A spontaneous combustion of pear magic. Refreshing, courageous, a good start/middle/end to any day. Even for non pear fans thanks to the gentle funk.
A blend of 5 pear types: Plant de Blanc, Muscadet, Tricotin, Avenelle & Poire de Grise
Unfiltered, just pears.
Vin Jaune d’Arbois, Jacques Puffeney, 2006
For only 14%, this vin jaune has decidedly strong weight to it and no flab. Toast, nuts, caramelled honey (is that a thing?) lingering acidity to balance, giving great mouthfeel. Not for the fainhearted.
A rare wine, made only the very best years, of Savagnin aged between 6-8 years in foudre before being aged further in bottle.
BARBARESCO, Produttori del Barbaresco, 2011
The Queen is in good form. Classic co-operative Produttori del Barbaresco offers a shining example of elegance, a ruby of Piedmont. Nearly herbaceous aromatics, surprisingly structured yet subtle. Climbs the walls of your mouth, builds energy the longer it’s open. Detailed.
Domaine Grand Guilhem “Fitou”, 2014
A blend of indigenous vines in Languedoc, averaging around 60 years old: Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Mourvèdre. Grown in the hot, dry sun on gentle slopes. From the oldest AOC in Languedoc (Corbieres), considered a royal wine of the 17th & 18th century.
Concentrated, intense body, prunes, nuts and rugged caress. Let it air for an hour before drinking, definitely will age well over several years. No added sulfites.
Vermouth di Torino, “Rosso”, Alessio
Banned by the church in the Dark Ages as it was considered a self-serving tonic that drew people away from religion as the keeper of knowledge. Considered a luxury wine. Originally created by Girolamo Ruscelli (alias Alessio Piemontese), this vermouth has made been modeled after his recipe and is one of my go-to when feeling sickly. Seamless concoction of herbs and roots, perfect all on its own. Way better than Echinacea.
NV Domaine André et Mireille Tissot Crémant du Jura “BBF”, Bénédicte & Stéphane Tissot (Jura)
BBF = Blanc de Blanc élevé en Fût! From Crémant du Jura, extra-brut and super fine. Élevage in barrel for a year, then second fermentation in bottle, racked for 52 months. Delicate bubbles with some weighty flavors from the Chardonnay but still funky fresh. Biodynamic.
Paraschos ‘Ponka’ Bianco Venezia Giulia IGT, 2014 (Friuli-Venezia Giulia)
A blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia, Pinot Bianco, Picolit, Verduzzo, grown in San Floriano which is on the border of Italy and Slovenia, so plots are on either side. Ferments in open top clay amphorae without controlled temperature, then transferred to Slavonian oak botte to mature on the lees for 2 years. Biodynamic.
I Clivi di Ferdinando Zanusso “Clivi Brazan”, Brazzano di Cormons, 2001 (Collio, Friuli-Venezia Giulia)
Friulano and 15% Malvasia from 80 year old vines. The wine is aged 140 months (more than a decade!) in stainless steel tanks. I let it hang out in the glass and it kept opening up the longer it was out. Over a couple days, with each session’s glass getting closer to room temperature, it really has a quietly expressive, intimate character. You might say the same for its maker, Ferdinando.
Chateau Musar Cuvée Blanc, Bekaa Valley, 2001 (Lebanon)
!!!Obaideh & Merwah (those are grapes, heard they’re related to Chardonnay & Semillon). High altitude plots, sunny year round, chalky soil and low yields. Fermented separately for 9 months in French oak, then blended after first year. Released after another 6 years. Not for the faint hearted. Needs a passionate mood and a big, fat burgundy glass to rest in before consumption.
Domaine Labet “La Reine”, Côtes du Jura 2013
Gamay is still happy even when it’s not from Beaujolais. If you’re affected by Fleurie like me, you’ll like this. “The Queen” is tasty- elegant but not without corners, a little floral. I like Labet.
Axel Prüfer “Avanti Popolo”, Le Temps des Cerises Vin de Table, 2014 (Languedoc-Roussillon)
A young & quiet East German committed to non-interference wine production makes a political statement with Carignan. I love when this grape gets to shine on its own and is handled by someone who understands its character. Avanti Popolo (Italian for Forward, People!) is an alternate way to describe the Bandiera Rossa (red flag), a song and symbol of the socialist/communist movement used during the Italian Labour Movement, first written by Carlo Tuzzi in 1908 and used while fighting against Mussolini. “The Time of Cherries”, the wine’s name, reflects not only the Carignan grape, but of the symbolism of the socialist flag. Biodynamic. Pronounced acidity.
Referencing the 1959 French theatrical play, “L’Hurluberlu ou le Reactionnaire amoureux” by Jean Anouilh, the “Extravagant” is actually unlike its namesake, especially for a Cab Franc: it’s pretty lean, mainly due to its Beaujolais-style production (carbonic maceration), super quick élevage, and young vines. It’s unfiltered (check out that sediment!) biodynamic table wine from Bourgeuil. It is tasty in an Exploration to Mars kind of way and curiously balanced, so maybe the reference actually lies in the playwright’s review of his own production:
“Wanting to reform the world, a General realizes that he can not even keep order in his own family.”
Produttori del Barbaresco, Langhe Nebbiolo, 2013
Not many things are certain in life but this I can say for sure: I will always drink Nebbiolo. Even or especially if it’s some big Barolo or Barbaresco producer’s table wine that ended up on the shipment across the ocean. This one is no exception, in fact it is my current standard. It’s the balance of fruit, acidity and tannin that has such a rustic grace…I just really get down. A group of wine growers that form the cooperative Produttori del Barbaresco have blessed us with young vine Nebbiolo unfit for the life of Barbaresco and ideal for me. Hooray!
Oddero “Rocche di Castiglione” Barolo, 2001
Single Cru Nebbiolo harvested from a cliff side vineyard, Rocche di Castiglione, on the edge of the Oddero estate. It’s taken me a while to get to a place where I can appreciate and/or afford something like this, so it’s not so much the light, jovial drinking party as this is a study in mastery, nuance, and progressive structural evolution in a glass. But being here is great. It’s like any other mood; in this wine I have found something to help me focus and become one with the Force.
#TheForceAwakens (but will it be good?)
Brigaldara Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, 2008
Amarone? That super rich, heavy, port stuff? Not even close. Blind taste this and you’re somewhere between a Barolo and a Northern Rhône. So much warm spice and cocoa nib raspberry liquorice, it reads more like coffee…so nimble and elegantly vigorous, how it’s possible I do not know. A wine with this kind of complexion isn’t an everyday, but when I feel fussy about something sweet (I get confused why I don’t like dessert the way I did as a kid) or crave something intense to wrap around my tastebuds, now I know where to go.
The first night was on a tiny quiet street near Cafe de Turin in Nice. Tired after a 7 hour flight + 7 hour train ride from Paris, we had just enough energy to crush a tower of shellfish which thankfully was open till late and still completely packed. Somehow we managed to get a table between the throngs of people crowding the drenched sidewalk, sometime after 10pm. We squeezed in under a large column with a shaky table next to a huge tank of live lobster and a drippy green hose. The column was supporting the alleyway along which the restaurant staged all of its catch, under bright fluorescent lights that showed no mercy. The archway, although painted white, reminded me a lot of the arcades of Bologna. Finishing the last drops of house Muscadet, we melted into the night.
O’Quotidien This cantine of wine was hooked directly to a mainline behind the cafe/bio shop at O’Quotidien in the Nouvelle Porte/Bonaparte quarter where, along with over a dozen others, they pour by the glass or bottle on site. Every wine is rotated and imported monthly. Carlo and Laura opened this place a couple years ago in an effort to offer local products from Italy (Piemonte & Liguria) and Provence to the average guy who wants a place to hang, eat and drink.
In the states this would be overrun with trendseekers but here we met a theatre actor, farmer, doctor, producer, and ambiguous Spanish joker who pulled us in for several rounds of wine from the cantines. They’re only concern was that we were game to be human. We drank 2013 Dolcetto from Cooperativo Valli Unite (the best dolcetto to date btw) and a 2010 Barbera Riserva from Azienda Agricola Mario Torelli Bubbio. The wines were all unbelievably fresh, earthy, alive- and all Italian. I was didn’t realize how much the Côte d’Azur leans on Italian influence. We came back for lunch the next day and had lasagna with seasonal vegetables. Carlo brought an aged Trebbiano to accompany the meal which quickly disappeared and led to dessert, a chocolate cake soaked in some kind of sweet wine (pictured above) that was unbelievably good. Also these guys have incredible espresso.
We talked to Carlo about his market and the biodynamic movement in Italy for a while. He operates from a place of extreme calm, a rarity these days. He doesn’t bother with marketing his place- he doesn’t even want to run it for long. “I look to the next time I can ride my bike to the woods and forage mushrooms, pick grapes in the vineyard, and be away from the chaos of the city.” I hope next time I visit, he’s gone on a foraging trip.
We drove along the coast to Cap Ferrat, Villefranche, the medieval hill town Eze, and Beaulieu-sur-Mer. We climbed down a cliff to the sea, and jumped in the water. We forgot to eat before we left, so after several hours of hiking around the Cap, we hunted down a place to eat. Given that it was 3 in the afternoon in the south of France, there was nothing open. But we managed to find a little market where the guy took pity on us and made some sandwiches. He really hooked it up: bresaola, brebis and tomates confites with butter on a baguette. He also recommended we go next door to the patisserie where to our great joy we found millefueille!
Bistro du Fromager
One of my favorite places in Nice is Bistro du Fromager in Vieux Port, a hidden cave à manger where the entire menu is based on cheese. The Carte des Vins was like the rest of it, delicious, bio, direct, no fuss. The menu handed to you doesn’t have any wine, but at the bottom a little note read “the drinks based in fermented grape juice are located in the large wine menu”. Immediately that made me want them to pick the wine for us; I felt like I could trust them. He brought us a red from Simon Busser in the small village of Prayssac (Cahors in the Midi-Pyrenees). 100% goddamn Merlot! It was deep, inky purple and tasted like smoked blackberry confiture with hints of myrtle and spice, and opened up beautifully the longer we stayed.
Looking around, people had equally local, natural wines, many of which I didn’t recognize but I have the impression most were from lesser-known regions like South West. We had a splash of a wine that was open on the counter on our way out: Domaine de L’Ausseil “P’tit Piaf Blanc” 2014 also from the South West in Latour (Roussillon). A blend of Muscat and Macabeo, it was rather sweet but due to the way it was made (fermented via carbonic maceration), the freshness and tarty twinge carried well. One of the dishes was two fresh sacks of burrata, each bigger than my fist, with olive oil, pepper and a few haricots verts (green beans). The pasta was delicious too, also having lots of cheese. It was almost like someone was playing a joke on us- “do they really expect us to eat all this?” until I saw another table had the same amount of burrata and that somehow gave me the green light. “Even if I’m sick tomorrow, it will be worth it”.
It’s important to say that not every meal was a wine-centric event. We went to a hole in the wall, a one room restaurant no bigger than 20 x 20 feet. Small prix fixe menu at shared long tables covered in checkered table cloth. Noisy, tight, boards with scribbled in menu items and a bar with no seats, just trinkets and mechanisms from bygone generations lining the walls and keeping score. Without question, we had a carafe of house wine and Durex tumblers. Classic.
And then there was Carbo Culte. Night at the apartment during one of the rainiest, most deathly regional storms in recent history. The thunder and lightning cascaded across the sky and struck the nearby mountains and the sea, while rain came down heavy, thick and loud. We opened a window and looked out onto the piazza below. It was empty, desolate. The trees flashed white as another bolt struck down on the water. We pulled shut the window and opened the Carbo Culte. Another bodilicious babe, the name is a riff on a Serge Gainsbourg song, “Cargo Culte”, which is cute because it’s referring to its “cult charge” aka carb maceration. A small operation in the Roussillon region, Sylvain Respaut is on the wave with vigor and precision. He has a few wines, including Gorgolou and Zumo, using grapes like Carignan, Grenache Gris and Muscat d’Alexandrie. Carbo Culte is a blend of Grenache and Carignan. There’s practically no info on him and I only asked briefly about it with the very friendly guy at La Petit Syrah. From what I understand, he makes a lot of honey and just recently started making wine. Anyway, it was very delicious.
BANDOL: a Timeless Classic
The diversity of wine in the South West makes up for the lack of production around Nice and the rest of eastern Provence. Where Nice has become somewhat of a Souther French gastronomic destination, the western area of the Cote d’Azur remains a rustic spattering often with time travel potholes. While Languedoc-Roussillon seems to be the next big chapter in the natural wine movement (after Loire & Rhône), Provence remains seemingly aloof, concentrating on the perfection of Mourvèdre and the timelessness of the afternoon rosé.
On our trip to Bandol, we visited Chateau Pibarnon which may be considered home to some of the oldest and most prominent Bandol AOC wine available. We tasted through and decided to take home a bottle of Les Restanques 2011, which comes from slightly younger vines on a hillside primarily of clay and limestone. The blend (70% Mourvèdre, 30% Grenache) undergoes extended fermentation of 25 days, then is split between large, new French oak casks and smaller barrels.
Part of being included as an AOC is that as a producer, you have to meet certain requirements. In Bandol, one of those is the red wine must be at least 50% Mourvèdre and aged 18 months in oak at minimum. This is already an explanation for the huge disparity between taste profiles of natural and controlled wine. The former often has no contact with oak and is generally drunk very young. Is one better than the other? No- dumb premise. The better question is, how can I learn to appreciate what each have to offer?
In this case I’ll remember sharing that bottle of Pibarnon with newly encountered family, eating grilled lamb and merguez sausages with rosemary and garlic, in our house just down the hill from the vineyard and 10 minutes drive to the Mediterranean.
PARIS – Epicenter of Vin de Soif aka the Glougou
Au Passage was a perfect example of the success that the natural wine movement has had on the city. It’s more of a lifestyle; informal, conscientious, a sensitive collective of earthy people. Earnest enthusiasm aside, how long will it take for this to turn disingenuous? VIN DE FRANCE (FLEURIE) GAMAY “DAZIBAO,”LILIAN & SOPHIE BAUCHET 2013
100% Gamay from 60 year old vines in Beaujolais. At with small, lighter dishes, including radishes, sweet greens, liver pâté.
DOMAINE VIRET “RENAISSANCE”, PHILIPPE & ALAIN VIRET 2012
Rhône Valley blend of Grenache, Syrah & Mourvèdre. Maceration over 30 days, matures 24 months in concrete tanks. Ate with roast chicken and mustard. Delicious, rich, elegant but totally natural- cosmic, according to Viret. Old school guys who brought amphora to France.
The trip was confirmation of my observations on the changing landscape of wine, culture, fashion, taste…and how it doesn’t change. Some things- most things – are cyclical in the end. The true evolution is yet to be seen, I think.
A well known producer in Burgundy, Anne Gros and partner Jean Paul Tollot decided to skip down to Cazelles in Minervois (a small appellation in the Languedoc) and re-cultivate an old vineyard. The diversity of the soil (limestone, clay & sandstone) the age and variety of the old vines (Carignan, Grenache, Syrah & Cinsault) and the identical altitude to her vineyard in Vosne-Romanee, inspired the whole hearted move to the south. Les Fontanilles, their signature wine pictured above, comes from a blend of the aforementioned grapes grown in small plots on a northeast facing slope surrounded by pines, rosemary and thyme. Harvested by hand, matured 50% in oak and 50% in stainless steel, the wine is a seamless combination of mature fruits and freshness, hints of spice and a deep earthy undertone. Unlike other Languedoc reds though, it somehow maintains a delicate nature not unlike a Burgundy, which affirms Anne’s skill and understanding of grape cultivation and terroir.
On the aged, unfiltered white wine kick, here’s another version: a 100% Muscat. Very, very dry with practically no fruit, a cinnamon-orange nose and acid + tannins on the mouth. Just TONS of texture. That’s it! Weird!
Grapes: Rosés made from Mourvedre, Carignan, Cinsault. Appellations: Cassis, Bandol. BONUS: nicoise olives, aioli, thyme, lavender!
Grapes: Orange Wines made from Folle Blanche, Muscadelle, Ugni Blanc. Reds from Malbec, Tannat.Appellations: Gaillac, Irouleguy, Madiran, Marcillac. BONUS: Brebis & Cognac!
Saint-Gaudens/Saint-Lary Pla d’Adet
Maubourguet Pays du Val d’Adour/Bergerac
Grapes: famous blends created from various combinations of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot. Appellations: Saint Emilion, Médoc, Graves. BONUS: Foie Gras, Bordelaise, Canele, and Oysters of Aquitaine!
And we’re back for Part II. After discovering the tastes of northern regions, you’ll notice the flavor structure start to really change as we progress down and across southern France. Take note of your preferences, as well as how the changes in the landscape and climate might give you clues as to how and why these changes occur.
Wine Stop F: LANGUEDOC-ROUSSILLON & PROVENCE
The breathtaking landscapes bursting with genet & lavender, the omnipresent ocean breeze…enough to turn anyone’s head and sigh wistfully. For me, there is something unstoppable about this area, especially in Provence. Maybe that’s why it suffers under it’s own rosé cliché, but we should remember that trends and clichés originate from incredible novelty. Mourvedre, the grape most common in rosé and native to both Provence and Languedoc, is thick-skinned and bursting with flavor. In red wines, it is generally used as a blending grape due to its intensity. But as rosé, its true character is revealed: the nuances in texture, color, and aroma are finally given a chance since the thick skins are removed much earlier during the maceration period. You then realize that the subtleties you are tasting are a reflection of actually a quite rugged and harsh coastal environment: the strong mistral wind from the north, the conglomerate of soils types (limestone, shale, clay, sandstone, and quartz) and the intense dry heat of the mediterranean sun. This truth, the balance of harsh and delicate, are what make the region unique, and will always surpass the clichés.
Camille Fourmont, proprietor of the incredible La Buvette in Paris, says: “In Provence, wines from Guy & Thomas Jullien, vignerons from the appellation Beaume de Venise, Jean Christophe Comor and also le Chateau Sainte Anne à Bandol… in le Languedoc, Jean Baptiste et Charlotte Senat in le Minervois.”
Wine Stop G: PYRENEES & SOUTH WEST
Where are we? Why are we here? This relatively unknown region has some of the most exciting wines I’ve ever tasted. Maybe it’s the influence of Spain next door, the extreme altitude of the Pyrenee mountains, or the fact that the farmers love their soil….or all 3. Dirty, barnyard, herbaceous, leather, bodacious, are a few words I would use to describe them (these are good wine words). Do yourself a favor and get acquainted. I have yet to try a wine from this region that lacks extraordinary personality.
Eric Asimov, Wine Critic for the New York Times, coincidentally just returned from a trip here, and told me his favorite producers include: Domaine Ilarria, Domaine Brana, Herri Mina, Amextia Etzaldia and Arretxea.
Wine Stop H: BORDEAUX
The definition of old world: Eleanor of Aquitaine, “Entre-Deux-Mers”, “Cru”, St. Emilion, Rothschild, Latour, Margaux, Haut-Brion….it all came down to a few grapes that were cultivated, blended, reshuffled, sampled, and labeled, over time becoming so prestigious that the region is sometimes all we know about the wine. But what makes a Bordeaux, anyway? Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec are the most common red grape varietals, blended in varying percentages depending on the appellation and chateau. The thing is, there are so many blends, crus, vintages, etc. it’s easy to get lost without finding a bottle that actually satisfies your palette and your budget. I’ve had a lot of trouble with this myself, and asked another favorite wine friend for her suggestions.
Cat Silirie, Executive Wine Director for the Barbara Lynch Gruppo, says: “It can be tough to parse through the prestige of the region and find a bottle that actually gives a sense of place. When looking for a bottle, think about the geology and microclimates, focus non classified growths and appellation-emphasized bottles. The variations are incredible: some wines offer a delicate, minerality while others a more structured, textured body, high in tannin. The right bank tends to produce more Cab Franc & Merlot, while the left bank is heavier on Cabernet Sauvignon. The emphasis should be on the vigneron, not on the cellar. A producer I love and have been working with for over 20 years is Chateau Haute-Segottes (St. Emilion), and local shop the Wine Cask in Somerville has a lovely, affordable selection.”
Wine Stop I: LOIRE
I’ll be honest: the Tour doesn’t actually go through the Loire this year, but it would be a tragedy not to include this region in our otherwise comprehensive wine expedition. The Loire is home to some of the most exciting, progressive wines on the market today, thanks to the efforts of small-vineyard farmers who, more than anything else, uphold the value of quality over quantity. Much of the region is situated on or fed by the Loire River, creating an extremely fertile and abundant span of countryside to cultivate grapes. Popular grapes are Chenin Blanc, Melon de Bourgogne, Poulsard, Pineau d’Aunis, Gamay, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir, to name a few. You might recognize some of these as their appellations or subregions, such as Muscadet, Chinon, or Sancerre. Needless to say, there is such a diversity and abundance of vineyards and production methods, no two are quite alike and the result is an extraordinary array of elegant, bizarre, texture-filled wines.
Zev Rovine, Wine Importer Extraordinaire, recommends anything by these producers: Robinot, Tessier, Paonnerie, Clos Rougeard, and Domaine la Chevalerie, just to name a few.
So that’s it. Think you appreciate French wine a little more? What region(s) do you prefer? Which grapes? Why? Send me your thoughts.