was a jumble in his mind like a word-salad e-mail, from what I could tell, as I drew to a close.

Nonetheless, we ordered it.

2007 Overnoy/Houillon Arbois Pupillin - The light color of this wine is a jape. It's a quick switch. This wine is a berry blade. It's a sharp flick of the colorful rope. God, I love this wine. It's got intense acidity and lovely aromatics. It is long and fine on the palate.

It was a great way of ushering in dessert, which I forewent for more of it.

And more.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A mouthful of pig and a handful of grapes

I love those sticky, fatty, piggy dishes, especially as in Paris, autumn is starting to cool down the air and a cold breeze sometimes picks at my cuffs.

Lately, I stopped in at Le Comptoir and knew I had to glut myself on some offal. The main course would be a boned, breaded pig's foot. But what to drink with it?

2008 Gramenon Poignée de Raisins - The match was tasty, as was the wine itself. All silk carbonic perfection from this young-vines Grenache cuvée of the "natural" Côtes du Rhône producer. It had both raspberry-fruited purity and clove-y, peppery complexity; it was "natural" and showed the thin edge of no sulfur, but had no flaws. Nary a whiff of brettanomyces, etc. In fact, the absence of flaws, in combination with natural winemaking transparency, was a source of fascination, pointing out that when it's done right, that approach is compelling.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Py in the sky

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.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A trio of St. Joes

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.