News from the home front: I have finally recovered from the flu. I'm working on a very long article for The World of Fine Wine which ought to have been finished by now but for the flu. As soon as I can find time, I'll be sending out my first of the New Order newsletter. This one will focus on a young grower in Vouvray.
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I know, I know, I've been silent for ages. All the Salons in Angers, followed by the worst bout of flu I've had since the Asiatic flu in the 1970s. (It's a long, bronchitis-filled goodbye, this flu.) And, praise be, quite a few deadlines keeping me busy.
So here's my plan: I'll no longer post tasting notes on the site. I'll send them out as a Newsletter. NB: The Newsletter is FREE!!!!
So, if you want to get the posts, please sign up for the newsletter -- if you haven't already done so.
Here's how: Go to the French Feast page. In the right hand margin you should see the place where you can sign up for the newsletter. Once you've signed up, you should receive an email asking you to confirm.
If this system fails, please let me know and I'll try to take care of it.
As ever, on the Home Page, I'll note what articles of mine have appeared lately. I've got two coming out that you'll want to read (I hope). So I'll let you know when they're hot off the presses.
When Awards season were in full swing I thought I'd finally post the symbols of those I won for "A Wine & Food Guide to the Loire" to make up for not having posted much while I taste hundreds of Chinons. New posts continue under awards. I'M BACK!
Julia Child/IACP Award (The base for the Crystal Whisk, see below.)
The Crystal Whisk that came with the Julia Child Award. Both awards on my mantel.
Most foods are best as fresh as possible. I remember picking peaches at my grandfather’s ranch in Northern California and eating them on the spot. What a taste! But the exceptions to this rule are the many wines that actually need some aging to taste their best. Winemakers know this, and work to control the aging process including decisions they make about how to bottle up their product.
Aging and oxygen
One aspect of aging has to do with the reaction of fruit acids with the alcohol. This process reduces sourness in the wine, but it’s really only important for very tart wines, the ones coming from cold climates.
The complex oxidation process is the second aspect of aging. When oxygen interacts with a wine, it produces many changes – ultimately yielding an oxidized wine that has a nutty aroma. This is a desired taste for sherry styles, but quickly compromises the aromas in fresh white wines.
However the oxidation process provides benefits along the way to that unwanted endpoint. Many wines develop undesirable aromas under anaerobic – no oxygen – conditions; a small amount of oxygen will eliminate those trace thiol compounds responsible for the aroma of rotten eggs or burnt rubbber. Oxidation products also react with the red anthocyanin molecules from the grapes to create stable pigments in red wine.
The way a bottle is sealed will directly affect how much oxygen passes into the wine each year. That will directly affect the aging trajectory and determine when that wine will be at its “best.”
Stick a cork in it?
Glass is a hermetic material, meaning zero oxygen can pass through it. But all wine bottle closures admit at least a smidgen of oxygen. The actual amount is the key to a closure’s performance. A typical cork will let in about one milligram of oxygen per year. This sounds like a tiny bit, but after two or three years, the cumulative amount can be enough to break down the sulfites that winemakers add to protect the wine from oxidation.
There are three major closure options available: natural cork and technical cork, its low budget brother made of cork particles, the screw cap and synthetic corks. Natural cork closures appeared about 250 years ago, displacing the oiled rags and wooden plugs that had previously been used to seal bottles. It created the possibility of aging wine. Until 20 years ago natural corks were pretty much the only option for quality wine. It’s produced from the bark of the tree, and harvested every seven years throughout the life of a cork oak tree, Quercus suber. The cork cylinder is cut from the outside to the inside of the bark.
A small fraction of corks, 1-2% today, end up tainting the wine with a moldy smelling substance, trichloroanisole. This TCA is created via a series of chemical reactions in the bottle: chlorine from the environment reacts with the natural lignin molecules in the woody cork to make trichlorophenol, which is in turn methylated by mold. TCA has one of the most potent aromas in the world – some people can smell as little as 2 parts per trillion in wine. So, in every eight cases of wine, one or two bottles will smell like wet cardboard or simply not taste their best. This is why restaurants let you taste the wine before pouring – to let you judge if the wine is tainted. A 1% failure rate seems high in today’s world.
Synthetic corks are made from polyethylene, the same stuff as milk bottles and plastic pipes. After years of research and development, these corks now perform nearly the same as the natural version with three exceptions: they have no taint, they let in a bit more oxygen and they are very consistent in oxygen transmission.
Their consistency is a major selling point to winemakers because the wine will have a predictable taste at various points in time. In fact, winemakers can tweak the oxidation rate of their wine by choosing from a range of synthetic corks with different rates of known oxygen transmission.
Screwcaps are actually two parts: the metal cap and the liner inside the top of the cap that seals to the lip of the bottle. The liner is the critical part that controls the amount of oxygen getting into the wine. Back when screwcaps were only used on jug wine, there were just two types of liners available. But today multiple companies are jumping in to offer their take on what rate of oxygen transmission is best, as well as to replace the tin used in one of the traditional liners. The standard liners admit either a bit more or a bit less oxygen than good natural corks. Screwcaps, being manufactured, are also very consistent.
Is there an optimum wine closure?
Performance of the manufactured closures, made with 21st century technology, is excellent. Generally they approximate our expectations, based on over two centuries of experience aging with natural cork closures.
For the regular wine you might purchase for dinner this weekend or to keep for a year or two, any of these closures are perfectly good, while the manufactured closures avoid taint. In fact, your choice is more a matter of preference for opening the bottle. Do you want the convenience of twisting off the cap, or do you want the ceremony of removing the cork?
For long aging however, the only closure with an adequately long track record is natural cork. So to be safe, that is the closure to choose. Once we have solid long-term evaluations of synthetics and screw caps, it will be possible to judge their suitability for extended aging, such as more than ten years.
Over centuries, winemakers have consistently taken advantage of new technology to improve their product, from oak barrels to bottles to modern crushing and pressing equipment and micro-oxygenation. While manufactured closures have some key advantages, it is proving difficult to displace natural cork due to its centuries-old tradition, albeit with a few problems, and its connection to the natural environment.
This article is part of The Conversation’s holiday series on wine. Click here to read more articles in the series.
January 2, 2015: Domaine de Bellivière: Eric Nicolas, Artist-Vigneron
Can wine be art? I urge you to taste here and ask yourself that question. Eric Nicolas is an artist-vigneron in the most profound sense. Surely his parents didn’t predict this. Nicolas, a native of Dieppe, started his adult life working for Total France as an electrical engineer before succumbing to the desire to make wine. Land in the Coteaux du Loir was within his means and so he and his wife Christine bought a run-down farm in the area in 1995.
Today they have 13 hectares of vines, on over fifty different parcels, with different expositions and soils types presenting multiple variations on the theme of flinty clay on limestone. Many of the vines are old – over 50 – and new plantings are made from selections Nicolas has propagated from his own vines. He has also planted some ungrafted chenin and Pineau d’Aunis and devoted a small plot to an experimental planting with the extraordinary vine density of 40,000 plants per hectare.
As of 2008 all are farmed biodynamically; yields are extremely low; harvest is by hand. Indeed, it would be difficult to find wines more handcrafted than these. Each parcel is vinified separately though this represents an almost unthinkable amount of work and concentration; and vinification is, essentially, non-interventionist: no added yeasts, no added sugar, the wines ferment as long and as slowly as they want and when they stop, the balance that they’ve found is the balance that you’ll find in the bottle
Depending on the year, Nicolas may have as many as five cuvees of Jasnieres.
Premices is a cuvee of Jasnieres that Nicolas launched in 2008. Intended to be his fruity, easy and early drinking Jasnieres, it comes from vines in the process of being converted to biodynamics. The 2008, tasted in early 2010, wad a crystalline charmer. With 8 grams of residual sugar to balance the lively citrus zest notes and dee minerality, it was pure and fresh and easy to love.
Next comes Les Rosiers, a selection of young vines from various parcels – young here meaning under 50 years old – fermented and aged in barriques on a four year rotation. The 2006, tasted in early 2010, opened with a nose recalling apple crumble. It was off-dry (7 grams residual sugar) and had a light thread of co2. Dulcet yet decisive, the wine was lyrical, beautifully balanced, an equipoise of steel and honey. Tasted at the same time, the 2005, with 16 grams of residual sugar, was so textured and so mineral you just want to sit down in front of it, chin in hands, and think about it.
Caligramme is the name of the Jasnieres bottling made from Nicolas’s oldest vines. I’ve tasted the 2006 on several occasions, most recently in early 2010. I can’t think about this wine without going off the deep end. Its attack was like glacial waters rushing over rocks, a riverbed of quinine and stone. Achingly elegant, it was regal and tinged with flavors of lime and tisane. I was somewhat less enthusiastic about the 2005, which seemed a bit sweeter than the 7 grams residual sugar of the 2006, and hotter, its flavors more in the apple-apple cider range. I’d love to try another bottle.
Elixir de Tuf is a very special cuvee, a liquoreux not made every year. It comes from the last trie of the harvest and the grapes must have a minimum potential alcohol of 20 degrees. The 2005, with 9.5 degrees alcohol, 220 grams residual sugar and 6.5 in total acidity, was a burnished gold with flavors of bruised apple and steeped black tea. Fascinating but not really for beginners.
Nicolas may make as many as five different cuvees of Coteaux du Loir blanc. The two principal bottlings are “l’Effraie” and “Vieille Vignes Eparses.”The l’Effraie bottling represents low-yielding (under 35 hl/ha) young vines (in Nicolas’ lexicon that means vines under 50 years old) grown on flinty clay on limestone soils in the Coteaux du Loir appellation. The wine ferments in newish barrels and ages on its lees, in barrel, for at least a year.
Simultaneously delicate and resilient as steel wire, the 2006, tasted in 2009, is nuanced and racy with a lipsmacking sur lie tingle and lovely lemon zest accents as well as flavors of wax and honey. From mid-palate to the long finish, the wine sounds depths of slate and stone while the fruit floats above, light and lyrical.
On the label, Nicolas comments that the wine “tastes dry in character.” Yes and no. I would guess there’s about 4 grams residual sugar. Beautifully balanced, it makes a superb aperitif and absolutely inspires culinary creativity as do the 2005 and 2004 which I tasted in early 2007. The first, distinctly off-dry, was creamy with an undertow of steel. The equally steely 2004 was strong and apple-scented.
In 2005 Nicolas also made a moelleux version of “L’Effraie” with 54 grams of residual sugar.Tasted in 2009, the wine was a burnished gold with aromas of creamed corn, wax and quince. Dulcet rather than syrupy, it was delicate yet definitive, racy, subtle and extremely nuanced, with a long mineral-tisane finish. As I find with the cuisine of Michel Bras, you had to “listen closely” in order for the wine to reveal itself. The truth of the earth is here.
The Vieilles Vignes Eparses bottling is a Coteaux du Loir from 50 to 80 year old vines on flinty clay soils. Yields are kept low, to wit: 20 hl/ha. I’ve tasted the rich and soaring 2006 on a number of occasions, mostly recently in the spring of 2009. With 13.5 degrees alcohol and 7 grams residual sugar, it was extremely mineral with undertones of quince and honey. An elegant, subtle wine, both forceful and fine-boned. The 2005, a demi-seec with 20 grams residual sugar and 14 degrees alcohol came across like terroir-driven cider when tasted in early 2007. By the spring of 2009 it had settled down, found its voice, with a texture as plush as a velvet cushion and flavors of citronelle and herbal tea surrounding a core of minerals. Listen closely here too. This is a wine of discovery. One sip leads to another and you know that with each sip you’ll discover another nuance.
Other cuvees of Coteaux du Loir blanc are “Haut Rasne,” a moelleux from botrytized grapes of young vines from a single parcel of the same name; and Philosophale, a liquoreux made only in exceptional years.
Nicolas makes two cuvees of ‘must-taste’ Coteaux du Loir rouge. The first, “Rouge Gorge” is named after and is an homage to that harbinger of spring, the robin red breast. Entirely or almost entirely pineau d’Aunis, -- it’s spiced with a bit of gamay – its vines grow on flinty clay soils over limestone. Yields are kept under 25 hl/ha. The grapes ferment in open tanks and are punched down. Malolactic fermentation occurs in barrels where the wine will age from a year to 18 months before being bottled unfiltered.
The 2006, tasted in spring 2009, came on with a burst of freshly ground white pepper which gave way to flavors of sweet spices and plum. The Ur Quiet Red, it was seductive and exotic, with fleeting notes of black tea, light tannins, piment d’espelette (from the Basque country), celery seeds and celery salt. I had initially been bothered by some high acetone notes which disappeared with aeration. And not only did I not feel the 13.5 degrees alcohol, it didn’t even occur to me to think about alcohol. The wine was that fascinating.
The 2005, with 15 degrees alcohol, was rich and meaty (all things being relative). I adored it. The 2004, peppery, spicy and mineral, had a pungency reminiscent of St Nectaire. The 2009, tasted in early 2010 when it had not completed its malolactic and still had plenty of co2, seemed more in line with the 2005, potentially every bit as adore- able.
The “Homage a Louis Derre”, a pure pineau d’Aunis Coteaux du Loir rouge is not made every year. It comes from a one-hectare parcel of very old pineau d’Aunis – 80 to 100 years old – and is named after Nicolas’s friend and neighbor, Louis Derre, who helped Nicolas find vines to rent and work when the person from whom he had been renting vines abruptly reneged on the deal.
It is an excellent homage, a wine I always adore. Yields are extremely low, 25 hl/ha. The grapes ferment in open casks for a month with regular punching down. The wine goes through malolactic and spends a year in barriques of 3 to 5 wines and is bottled unfiltered.
The 2005 should have been immortalized in the Grape Variety Hall of Fame. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a better or more illustrative version of Pineau d’Aunis. It was so thoroughly and seductively pineau d’Aunis, rich (for a Quiet Red), and well balanced, it made me think of the deluxe cuvees of Carignan made by some of the artist-vintners of the Languedoc-Roussillon. I am convinced that the 2009, tasted in early 2010, will be every bit as good.
The 2004, tasted in late 2009, while not as dazzling as the 2005, displayed the Aunis black pepper along with tar and St. Nectaire flavors. The 2000, also tasted in late 2009, was evolving nicely in every sense. The color was recalled autumn leaves, as did the aroma which also included dried herbs and hay. Fruit bomb lovers would hate this delicate wine with its smooth, fleeting flavors, their names just out of grasp, dried rose petals and, yes, black pepper. The wine is so sui generis. Love it or hate it. I’m firmly in the love camp and the day I tasted it I decided to make brandade de morue for dinner to accompany it – as I had the wherewithal to do that – though I though that a poele of wild mushrooms without or without a poached egg on top would have been even better.
Nicolas also makes a number of special bottlings depending on the vintage and his inspiration. They are always worth trying. The last I tasted was a 2009 Vin de Table rose called Les Giroflees. Made from a bleeding late harvested Pineau d’Aunis and vinified demi-sec, it had 20 to 30 grams residual sugar. The wine was thoroughly reduced when I tasted it but I’ll be sure to try it again.
Is it any wonder that Nicolas has become the standard bearer of Jasnieres and the Coteaux du Loir or that he is the one who took these appellations out of funky wine bars and put them on the tables of 3 Michelin star restaurants as well as on the blackboards of cutting edge winebars from St. Emilion to Béziers?
December 21, 2014
Back in what seems like another lifetime, when I was a criminal defense attorney at Manhattan Legal Aid, there was a liberal judge named Bruce Wright. A Renaissance man, an African-American, Wright often wrote his legal opinions in the form of poems, some in iambic pentameter. True to his liberal leanings, he set very low bail in appropriate cases -- which earned him the nickname "Cut 'Em Loose Bruce" in the city's tabloids. And when the Xmas season rolled around, he would greet all he passed with a hearty "Meretricious!" And so, dear friends, in the honor of his Honor Bruce Wright, "Meretricious!"
December 20, 2014
The most unusual wine and food pairing of the month: a Loupiac (sweet wine, mostly botrytised, mostly semillon) and sushi. To be more specific, the wine in question was from Chateau Dauphiné Rondillon, the wine was the 2001 Cuvée d'Or, their top-of-the-line bottling, and a morsel of rice topped with smoked eel which in turn was topped with a thick paste of soy, mirin and sake. (The sushi came from the Issé workshop.)
Both the wine and the sushi were linked by corresponding notes of iodine and the sweetness of the paste married well with the sweetness of the wine. Go know.
December 17, 2014
By way of apology for my long silence, here's something of an explanation. Life happens. Home repairs -- leaky water heaters, toilet replacements etc etc. Wall-to-wall tastings, article deadlines. Time flies. And I'm a news junkie. With all that's been happening in the past couple of weeks I've pretty much been glued to both internet and its constant feeds as well as endless tv reports.
So let me recommend two recently tasted Chinons from Pierre & Bertrand Couly
2010 Chinon Blanc "Les Blancs Closeaux: I'm guessing that it was the 2010 because that is the year on the cork. The back label said 2011. In any event, the wine had light floral and peach aromas. It was firm, tense, mineral and fresh. A structured wine with herbal tea notes. Lipsmacking. Highly recommended. 2012 Chinon "St. Louans Le Parc : Black cherry, cassis and chalk flavors, the wine had great freshness. It was lean, lightly tart, with no body fat and straight as an arrow. Very appetizing.
November 24, 2014
I've been meaning to post more tasting notes -- another grower Champagne, some Chateauneuf-du-Pape recommendations, but instead please bear with me for a kvetch about gentrification.
My neighborhood in the north of the 9th arrt is often written about as being the next Marais. It has been given the awful nickname of SoPi for South Pigalle. (Why, I wonder, in the land of Molière, is it not SuPi or Sud Pigalle?) In any event, shops catering to the whims and caprices of hipsters -- whatever that's supposed to mean -- open daily, eg waffle shops, donut shops, boutiques with weird flavors of ice cream, some sort of tea place called Løv (I really don't know what its product is), macaron shops, and so forth.
On my block a branch of Kitsune -- very large for the neighborhood -- is in the works and, coming back from my grocery store, I saw that a gyoza shop is in the works.
Now I admit that it will be nice to have a place where I can get good gyoza -- if, that is, they're homemade. But it's taking the place of what was a butcher. That space has been vacant for about five years and I've missed it. We need a butcher midway up the steep slope of the rue des Martyrs. Well, there is a pricey new restaurant around the corner that ages its Angus beef in a refrigerated vitrine for all prospective clients to see. I wonder if they'll sell meat to-go.
Alluring Ice Bucket at Grower Champagne Tasting
November 14, 2014
Several weeks ago I went to one of my favorite events – the yearly tasting of Grower Champagnes at which eighteen producers (different every year) present a sampling of their wares. I didn’t get to every stand but here are some of my favorites, organized by subregion.
Côte des Blancs
This very impressive grower is in the process of converting to biodynamic farming. One of the Champagnes presented was too closed to really taste – yes, some Champagnes should be carafe – but the two here are excellent. The Tradition Extra Brut GC Blanc de Blancs (pure Chardonnay) comes from the 2009 and 2010 vintages. Its grapes come from vineyards on the chalky soils of Chouilly, Avize and Cramant. The vines are over 40 years old. Dosage, 5 g/l, malo fait. Here’s a textured, nuanced Champagne, citric, chalky and quite racy. Nicely priced at 20€ ttc. Empreinte Millésime 2007, is also pure chardonnay, comes from old vines (over 50) principally in Cramant. Though closed, it displayed fine mineral notes and had a long finish. I’d love to Slow Taste it. 29 € ttc.
PERTOIS-MORISET, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger
The Blanc de Blancs Grand cru was 100% Chardonnay from the 2009 vintage with 20% reserve wine. 2009 vintage and a dosage of 9 gm/l dosage to soften the impact of a stoic, chalky, strict as a martinet, and rather racy Champagne.
The Blanc de Blancs millésime 2006 GC, also pure Chardonnay, was disgorged in February 2014 with a dosage of 7 g/l. Its bubbles were so fine, it resembled a Crémant. Scents of apple compote and citrus held from start to a very long finish. Delicious.
Pertois-Moriset’s Rosé GC is 85% Chardonnay blended with 15% Pinot Noir from their vineyards in Bouzy. It’s a very pleasant Champagne, with lovely fruit but, frankly, those Blanc de Blancs were hard acts to follow.
Minor observation: there were food stands set up here and there in the several rooms given over to the tasting. I assumed there was some logic – or pairings, if you will – to the placements. Which is why I was perplexed to find these Champagnes next to a table offering caramels.
BRETON Fils, Congy:
None of the three Champagnes presented were among this domaine’s top bottlings, eg Grande Réserve and Cuvée des Tonneliers. My clear favorite of the three was the Blanc de Blancs which comes from a single vintage, in this case 2010. Pure Chardonnay, it was clean, tart, and citric with good texture and an attractive, moderately long finish. Nice Champagne, nicely priced at 16 € ttc.
La Vallée de la Marne
PASCAL HENIN, Ay
Henin’s white vines are located in Chouilly; his red grapes in Ay. His Blanc de Blanc was pure Chardonnay, from vines planted in 1965. The wine ages in his modified solera system, resulting in an austere, rectilinear, razor sharp, mineral Champagne.
Henin’s Brut Réserve (Brut sans Année) is a blend of 40% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Meunier, and 40% Pinot Noir. Although no vintage is stated, the Champagne is made from the 2009 harvest with 30% reserve wine. The dosage is 8 g/l. Pure, rich, with flavors of lemon and preserved lemon, it’s vinous and satisfying and a lovely meal Champagne. 2009 harvest.
The Rosé Brut PC, a blend of 20% Chardonnay and 80& Pinot Noir, comes from the 2010 harvest. The red grapes macerate for several days, giving the wine its alluring pink color. Subtle notes of strawberry and raspberry, lovely structure. In all, perhaps the best rosé of the tasting.
This grower presented three wines of which one clearly stood out. This was the Cuvée Origine (Blanc de Noirs), 100% meunier, with 15% reserve wine. Made from the domaine’s oldest vines (over 60), it spent four years sur latte. Citric and pure, it was rich but light on its feet.
La Montagne de Reims
YANN ALEXANDRE, Courman
The Roche Mère Brut Nature, a blend of 25% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Meunier, and 25% Pinot Noir, is based on the 2007 harvest, with 25% reserve wine. Zero dosage. Here is a real wake-up call: citric, tart, but with some real depth.
The Brut Noir (Brut sans Année), a blend of 35% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Meunier, and 15% Pinot Noir, is based on the 2008 harvest with 30% reserve wine. Said to express the style of the house, it’s a blend made year in, year out and ages five years before release. Though this cuvee received a dosage of 10 g/l is still tart and citric. But in the nicest sense. There’s minerality, too, and chalkiness, along with the abundance of lemon and lemon zests.
Cuvée Rubis Brut Rosé PC, is a blend of 35% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Meunier, and 35% Pinot Noir. Based on the 2009 vintage, with 35% reserve wine, the red grapes (from old vines) were destemmed, crushed and vatted. The finished wine was added to the white and the dosage was 11 g/l. A smooth attack was the prelude to an elegant, soft spoken Champagne with scents of red fruit with a punchy citrus kick.
Philippe Alliet 2007 Chinon L'Huisserie
November 10, 2014: A Resplendent 2007 Chinon from Phlippe Alliet
The Loire is often blessed with superb Indian summers and 2007 exemplified the importance of that blessing. The growing season was miserable but vintners who waited, who performed tries negatives, made surprisingly good wines. IMHO, 2007 is one of the finest vintages for Loire whites, dry or sweet. Reds were less fortunate but those from good producers tend to be light charmers.
Alliet's L'Huisserie is something more than that. L'Huisserie takes its name from the privileged slope -- across from Chène Vert -- on which its vines grow. And the 2007 is so delicious it inspires the purplest of prose. Herewith:
A core of dark Burlat cherry of medium deep saturation (appropriate for the vintage) under a veil of sienna, and hemmed by near translucent, pale strawberry, the wine’s robe promises richness and suggests its slow but steady evolution. The attack is smooth, with intense flavors of Burlat cherries and cassis followed by oak and bacon. Initially, the wine is fresh and savory and its weight, too, seems in keeping with the vintage, despite its 13% alcohol.
With aeration, however, the oak integrates with the fruit, becoming a mild seasoning, and the smoke of a wood fire replaces the notes reminiscent of bacon. The fruit is downright succulent. More than that, though, it seems to have opened a door onto a multitude of expressions of that which we call “cherry” -- the fresh fruit, the fruit baked into clafoutis, and a sonorous underpinning of eau de vie, of kirsch, and crème de cassis. A light red? Only if compared with Alliet’s L’Huisserie in more powerful vintages. It is a magnificent red and went beautifully with chicken breast stuffed with girolle mushrooms.
Jérôme Billard of Domaine de la Noblaie
November 4, 2014
It must be age. I can no longer deal with mosh-pit tastings. And yesterday's 3-in-1 tasting combining the members of Biodyvin, the wines of Jura, and La Levée de la Loire was one such. As crowded as the metro at rush hour, you could barely move.
I used to make an effort to get to every single stand. No more. That's for the youngsters. I carefully select what I absolutely need to do, taste those wines and discuss them with the winermaker as thoroughly as possible under the circumstances and don't push myself further.
Now I didn't need to stop at the following stand but I couldn't resist.
Jérôme Billard, of Domaine de la Noblaie, is one of my favorite young winemakers in Chinon. He makes a number of scrumptious cuvées, including a majestic, unusual white "La Part des Anges," (the grapes are picked late, at the onset of noble rot but the wine is totally dry), but my very favorite of all the bottlings is a fine-grained red from a lieu-dit "Les Blancs Manteaux" from chalky soils of a south-southeast facing slope on the left bank of the Vienne. I cannot resist this wine. And even in 2013 -- the worst vintage in the Loire since I arrived in 1989 -- Blanc Manteaux charmed. The wine was a barrel sample. Billard thought it was too light. Well, vintage oblige. Yes, it was light but it was all about finesse, subtlety and pedigree. The 2012, which was bottled in July and will be put on the market at the end of the year, was closed up tight, showing mostly its tannic side. It needs time and/or aeration and I would not hesitate to cellar it.
Benoit Blet of Domaine des Terres Blanches
November 1, 2014
My cottage in Touraine is located in Rigny-Ussé, population 500 give or take. The village is mostly known as the home of the Chateau d’Ussé, a 16th century renaissance castle, now an historic monument, said to have been the inspiration for Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty.
Roughly twice as large, the commune of Oiron at the northern limits of the Deux-Sèvres département, bordering Saumur, Anjou and Poitou, is similarly known for its 16th century Renaissance chateau, also an historic monument and also said to have inspired Charles Perrault who used it as the setting for Puss In Boots.
Neither is on any wine route. Yet no less a culinary luminary than Curnonsky, the Prince of Gastronomes, placed the Chenin Blancs of Oiron among his selection of great white wines.
When I visited Oiron in 1990 there who marketed his production, Michel Gigon, whose wines were no better than they needed to be to satisfy a mostly local clientele.
At the time, the wines were included in the VDQS Vins du Thoursais. In 2012, the Thouarsais’s 25 hectares of vines subsumed by AOC Anjou. It now has two domaines with a commercial presence: the Gigons and Benoit Blet whose wines sell worldwide.
Blet’s Domaine des Terres Blanches was born in 2004. He farms his 8.5 hectares according to organic and biodynamic principles. Soils are a mix of clay and silica, yields are kept low, grapes are harvested by hand, often by successive passes through the vineyards. Blet ferments his wines without added yeasts and with minimal sulphur, a tiny dose added at bottling. He offers a wide range of bottling, either as VdF or Anjou AOC.
I first met Blet in 2006 at the Salon des Vins de Loire where I took an immediate liking to his Gamay de Bouze. Few people continue to use this grape. A mutation of Beaujolais’ Gamay noir à jus blanc, it was mostly used to beef up the color of pale reds. I had only ever met the grape in Henry Marionnet’s deservedly admired Cépages Oubliés before tasting Blet’s version. And I was looking forward to sampling the latest version when I saw Blet last May at a Seine-side tasting in Paris.
Regrettably, he wasn’t showing that cuvee but what he did present was equally impressive – four toothsome wines from 2013 vintage, perhaps the worst growing season I’ve ever witnessed in the Loire.
First came a pure Chenin Pet/Nat. As most of you probably know by now, Pet/Nat is the nickname of pétillant naturel, a sparkling wine that makes itself. In other words, no added yeasts, no added sugar – not for the fermentation, not for the prise de mousse, not for the bottling. Called “Ancestrale,” Blet’s pet/nat, a VdF, was very enjoyable, indeed, ripe and vigorous and a fine aperitif.
The 2013 Blet Tendre, also a VdF, represented Blet’s third pass through the vineyards. A demi-sec fermented in fiberglass tanks, it was a pure, clean Chenin, well balanced and well-made.
The 2013 BB rosé, a direct press of Gamay, was ripe and relatively rich. Pure pleasure. Bravo!
Blet has been aging his Anjou Démon, a Cabernet Franc from young vines, in buried amphorae for the past decade. Neither fined nor filtered, the 2013 was admirably ripe, smooth and tasty.
Somewhere Curnonsky is smiling.
October 15, 20, 21, 23, 24, 2014: Les Toqués/Vignerons Paysans
This will be a shaggy post of a tasting of wines from a wonderful group of Rhone producers. By shaggy, I mean I'll write bit by bit, covering at least six domaines. And, I hope, by the time I've finished, I'll have found exactly the right English word for "toqué" -- tetched? Eccentric? Inspired? Crazy (in the nicest possible way)?
Domaine Richaud A tout seigneur tout honneur. If anyone can be credited with putting really good CdRs at reasonable prices on just about every bistro wine list, it's Marcel Richaud. And he's also the driving force behind this group of Toqués.
Modest, fun-loving and generous, Richaud, now working with son Thomas, doesn't seem to break a sweat turning out pitch-perfect wines from low-yielding, organically and biodynamically grown grapes on his 60 hectare domaine. The home base is Cairanne and there are a number of cuvées from that village, among them, my favorite, L'Ebréscade, some CdRs and, most recently, Rasteau.
I've been drinking Richaud's wines for so long and so often that it's almost useless to give tasting notes. Let me say this: whenever in doubt, for whatever reason, order Richaud. The wine list is expensive? Order Richaud. You're with friends whose taste in wine you don't know? Order Richaud. You're with a group of people with wildly different tastes and expectations? Order Richaud. Everyone will be happy.
Chatting at the stand of Estézargues
This excellent small cooperative, located five kilometers from the Pont du Gard, was formed in 1965. The principal appellations produced are CdR and CdRV Signargues, though there are also several bottlings of Costières de Nimes. Many of the bottlings come from single producers. The coop is committed to eco-friendly viticulture. Most of the vineyards are cultivated according to the principles of Lutte Raisonnéebut an increasing number are farmed organically.
Given the overall high quality of the wines from this coop, it's heartening to know that they one or more of them appear on many wine lists and are often among the most reasonably priced.
The 2013 CdR Blanc, a blend of Roussanne and Viognier, fermented in barrels of five to ten wines and aged for six months until bottling. A tiny dose of sulphur was added at bottling. Rich, vinous and lightly perfumed by the Viognier in the blend, this was a big, fragrant white. Perfect for exotic cuisine.
None of the red wines are filtered. All were worthwhile and all weighed in at 14% alcohol yet most were light on their feet and very user-friendly. I did have a clear favorite:
2013 CdR Villages Signargues from Domaine Grès St. Vincent which is in the process of converting to organic viticulture. A blend of 60% Grenache, 25% Syrah and a mix of Carignan and Mourvèdre to make up the rest, it was suave and dulcet, with attractive cherry fruit and a firm finish. Simply delicious.
Oratoire St. Martin
Frédéric and François Alary are the 10th generation of the family to work the vines on a domaine that has existed since 1692. The brothers took over the family's 25 hectares in the north of Cairanne, on the slopes of St. Martin and Les Douyes in 1984. They credit the quality of their wines to the high percentage of old vines -- over 4o years, including some that are a century old. They also keep yields very low -- pruning hard, cluster thinning -- and have converted to biodynamics. Wines are fermented in open tanks, with punching down, for Cairanne AOC, and in closed tanks with pumping over for CdR. The red wines are bottled with neither fining nor filtration. 80% of the production is red; 20% white.
The 2013 Cairanne blanc "Réserve des Seigneurs," a blend of Clairette, Roussane and Grenache blanc, was vinous and pure fruited. It went surprisingly well with an entremet of sweetened fromage blanc with candied citrus zests.
The 2012 Cairanne "Réserve des Seigneurs," 60% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre and 10% Syrah, was a juicy red with succulent fruit, mild oak and a savory bitter note. Tannic, too, so wait a bit.
The 2012 Cairanne "Les Douyes," a lieu-dit, is an old vines -- those century-old vines -- blend of Grenache and Mourvèdre aged for 18 months in barrel. It's a powerful wine and was powerfully closed when sampled. A suivre.
The 2011 Cairanne "Haut Coustias," another lieu-dit, is a blend of old vines (70 years) Mourvèdre, Syrah and Grenache that ages for two years in large, used barrels. A smooth attack was followed by a multitude of red fruit, herb and spice flavors. The wine can surely age but was ready to enjoy. Indeed, it just slipped down the gullet.
Domaine Jean David
Domaine Jean David
This excellent family winery has 17 hectares in the commune of Seguret. The domaine has practiced organic farming since 1987 on terraces bordering the Ouvèze river and the slopes of the Dentelles de Montmirail.
Among the wines presented were two admirable 2013 CdR whites; the first, a blend of equal parts Bourboulenc and Roussanne; the second, and one of my two favorite whites of the entire day, the pure Roussanne. At 7 to 8 euros (from the producer), it's a steal. Smooth, vinous and fresh, it's big but structured with a long finish. A great food wine.
The domaine's 2013 CdRV Seguret red, from sixty year old vines, is a blend of numerous grape varieties but chiefly Grenache. It's a dulcet red, ripe and seductive, with an appetizing bitterness that carries the fruit through the long finish.
The 2012 Le Beau Nez, also a Seguret, is made almost entirely without so2. (A medicinal dose is added at bottling.) A blend of 55% Grenache and equal parts Carignan and Counoise, it's simultaneously gentle and firm.
The 2012 Seguret Les Levants takes its name from the parcel on which the grapes were grown. Grenache again dominates, at 55% of the blend, but Cinsault, Counoise, Carignan and Syrah all add their tasty notes to the ensemble. Much more forceful than Le Beau Nez, Les Levants is still well within the family style of user-friendly, site-specific, toothsome Rhone reds.
Domaine Rouge Garance
Created in 1996 by Claudie and Bertrand Cortellini, with the help of neighbor Jean-Louis Trintignant, the domaine consists of 28 hectares -- farmed organically -- in the communes of St.-Hilaire d'Ozilhan et Castillon at the foot of the Pont du Gard.
Of the wines sampled, I the following two:
-- 2013 Feuille de Garance, CdR blend of 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 10% Cinsault. After being harvested by hand, destemmed and undergoing cold soaking, the wine fermented for roughly ten days in concrete tanks at low temperatures.
It was smooth, pure-fruited, with no jagged edges. The finish, slightly tart and tannic, would have been tamed by chilling the wine and pairing it with a local chevre.
-- 2012 Les SaintPierre, CdRVillage, an old vines blend of 90% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre from a vineyard with limestone soils covered with stones worn down by the river. After a two-week fermentation, the wine aged for a year in barriques of two wines. Rather gentle, the wine was mildly seasoned by oak but needed aeration or cellaring to more fully reveal its charms.
Thibaud Chaume of Domaine Arnaud-Chaume
The Chaume-Arnaud have some 32 hectares in the wonderfully pun-tempting village of Vinsobres. They practice organic and biodynamic viticulture, hand harvest, ferment their wines in concrete tanks using indigenous yeasts. The wines are quite wonderful.
The 2012 Côtes du Rhone blanc "La Cadène," a blend of viognier and marsanne, ferments in stainless steel. It's supple, lightly perfumed by viognier and has a long finish. Truly admirable.
Few Rhodanien vintners plant the Marselan grape (see my Ardeche report). The Chaume-Arnauds found that the grape succeeded in a difficult spot in their vineyard. The vines are now 10 to 15 years old. The 2013 would make for a lovely wine bar discovery: focused, with flavors of wild cherries, its slight stiffness would easily be offset by a nice snack.
"Le Petit Coquet," a Côtes du Rhone, is their entry level red, a blend of 80% Grenache and 20% Cinsault. Totally charming, the 2013 is a delicious quaffer.
The 2013 Côtes du Rhone was smooth, composed and delectable with appetizing bitterness. Lovely freshness despite its 14% alcohol.
The 2011 Côtes du Rhone Villages St. Maurice -- 60% Grenache, 40% Syrah -- added depth to downright deliciousness. A blend of cherry and blackberry flavors, it was fresh, nicely structured, pure gourmandise.
The Vinsobres bottling accounts for 50% of the domaine's production. The 2012, a blend of 60% Grenache and 20% each of Syrah and Mourvedre, it fused flavors of an encyclopedic variety of small red fruit. Freshness, focus, simply excellent.
The 2010 Vinsobres "La Cadène," a blend of 1/3 each of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre was less expressive than the other wines. All it needed was aeration. Ah, the benefits of Slow Tasting! I should have taken the bottle home with me!
September 26, 2014
I recently returned from a brief trip to the wine regions of the Ardèche, located in the southeast corner of the Massif Central. Of the region’s 10,500 hectares of vines, 1, 100 are vins de table; 7,500 are IGP Ardèche with or without Mention Coteaux d’Ardèche; 1400 are AOC Côtes du Rhône; and 500 are in the Côtes du Vivarais.
The regions’s principal white grapes are Chardonnay, Viognier (which I think truly shines here), Sauvignon (although, thankfully, I didn’t taste many of these), Grenache blanc, Ugni blanc, Roussanne, Clairette and Marsanne.
Among reds, the chief grapes are Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon (boo), Merlot (boo), Cinsault, Gamay, Carignan and a local grape called Chatus.
I’ve been to the region several other times over the past decade and I’m happy to say that I see (and taste) real, solid improvement. I’ve cited a number of wines below but I could have included more. Another time.
If I’ve succeeded in whetting your appetite for a visit, let me share another of the regions many attractions with you. (You’ll get plenty of info about the region’s grottoes etc from other sources.) While you’re here you’ll undoubtedly want to eat. Do not, I repeat, not, miss Saveurs d’Alba. The village is located less than 25 km west of Montelimar which makes it very convenient if you’re taking the TGV. But even if you’re driving, you’ll want to eat here. You’ve undoubtedly been reading about the tragic fact that most French restaurants are not cooking their own food but are buying preprepared dishes and simply reheating and plating them.
Saveurs d’Alba will restore your faith in French cooking. It would be difficult to find a better example of cuisine du marché. Everything is super fresh, delicious, inventive without being bizarre and oh-so-satisfying – like the dish I refer to in my discussion of the sweet Viognier below: baked Picodon (local goat cheese) on a round of toast with a layer of fig jam in between. Perfect with the Viognier. Now this composition was itself posed on a revivifying mixed salad. (No, I did not drink the sweet Viognier with this. I switched to a dry Chardonnay.)
The Stony Vineyards of the Vivarais
And now for some wine tasting notes:
** Domaine Saladin 2013 Côtes du Rhône Village blanc “Cuvee Per El”, a blend of Marsanne, Bourboulenc Viognier, Clairette rose, Clairette blanche, Grenache rose.
** Domaine Saladin 2009 Côtes du Rhône rouge “Cuvee Fan de Lune,” a blend of 60% Mourvedre, 20% Grenache noir and 20% Syrah, aged in foudre.
Why no tasting notes? For a number of reasons. First, if you want tasting notes on the wines of the beauteous, talented Saladin sisters, simply go to my WineTastingNotes section, scroll down to January 2007, and you’ll find a close to 600-word entry on the Domaine, the sisters and their wines – with plenty of tasting notes. Second, their wines are so reliably fine, if you see them on a restaurant list or a shop shelf, don’t hesitate: Buy.
**Domaine Notre Dame de Cousignac 2013 Côtes du Rhône blanc “Cuvée Parcel Sud:” A blend of 50% Clairette Blanche, 30% Marsanne, and 20% Grenache, 25% of which fermented in barrel, this is a big, suave wine; all of a piece, vinous, with menthol notes and more to come as the wine ages. A real mouthful.
** Domaine Notre Dame de Cousignac 2012 Côtes du Rhône Village rouge: Chiefly Grenache, with 25% Syrah (cold soaked for five days) and a bit of Carignan, the wine vatted for twenty to thirty days at temperatures between 25 and 30˚ C with regular pumping over and delestage. A compact wine with subtle yet solid cherry flavors, the wine had a smooth attack (thank you Grenache?) but some bothersome heat mid-palate. Definitely worth following. And perhaps pairing with canard aux cerises.
** Domaine de Pecoulas 2012 IGP Ardèche Mention Coteaux de l’Ardèche “Folie Douce:”
A late-harvest wine made from over-ripe Viognier grapes, the wine, essentially a moelleux, is a lovely blend of litchi, apricot and exotic fruit flavors. Never flamboyant, it’s textured, concentrated and well balanced. An excellent aperitif, the wine paired beautifully with an appetizer of baked local goat cheese (Picodon) on toast with a layer of fig jam.
*Domain Alain Dumarcher: 2013 IGP Ardèche Cuvée du Champ de la Fare: Pure, direct press Viognier. Floral, subtle but firm notes of litchi and apricot. The region does such a fine job with Viognier – even in off years – that it should blanket the countryside with the cépage.
*Mas d’Intras: 2011 IGP Ardèche Mention Coteaux d’Ardèche “Syrah la Souche:” As its name implies, this wine is pure Syrah, vatted for nearly a month, punched down, pumped over and aged both in tank and in barrels (of three wines). Dark, with deep saturation, the wine is chewy, tannic and oaky. There’s good acidity here and sufficient hints of pretty fruit and numerous fugitive flavors to make me want to follow the wine.
✔︎ Domaine Benoit Salel et Elise Renaud: 2012 IGP Ardèche Mention Coteaux de l’Ardèche “Galinette:” A blend of equal parts Viognier, Roussanne and Vermentino, this ingratiating white with fine concentration and engaging vinosity was slightly disfigured by a hot finish. Still, good work.
✔︎ Domaine Vigne: 2013 Côtes du Vivarais red: A blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah, vatted for two weeks, this wine, too, was served as warm as the others at the Côtes du Vivarais dinner. I stuck the bottle in the ice bucket formerly filled with bottles of whites and rosés, and left it there for a good fifteen minutes. Ah! The wine had become downright gouleyant, displaying fine, juicy red fruit, a smooth attack and attractive follow through, a clean finish. It may have been 2-dimensional but at 4,50 TTC, you’re expecting DRC?
✔︎ Les Vignerons des Gorges de l’Ardèche: 2011 Côtes du Vivarais red “Grand Aven:” Once again, stymied by the warm temperature. Yet this promsing blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah still managed to be fragrant, smooth and pleasant. I can only imagine how much nicer it would have tasted had it been slightly chilled. To follow. 6,60 TTC.
✔︎ Domaine Grangeon: 2011 IGP Ardèche Romain: Made from Chatus, a grape once fairly widespread in the Ardèche and the Drome and known to the great agronomist and native son Olivier de Serres (1539-161) was at the point of disparition until recently when local vintners began to revive it. Among the Chatus-enthusiasts was Christophe Reynouard of the Domaine Grangeon. Hand-harvested at 22 hl/ha, vatted for over three weeks (with punching down), and aged in barrel for nearly two years, the wine was very extracted, deep, dark, an oaky mouthful. Here’s a wine I’d have like to have Slow Tasted – sampled daily – over a week or two. A suivre.
✔︎ Domaine de Vigier: 2011 Côtes du Vivarais red “L’Intemporel:” Unfortunately, this wine was served at a temperature too warm for me to enjoy it. (As were all the other reds at this tasting.) I asked the young vigneronne if the serving temperature bothered her. She said that it didn’t. She typically served her reds at “ambient” temperature. (It was easily over 20 degrees C.) A blend of 65% Syrah and 35% Grenache, the wine, seemed as if it might have been very tasty had it been served slightly cooler – say at around 16 degrees. As it was, I could sense ripe fruit and some rough tannins and could only regret the winemaker’s decision. 8,30 TTC
¢¢ Uvica Vignerons Ardechois: 2013 Ardèche Par Nature IGP Ardèche. Part of this blend of Syrah, Grenache and Merlot underwent carbonic maceration, which, I think, accounts for the liveliness of the red fruit aromas and relatively supple texture. There’s good follow through and length here, admirable in general and particularly in a wine that costs only 2,40 TTC.
¢¢ 2012 Côtes du Vivarais blanc “Beaumont des Gras:” A nicely textured, vinous white made from Marsanne and Grenache blanc. To preserve the wine’s freshness, malolactic was blocked, an intelligent decision. 3,90 TTC.
¢¢ Les Vignerons de la Croisée de Jalès: 2013 Marselan IGP Ardèche. A cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache, Marselan is the sole cepage of this friendly yet unconventional red. Thermovinification and, I imagine, near immediate bottling, resulted in a fresh, dark red with a nose that curiously recalls Syrah (ever so slightly) more than it does either of its component varietals. The finish is a bit astringent but a bit of chilling and some simple fare–- from charcuterie to jambon-beurre – would nicely round off those rough edges. At 3,60 a bottle, it’s worth having a six-pack on hand.
September 7, 2014: A quick note to say that I've been busying closing up the country house and getting ready to move back up to Paris tomorrow. On Tuesday, it's the Genius Bar at Apple and then, I hope, with everything in apple-pie-order (sorry!) I can get back to serious writing and post some tempting wine notes.
August 30, 2014: A wee Olga Raffault "Les Picasses" vertical while one week into Slow Tasting of Domaine de l'R Chinon. Even the SO2 (meaning none) has held up nicely.
August 22, 2014: The Best 2013 Tasted So Far
That ten-hour marathon tasting chez Baudry began with the 2013 Cuvée Domaine. This is a blend of grapes chiefly from a plateau in Chinon with the remaining 20% from the gravelly soils of Cravant.
To call 2013 a difficult vintage would be a vast understatement. I've been living -- at least part of the year -- in the region since 1989 and can't recall a worse vintage. (Well, there was 1991 when most of the vines were ravaged by spring frost.) For the first time since 2011, the Baudrys chaptalized in 2013-- to the tune of .02 or .01 g/l.
But it is my firm belief that, complete devastation of the vineyard aside, a good, conscientious vintner can turn out an honorable, tasty wine no matter what the vintage. The quantity may be small but it will be good. And it will be unique, a reflection of its growing season. And unless we want our wines made by computers we ought to respect, even cherish, that. Enough sermonizing.
Many of the 2013s I've tasted thus far have been more than honorable, particularly the Vouvrays. But this Chinon was a sheer delight, as pretty, as delightful a red as you can imagine. Very pure, very fresh and very solid, its flavors included pomegranate, cherry pit, and fresh cherries. An appetizing thread of bitterness left the palate clean and ready for the next sip. My it was scrumptious! I could drink it by the bucket!!
Guy Bossard, Iconic Muscadet Producer
August 20, 2014
Recovering from a ten-hour tasting marathon with Bernard and Matthieu Baudry. Nice to report that I've been getting quite a few emails asking when Volume II of Earthly Delights will come out. Then there's this example -- regrettably, not unusual -- that I recently received, with the responses:
Dear Ms. Friedrich
Would it be possible to receive a review copy of Earthly Delights From The Garden Of France? I would like to review it on Olive Branch United.
New York, NY
Dear Ben Wolinsky,
As I published the book myself on a print-on-demand basis, I have no copies to send. I must buy every copy I want. I have sent out no review copies. Everyone who has reviewed the book has purchased it — either from Lulu.com, from Amazon or elsewhere.
A free book, or no review.
August 18, 2014
I'm really glad that Eric Asimov shone the spotlight on Muscadet in his most recent column. Today, on Facebook, he made a clarification: in his column, if I recall correctly, he had said -- as so many do -- that Muscadet is the reflexive partner for oysters. Today he wrote that locals prefer Gros Plant. I've always said that Gros Plant (aka Folle Blanche) goes better with oysters than Muscadet. Asimov recommends that readers find a good one. Not I. To me, a good Gros Plant tastes like Muscadet on a diet. The raison d'etre of Gros Plant is to be nasty. As one grower said to me, "It's either unripe or it's ripe and rotten." Find one that's ripe and rotten. Its funkiness will pair beautifully with the nasty, somewhat pornographic flavors of oysters and mussels. Muscadet goes beautifully with many dishes, starting with the Nantais classic river fish with beurre blanc. And it's great with Italian antipasti. (Back in the day -- 1990 -- a radio station in Tours interviewed me about Muscadet. When asked about food pairings, I mentioned Italian antipasti. As Italian food was still unknown in France, the interviewer guffawed as if nothing could be more ridiculous.)
Speaking of Sideways(!): Sylvie de la Vigerie, granddaughter of the great Olga Raffault
August 14, 2014:
Well, I'm up and running again, sort of. (As you can see with the photo, there are still kinks to be worked out.)
I took this photo of the delightful Sylvie while I was interviewing Chinon producers at the Syndicat des Vins du Chinon. I ask them to bring samples which I bring home in order to Slow Taste.
I'm about to Slow Taste Day Two of the following wine but its charms are already evident. Not surprising, as it's the earliest drinking of the Raffault line-up.
The wine in question is the 2012 Chinon Les Barnabés which is located on the sandy, gravelly soils of Savigny-en-Veron. The grapes are hand-harvested and weed killers or pesticides are used in the vineyards. Now 2012 was not a very good vintage in the Loire but it is my heartfelt belief that a good vigneron will always turn out something delicious and worthy, even if in small quantities. This wine had 12.5 degrees alcohol. A healthy cherry color, with the kind of good saturation that promises a nice, medium-bodied red.
Scents of cherries mingled with those of raspberries, witha slight floral accent. Fresh, balanced and nicely ripe the wine was smooth and classic and all too easy to drink. But it was also site-specific. smooth and classic. An appetizing bitter note made me think there may have been some aging in old wood. Well, I'm off to Slow Taste Day #2.
August 1, 2014: She's Back!
I have just spent the past two months in the 9th circle of computer hell. I don't want to tempt the gods but I think I'm beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I'll have to spend the next couple of days dealing with Apple over the phone to help me restore some functions to my new Mac -- not to mention trying to retrieve things off the hard drive of my dead Mac when I return to Paris -- but I hope to be posting some tasting notes and other stories soon.
August 7, 2014: Not entirely out-of-the woods but close. For the first time in many a moon, I've been able to WRITE! Tastings are ongoing and, now that long days on the phone with technicians from Apple and Microsoft as well as representatives of SNCF are drawing to a close, I am visiting vignerons and making lots of wonderful discoveries.
Some will be kept secret until the book is published. Others will be published here in the near future.
In 1981 Monique Laroche, a pharmacist, bought a ten-hectare property in Savennieres, most of it in La Roche aux Moines. (The similarity of the names is a coincidence.) In “A Wine & Food Guide to the Loire” I wrote about her: “She is a serious and an able woman. One senses she wants to make the best Savennieres she can but that she is by nature neither a risk taker nor a visionary. So far her Savennieres are competent but unexciting.”
Enter daughter Tessa Laroche, 42, who earned a degree in enology in Reims and began working at the domaine in 2001, taking over completely in 2003. They now have 12 hectares out of the 22 planted in La Roche aux Moines. (Seven other vignerons also have pieces of this privileged site.)
I have been impressed by Tessa’s wines, most of which I tasted at the Renaissance des Appellations, while the focus of my attention was on wines from Touraine.
Touraine is still my focus of attention – at least for the near future – but a tasting last week in Paris gave me the opportunity to talk to Tessa and taste more studiously.
The LaRoche wines are now certified organic. Tessa began the conversion in 2006. She has drastically lowered yields. Indeed, she now thinks she’s lowered them too far: after pruning “very hard,” she harvested 17hl/ha in 2010. Harvest is by hand, in two successive passes through the vines. Laroche is looking for golden grapes. She decants the juice severely until it is crystal clear, then tastes the bourbes, and, if they meet her satisfaction, adds them back to the wine in order not to totally denude it. The must ferments in inox tanks – indigenous yeasts only – and then goes into one-to-five year old barriques where they will stay for 18 months on their fine lees. She does not add so2 so, she observes, malo may occur.
“We pick grapes with high acid to avoid malo. Yes,” she adds, “we want aromatic maturity but also high acid. So if malo starts, I let it finish because I don’t want to add so2. At bottling, I analyze the wine to see if if I should add so2. And filtration is not systematic. I didn’t filter the wine in 2011 but I did in 2012 because malo threatened to start.”
In a normal year, Laroche makes 3 different versions of La Roche aux Moines; in 2012, only one. Our tasting started, however, with the 2013 Le Berceau des Fees, a Vin de France, from a recently planted 3 hectare vineyard whose vines were too young to be in Savennieres. Ripe, with overtones of beeswax, it had lively acidity but not the searing acidity characteristic of many 2013s. The finish was satisfyingly long.
All the wines tasted had been bottled a month before the event. A factor to keep in mind.
Two-thirds of the 2012 Domaine aux Moines aged in barriques, one-third in tank. The wine displayed ripe fruit, scents of beeswax, flavors of fresh lemon juice and stone. It was somewhat hot but what impressed was its great minerality and its extremely long finish.
Based on a selection of the best grapes, the 2011 Les Moines was a true stand-out. No so2, unfiltered, 100% barrique aged. Yes, it was oaky but the ripe fruit underneath assured the wood would meld with the fruit in time. Structured and powerful, the wine promised enormous complexity. Clearly a bottle to follow.
And now for a nice little Lagniappe: Laroche has one hectare of red vines – 88 years old – in La Roche aux Moine. All the work in that plot is done by hand. The wine, which doesn’t see oak, is sold as Anjou Villages. The 2011 was relatively light for schist-grown cabernet but the grapes were fully ripe and the fruit and structure were lovely. As delicate as a caress, it recalled the dreamy Anjou Villages of Francois Roussier’s Clos de Coulaine whose reds were sheer gourmandize.
May 2, 2014: A Theatre Review, of sorts
Any Shakespeare lovers out there? Went to see "Macbeth" the other night at Ariane Mnouchkine's Theatre du Soleil. Have loved Mnouchkine's productions in the past -- which is why I was willing to see Macbeth in a language other than English. (The last montage in "Les Tambours sur la Digue" was one of the most breathtaking I've ever seen.)
But, this Macbeth, good grief! Any high school could have put on a Macbeth to rival this which was supposed to open on April 9th. The opening was put off and put off again. The 30th, when we went, was the "new" opening night. When we got there we found out our tickets were free because Mnouchkine didn't feel the play was ready. It will never be ready. Unlike her other productions, Mnouchkine seems to have had no vision for this play. It has no raison d'etre. And none of the actors appeared to have the wherewithal to take on Shakespeare. Nearly a month after they were supposed to open, they still needed prompting. My guess is that they didn't know the meaning of the lines they were reciting. If they had understood them, they wouldn't have had such difficulty remembering them. And the overloaded, completely unnecessary scenery when the most minimalist of sets was called for. Worse still, Macbeth delivering "Tomorrow and tomorrow etc" from inside a bunker. Were I a close confidante of Mnouchkine's, I'd advise her to close this show down and write it off as a loss. I dread to think what the critics will -- indeed, must -- say.
Karen (Odessa) Piper
March 17, 2014: Eating out with KO and my prediction for the next food trend in Paris:
On her way to meet husband Terry Theise in Champagne, dear friend and kindred spirit Karen Odessa Piper (hereinafter KO) stopped in Paris to spend some time eating, drinking and gabbing with me.
Buvette, Paris 9
I think I know what the next Parisian food trend is going to be and it came to me while I was dreaming about a croque monsieur I had eaten hours earlier at Buvette, on the rue Monnier in the 9th arrondissement.
Paris, in case you haven’t noticed, has been besieged by classics from the casual side of American gastronomy: hot dogs, hamburgers, cupcakes, cookies, bagels, tortillas, lobster rolls (not so casual). Unless made by Americans (in food trucks, mostly), they are not very convincing. Or they are wildly overpriced – at 14 euros a burger, I’d rather make my own – I make a pretty mean burger – and put that money towards a good bottle of gin. Now, I’m not saying this sudden love affair with America has peaked but a more promising future awaits.
If I’m right, the next trend will be the revival of real, honest-to-god, made from scratch French bourgeois classics, starting with that croque monsieur. The croque’s noble history in the halls of French gastronomy had been all but obscured by decades of microwaved versions sold throughout the hexagon. By contrast, Big Macs looked downright artisanal.
Comes Buvette to restore the croque’s lettres de noblesse. Made à la minute, it was a warm, aromatic, fat quilt of a sandwich, its nicely toasted bread oozing with béchamel and cheese. Were diet not an issue, I could easily eat, say, three a week.
Buvette also brings to the table other neglected classics – oeufs en meurette, lapin à la moutarde, boeuf bourgignon and homey terrines that are actually fait maison and not by some culinary factory.
So I am predicting that, alongside the lackluster versions of Americana and the spare, cerebral cuisine of chefs like Septime’s Bertrand Grébaut (more on him later this week), we’ll be finding more and more fait maison classics of French bourgeois cooking.
In the meantime, more about Buvette, which is actually the Paris branch of a wine-bar/bistrot on Grove Street in Greenwich Village. If the food there is as good as the food at the French incarnation, New Yorkers are advised to run, not walk, there for their next meal.
Buvette Paris seduces the minute you walk in with cooking aromas (dominated by butter) that are ambrosia or aphrodisiacs for anyone who loves food. KO and I went several hours after having enjoyed a delicious lunch at Le Pantruche. She was still somewhat jetlagged and neither of us was very hungry. I was under the impression that Buvette was basically a wine bar and so we were both prepared for a drink and a chat and so to bed. Indeed, KO kept repeating, “I’m not going to stay long.”
We arrived a little after 8. The place was packed. We would be second on a waiting list for a table and the bar was jammed. There was a small bench outside where we could have drunk our aperitifs but the aromas coming of the kitchen sent KO into orbit. “I don’t want to leave here.”
Sylvie Esmonin's Nuits-Villages
I had started the evening with Plymouth gin; KO with a glass of white from Domaine de l'Hortus. Most of the people around us were drinking foamy cocktails. Personally, I'm all in favor of cocktails. Always have been. But the dishes that spoke to us on the menu wanted to be paired with a good red. They were out of the Famille Mortet bottling I wanted but said they had something similar and brought out a bottle not on the list, Sylvie Esmonin's 2009 Côte de Nuits-Villages. KO was in heaven. And, really, what better to go with those oeufs en meurette, a terrine, the lapin à la moutarde that sent KO over the moon (I prefer my own version) and the famous croque?
Buvette's "small plate" of Coq au Vin chez moi
I want to make two distinct but equally important points about this dish:
1) Our waiter brought it to us. When we said we hadn't ordered it -- which was true -- he took it away. Then he came back with it and said it was on the house. I mention this because it's one small example of the unfailing niceness and warmth of the staff at Buvette. That's all.
2) Buvette specializes in what it calls "small plates." We had been told we hadn't ordered too much but we were stuffed before we could even consider the boeuf bourgignon. I took it home and reheated it, adding a healthy splash of Chinon. It was a tad salty but, other than that, just perfect, down to the pearl onions and butter-soft garlic cloves. But, far from being "small sized" -- which to me means something like tapas-sized -- this portion was the size of a dish I'd make for my own dinner.
Back to Buvette: Desserts could use some work but, as far as I'm concerned, I finished my meal en beauté with a shot of Hudson Bay's Baby Bourbon.
March 6, 2014: The Back Story
If you’re old enough to remember when the Beatles electrified America on The Ed Sullivan Show and, if say, 15 years after that, you fell in love with wine, you may recall having graduated from Mateus, Lambrusco and Chianti in jugs that would later become candle holders, to Bordeaux, Bordeaux, Bordeaux, and later becoming excited by the new wines coming out of California which brought you back to France and maybe to Italy and perhaps to Spain for a Rioja when you were feeling adventurous.
Cut to 2013. A NYC wine list will offer, say, 4 wines from Bordeaux, three from Burgundy, one from Alsace, one from the Loire, maybe two Rhones and a Languedoc. There will be, perhaps, eight Italian wines from assorted regions and a half dozen from Austria. California and the Pacific Northwest occupy as much shelf space as do the wines from France. There may be a handful of bottles from Virginia, Texas, Mexico and three or more each from Australia and New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and a bottle or two from Uruguay, Hungary, Slovakia and Georgia.
In other words, the world of wine has become impossibly vast and keeps expanding. While it was once possible to be an all-purpose expert on wine, IMHO, that is no longer the case.
Of course, we need general texts. We have them. They just need updating every five years or so. And, so long as newspapers print wine columns, we need generalists who are good, solid journalists – like Eric Asimov and Andrew Jefford -- professionals who know wine and can go to a region and report the story.
Beyond that, what we wine lovers really need are specialists. The size of the areas of specialization may vary but specialization is unavoidable if the reader wants to learn anything of value. Otherwise, what you get is merely reheated reflections based on outdated information and press releases.
Unfortunately, in the current economic climate and in the midst of a technological revolution, such specialists -- and I count myself as one – cannot make a living. Freelance wine writers, who could make a modest living in the 1990s, can no longer find outlets for their work. Websites offer either no money or something like $30 for a feature story. That is not acceptable.
Publishing houses don’t want detailed books on “minor” wine regions like the Loire though they’ll publish entire books on Pomerol. So self-publishing and Print on Demand are the way to go.
As anyone who has researched self-publishing or Print-on-Demand knows, what the author/publisher needs is a platform, a certain media presence. Evidently, reviews in wine-oriented publications would be part of any platform. And yet, few are the publications that review such books. I know.
Earthly Delights from the Garden of France/Wines of the Loire, Volume One/The Kingdom of Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume and the Sauvignon Satellites, which I self-published, received glowing reviews from Eric Asimov in The New York Times, David Schildknecht in The World of Fine Wine, and Ed Behr in The Art of Eating.
Among those who declined to even consider reviewing it unless they received free copies were Tom Matthews, The Wine Spectator; Lettie Teague, The Wall Street Journal, each of whom have large expense accounts and probably spend the amount it would cost them to buy the book merely getting coffee in the morning. (I would have to pay for the books myself otherwise.) I sent Jancis Robinson a pdf file of the book. She told me that she no longer reviewed books and forwarded the pdf file to her reviewer. He wouldn't look at the pdf version and asked me to buy and send him a printed copy of the book.
And that, dear reader, is the back story of Speaking Truth to Power, which you can read on Jackiezine/Slings & Arrows.
Red Wine Table at IGP Tasting
Feb. 19, 2014: IGP's From France's Greater Southeast
TASTING OF IGP WINES FROM FRANCE’S GREATER SOUTHEAST
IGP, shorthand for Indication Géographique Protégée, is an increasingly important sector in the French wine market, as last week’s tasting proved.
The region covered by the tasting is vast: spanning 9 départements, from the Alps to Aix-en-Provence.
There are 11 distinct IGPs in the zone, beginning with the umbrella IGP “Méditerranée and including three IGPs in Provence, five in the Rhone Valley and two in the Alps.
Globally, they cover 21,700 hectares, with 600 private domains and 110 cooperative cellars producing some 1,250,000 hls of wine in a normal year. Most (56%) of the wines are red; 30% rosé, and the rest are white. The zone makes roughly 10% of France’s IGP wines.
At the tasting 90% of wines presented came from domains located within AOC zones. Their producers opted for IGP status, at least for some of their wines, for a number of reasons – a wider choice of grape varieties being a principle motive.
I am not presenting all the wines tasted. Only those I found of particular interest among the whites and the reds. (Sorry rosés. Next time.) And I admit to having chosen not to taste the pure Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs, Merlots and Cabernets.
All prices are in euros, TTC, and range from 4 to 63 euros. (I often found that the inexpensive bottle proved the more interesting.)
Domaine Salel et Renaud “Que Sa Quo” 2012
IGP Ardeche with the mention Coteaux de l’Ardeche
Pure viognier, from granite and sandstone soils, the grapes are hand harvested and age for 9 months in barriques. The wine was relatively full-bodied with restrained varietal aromas and mild oak flavors. The texture creamy which made me think the wine had gone through malolactic. I’d have preferred slightly more freshness but the wine was well-made and quite pleasant to drink. Price: 10, 20.
(Unfortunately, I was disappointed with the domaine’s red, a blend of Merlot, Syrah, and Grenache, aged 13 months in barriques. The wine was too reduced to properly taste so this opinion is provisional.)
Domaines Pierre Gaillard Marsanne 2012
IGP Collines Rhodaniennes
A fresh, vinous, mineral wine of pure Marsanne, aged for 7 to 8 months in barriques, the wine was fully worthy of an AOC – which provides additional proof to me that France has too many AOCs and should produce more IGPs. Price: 8,50.
Chateau des Amoureuses Cristal White 2011
Made from a blend of Rousanne and Marsanne grapes of marl and limestone soils on a 300 meter high vineyard at the Portes des Gorges, the wine spend 17 months on in barriques, on its fine lees. Lightly fragranced, when tasted last week the wine seemed hot, unbalanced and not well knit. I expect that will change over time. But I wouldn’t pay the stated price to bet on it: ie 37,50.
La Grande Blanquiere Un Moment Blanc 2012
A pure Viognier grown on a mix of limestone, marl and clay soils, the wine aged in demi-muids. I liked its freshness but the wine seemed dumb and came across as bland. I’m sure that will change with time in bottle and a bit of aeration but, once again, the price puts me off and makes me run back to Domaine des Gaillards. Price: 21,00.
Domaine de Dyonisos La Deveze Viognier 2013
IGP Vaucluse Principauté d’Orange
An organic wine, made from low-yielding (27 hl/ha) on sandy-clayey soils, the wine was lightly fragrant with very good focus and tension. It was relatively long – particularly for a wine coming from sandy soils – and its slightly hot finish by no means detracted from its charm. Attractively priced at 7,20.
(Note: I brought home a bottle of their Syrah but haven’t yet tasted it. Notes to come.)
Domaine de Regusse Pinot Noir 2009
IGP Alpes de Haute Provence
Grown on clay-limestone soils, the wine vatted for 30 days in temperature controlled tanks. It was a charming, correct little Pinot Noir that I’d be delighted to find in a café. It could also be a personal house wine – at the very attractive price of 5, 90.
Domaine Guy Farge Bouquet de Syrah 2012
Another great bargain, this over-achiever comes from granitic soils. Hand-harvested, it was cool, ripe and fresh. It went down all too easily. Price: 6.00.
Cellier d”Eguilles Cuvee Marselan 2011
IGP Bouches de Rhone
Marselan is a red varietal made from a cross of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache Noir. This easy-going wine gives you a nice sense of the grape. An irresistible introduction when priced, as it is, at 4,60.
Domaine du Mas de Rey Les Secrets de Cornille 2012
IGP Bouches de Rhone
Made from a barrel-aged blend of Marselan and Cadeloc (a red varietal developed from a cross between Grenache Noir and Malbec), the oak completely masked the fruit. Too bad about that. Price: 11,05.
Villa Minna Vineyard 2009
IGP Bouches de Rhone
Ambitious work worth following. The domaine is converting to organic viticulture. A blend of Syrah (62%) with Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvedre grown on rocky limestone soils, the grapes were hand-harvested and cold soaked before undergoing a long vatting after which they were put into barriques according to varietal. The wines aged on their fine lees for two years with occasional stirring up of the lees.
Reduced when tasted, the wine, nevertheless, came across as rich and extract, with decent fruit. It seems a stylish wine, a potential crowd pleaser. For me, there was too much “winemaking” going on but I’m certainly willing to retaste. Price: 21,00.
Chateau des Amoureuses Black Sublim 2011
IGP Mediterranee (located in AOC Cotes du Rhone)
A lot of “winemaking” going on here too. Made from low-yielding vines (25 hl/ha), the wine is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Merlot and Carignan aged in new oak barriques for 18 months. Ripe fruit was evident but the wine was dominated by oak and flavors of Merlot. Price: 34.70.
Domaine de la Verriere-Chene Bleu Eloise 2007
Made from grapes grown on rocky clay-limestone soils at 500 meters, the wine is a blend of Syrah (60%), Grenache, Viognier (3%), aged in barriques for 11 months. The attack is smooth, the texture, gentle. The oak seemed fairly well integrated but still a bit too present. Less oak and a (much) lower price tag would make this wine a winner. Price: 63,00. (!)
Domaine La Celestiere 2012
IGP Vaucluse/VdP Vaucluse
A selection of low-yielding (23 hl/ha) vines – Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, and Alicante – grown on a mix of clay-limestone soils and sandy soils with the large stones called galets characteristic in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, this is a discreet, smooth, quiet red, a wonderful wine bar discovery. It goes down all too easily and its price makes it downright irresistible: 5,40.
Guy Daniel Mademoiselle Garance 2012
A blend of Cadeloc, Marselan, Carignan, Grenache, and Syrah grown on a plain with a mix of clay, limestone and silty soils, the wine was much in the style of the Celestiere, even though the growing conditions were very different. At these prices, try both. Price: 5,40.
Jean Chanrion standing in front of his wine bar, Le Vin des Rues, with some friends
February 15, 2014: In Memory of Jean Chanrion
Jean Chanrion, one of Paris's most legendary wine bar owners, died in late January, some six weeks before his 75th birthday.
Chanrion's Le Vin des Rues was one of the best and most beloved wine bars in Paris. (It still exists, under different ownership, though I doubt there is any resemblance to the original.)
I first met Chanrion when I went to the wine bar while researching an article for the NYT travel supplement, The Sophisticated Traveller. Chanrion, a gruff man of volatile temperament, quickly sizes up anyone who enters. Luck was with me: I immediately passed the piffometre test and quickly became a Chanrion favorite. Chanrion and his wine bar quickly became favorites of mine. And, as loathe as I am to leave my neighborhood in the north of the 9th arrondissement, I made an exception for Le Vin des Rues whose metro stop was Denfert-Rochereau in the 14th.
Here is what I wrote about Chanrion in my NYT article: I have saved my new favorite, Le Vin des Rues, for last. Around the corner from the Rue Daguerre, a bustling shopping street in the 14th arrondissement, it is owned by Jean Chanrion, a burly man -- he could be Cointepas's brother -- who won the Meilleur Pot in 1989. To my mind, his selections are so delicious they bespeak not only an impeccable palate but also the passion of a committed wine lover -- from Alain Demon's suave Cote Roannaise to Didier Champalou's finely tuned Vouvrays to the galaxy of hand-crafted Beaujolais, silky, compact, vibrant with fruit.
Le Vin des Rues is a minuscule bistro and shares the common leitmotif of walls papered with confrerie diplomas and drawings of the owner sipping wine. The tables are tightly wedged together and that's just fine because the bonhomie among the clients is without equal. On a recent Friday, I arrived at 1 P.M. and had a train to catch at 5:15, two Metro stops away. Moral of story: I had to rush to get the train after having spent more than four hours at bar and table, chatting with Chanrion and a half-dozen different customers, consuming some excellent food (a delectable terrine, garlicky frogs' legs and succulent tete de veau), a sublime range of Beaujolais and coffee with a shot of marc de Bourgogne. I promised to return the next week.
Return I did, again and again. On one of my visits, I was standing at the zinc, sipping a glass of Coteaux du Lyonnais -- Chanrion's native region and for whose wines he was an enthusiastic ambassador -- when Chanrion insisting on introducing me to a man sipping a glass of red further down the bar. (More in next section.)
(You can read the entire article here: http://www.nytimes.com/1998/09/13/magazine/in-paris-finding-the-true-bistro-a-vin)
Mike, Aux Negociants, for our Chanrion Memorial Dinner
Chanrion wanted us to meet because, he said, we were both Americans. Each of us grumbled through our teeth: neither of us wanted to meet other Americans. But we started talking, realized how much we had in common and became fast friends and great drinking buddies. (I spent New Year's Eve this year with him and his (French) wife in their country house.)
Mike was in Spain when Chanrion died. I emailed him and we agreed to have a memorial drink in Chanrion's honor. The only choice possible was Aux Negociants. It's the last of the great, old-time, veritable Paris wine bars.
So the picture above is Mike drinking his red at the bar of Aux Negociants. Jean Navier, the owner, is behind.
Rosa Navier, behind the bar at Aux Negociants
February 13, 2014: In Memory of Jean Chanrion
I'll be writing more on last night's meal at Aux Negociants -- and the reason for it -- as soon as I recover from my hangover. In the meantime, here's an excerpt from an article I wrote for the NYT in Aug. 2004.
"Aux Négociants, quite a few steep blocks north and east of Sacré Coeur, is right out of a Robert Doisneau photograph of postwar Paris, no surprise since Doisneau was a regular. It is not fancy. Its neighborhood is not pretty. But it's inimitable, and my wine-bar-loving friend Mike and I make a point of meeting there once a year.
WE start at the horseshoe-shaped bar chatting with Rosa Navier, one of the owners, while sipping wines she and her husband, Jean, have found. (Most are $3.75 to $6.25 a glass.) Then we choose between two plats du jour and as many terrines.
Jean, a former charcutier, plops down the Pyrex terrine dishes. Eat as much as you like. Then comes roasted guinea hen on a bed of cabbage, the stuff of Sunday family lunches in the provinces. After polishing off a spicy 2000 Côtes du Rhône Villages-Séguret from Domaine Jean David (at $47, it was fairly though not charitably priced), we shared a slice of homemade apricot tart and a nightcap."
More photos follow.
Jean Navier, looking out of the kitchen at Aux Negociants
The ardoise at Aux Negociants
February 15, 2014: Fait Maison
As you may know, one of the burning issues in French gastronomy these days is whether and how restaurateurs should indicate that the food they are serving was actually made on premises and not purchased from an enterprise specializing in servicing restaurants that simply want to reheat and plate.
The food at Aux Negociants and it screams homemade!
Mike and I started with escargots de Bourgogne. Mike had just returned from the Valencia region of Spain. A friend there had prepared a traditional paella, every bit of which was superb except the snails: they had not been disgorged; there were lots of them; and it ruined the dish. Mike figured he needed to order Jean Navier's version to reconcile him with escargots. Not a bad idea, though I'd have ordered the pheasant terrine if I weren't trying to lose weight.
Rosa carafes our wine
I chose Domaine Rabasse Charavin's Cotes du Rhone rouge, cuvee Laure, made by the great Corinne Couturier. Predominantly grenache with some cinsault, it is neither fined nor filtered. It's a smooth, spicy, user-friendly red, just perfect for our meal and our Chanrion memorial.
Cuisses de Faison rotis aux choux
Mike and I had spent so much time at the bar, sipping and shmoozing, that, by the time we were ready to order, there was only one serving of pheasant left.
Mike proved to have been cagier than me. He had reserved his. I did get a good bite of it. Juicy, cooked to tender perfection, it is worth going back for.
I ordered the stuffed cabbage. Truth to tell, I had been tempted to order it anyway. I was not disappointed and would be hard pressed not to go back to Aux Negocs every week in order to have it. The cabbage itself seemed to have steeped in white wine and the stuffing mixture was lipsmackingly delicious. There was a grace note of a strip of nicely cooked bacon on top. To my mind, one of the more intelligent garnishes I've seen in a plated dish in any restaurant in the past two years.
Mural at Aux Negociants
Mike and I shared chocolate mousse for dessert. There must have been a bit of sel de Guerande in the mix. It was heavenly, the best chocolate mousse I've had in recent memory.
And then we adjourned back to the bar where we were offered a glass of whatever. I chose a prune and Mike stuck to his red.
Throughout the evening, of course, we all shared memories of Chanrion. Mike recalled that Chanrion would not let you sit down for lunch until one pm and would not let you leave before 4. When a group of French businessmen came in and wanted to eat quickly, he shooed them out and told them to go to McDonald's.
I spent so long at some dinners that I often missed the last metro back home. On this night of our Memorial Dinner, I was the first client to arrive at Aux Negocs and Mike and I were the last to leave. Chanrion would have approved.
Huet's winemaker Jean-Bernard Berthome
Feb. 10, 2014: Fear not for the future of Domaine Huet!
When Noel Pinguet, Gaston Huet's son-in-law and the winemaker at the domaine for many years, retired after the 2011 harvest, some in the wine world were concerned that quality would suffer.
I knew that would not be the case after having interviewed the "new" winemaker, Jean-Bernard Berthome, who had worked beside Pinguet during the latter's entire tenure and whose parents had worked for Gaston Huet.
And tasting Berthome's wines at the 2014 Salon des Vins de Loire confirmed my confidence. There was very little to taste as Berthome harvest only 13 hl/ha in 2013 because of hail, and only 15 hl/ha in 2012 because of spring frost and mildew. But the three wines available to taste were all superb.
My coup du coeur went to the 2013 Clos du Bourg sec which had just finished fermenting. Its profile: 13 alc., 7 gms rs, 5.8 acid, it was harvested in two passes. Now usually my tasting notes are rather more detailed regarding flavors and structure and the like. For the 2013 Haut Lieu sec, for example, I was struck by how supple it was even with its vivid acidity; for the 2012 Le Mont sec, I admired the focus, the structure, the richness -- which seemed ampler than its 12.5 alc would suggest -- and its floral and pear-like notes combined with an appetizing bitterness.
But for that Clos du Bourg, well, I was simply gobsmacked. Even at this stage, with fermentation just barely finished, it exhibited grandeur, complexity, raciness. It was, in a word, sublime.
An Empty Bottle of 2010 Domaine Joguet Clos de la Dioterie
January 31, 2014 Here is one of those damnably confusing Chinons: it's definitely an ager but it's so delicious now that it's no surprise you're seeing a picture of an empty bottle.
When opened, the wine presented a nose already complex, with mingled aromas of violets, black cherry and mild oak. The attack was smooth and finely grained; the fruit, pure and ripe. The wine was elegant and serious with impressive structure, balance and freshness. In short, a pedigreed, lipsmacking wine.
On Day Two, the wine had closed up, though it remained mighty tasty. Day Three replaced violets with cranberry and soft spices. And then it was all gone.
Promising Chinons from Johann Spelty. Will taste them again tomorrow.
January 9, 2014
Just received a delivery of some 200 bottles of Chinon -- with a couple of cartons of Vouvray and Bourgueil mixed in. Whole lotta tasting will be going on. Slow tasting.
December 21, 3013: She's Back! :
I have been Mac-less since my last posting. My poor baby was in the hospital, to wit the Apple Store at the Carrousel de Louvre (last time I will use an Apple Store for anything but that's another story) and I was in the country. The hard drive was replaced and I am only now rebuilding things.
I expect to get a delivery of some 200 bottles of Chinon from over 30 producers at the beginning of the year. So there will be more news from me, tasting notes and anecdotes etc. I may even post again before wishing you all Bonnes Fetes!
1990 Chinon "Les Haies Martels" Domaine Bernard Baudry
November 12, 2013
I have been wondering how Loire cabernet franc ages now that vineyard and vinification, not to mention the weather, have changed so radically. (All of which will be discussed at length in Vol II of Earthly Delights.)
1990 is really a bit pre-new-age Loire cab fr -- which really only began in a serious way after 2000 IMHO -- and the vintage made reds that were, for the most part "flatteur" but not agers.
Nevertheless, in the interests of science and gastronomy, I pulled this wine out of my cellar and am Slow Tasting it and pairing it with food.
I'm in Paris right now so the cellar in question is not my tuffeau cellar in Touraine but a series of wine racks and many too many cartons of wine in my Paris apartment.
With that in mind, my initial tasting notes:
The wine's color is much more youthful than I would have imagined. The saturation isn't dense but I wouldn't have expected that with this cuvee. Initially, the wine was delicately fragrant, lightly scented with cherry, spice and tapenade. It was smooth and gentle on the palate, with a soft elegance. As the wine breathed, it became slightly more decisive and its strong acid backbone emerged. It went down very easily but was, above all, a subtle wine, definitely not one for a noisy bistro.
October 23, 2013: Back from a great trip to NYC and bedridden with a mild flu. As Gilda Radner said, "It's always something." I do hope to write about my favorite NY restaurants as well as a high-profile non-favorite and would like to post something about NY wine lists, or should I call them "drinks" lists?
In the meantime, I'm trying to get back to Volume II, Touraine. Here's a taste:
Gérard Marula's 2010 Touraine rouge "Les Gruches," a supple, strawberry and cherry-scented red that should be just dandy with the lamb pastilla I'm having for lunch.
August 13, 2013
I must apologize for my seeming lethargy. I'm preparing to go to NYC for the first time in too many moons; I've been overwhelmed by paper work and French bureaucracy and I've been tasting my way through the wines of Touraine.
Once that book is finished, I plan to reorganize the site. I'd really like to encourage readers to comment. So there's one thing I'd like to encourage you to do now. If you've not already done so, please sign up for my Newsletter.
Go to the FrenchFeast page and simply sign up. You'll receive an email asking you to confirm. I don't send out many Newsletters but I feel I owe it to you to let you know when I've posted something of interest.
July 18, 2013: Misunderstanding Muscadet
I fail to understand why so many wine journalists ignore the vinous history of the region when they are reporting on new developments. (I've just read today's Drinks Business.)
Recently – and repeatedly – this has been the case with Muscadet. Suddenly, it seems, every wine scribe is falling in love with the Melon-de-Bourgogne-based white from the Nantais region of France.
While they deplore the reduction of Muscadet acreage in favor of “imported” grapes like chardonnay, sauvignon, pinot noir, merlot and viognier (that’s another story), they extol the improvement in quality, making Muscadet one of France’s greatest bargains, and, as proof of the new quality-consciousness, they point to the creation of “crus” – designated sub-regions of which, for the moment, there are three: Clisson, Pallet, and Gorges.
None of this is new. As I said above, the planting of “foreign” grapes is another story. The improvement in quality, however, began in the 1970s/early 1980s with pioneers like Louis Metaireau & his vignerons d’Art and the Hermine d’Or (which included Guy Bossard, Jo Landron, Domaine Boullault and others) and many others. The wines were gorgeous. I still have some in my cellar and drink them with delight.
The reasoning behind the cru system was two-fold. Yes, there was a desire to delimit the best terroirs – and in the 1980s Leonard Humbrecht was called in to consult – but the principal reason was this: Muscadet de Sevre & Maine, which was supposed to indicate the highest quality wines (at least in terms of terroir) represented 85% of the global Muscadet production. The producers described the existing Muscadet delimitations as a “triangle on its head.”
Understandably this was frustrating to producers within the zone. The creation of Crus is certainly a step in the right direction. Rather, it’s several steps in the right direction, as the wines aiming for Cru status must follow more stringent laws, eg lower yields and longer aging.
And don’t get me started on sur lie. That’s another story.
June 27, 2013: A Wine Bar to Avoid in Chinon
Ah, Chinon! One of France's prettiest wine villages, with its history-rich fortress, its medieval streets, its wines, its rillettes, its tree-lined quai bordering the river. Of course you want to linger, drink a glass or two. And people are always asking me my advice for places to go. If it's open, try the guinguette. That's my favorite. But it's also important to know where NOT to go. That's simple: La Cave Voltaire on the rue Voltaire. The ownership must have changed. I recall having had pleasant aperitifs there and nice chats with a young owner some ten years ago. Now le patron is one of the rudest men on the planet. I have never met an owner as disagreeable. If you want to be insulted, yelled at, left waiting while he goes about his personal business, by all means, come here. If you want to feel welcomed and enjoy your wine and food, go anywhere else. You are guaranteed to have an awful time here.
June 1, 2013
HELLO! Forgive me for being so absent. Many things are to blame, among them, French bureaucracy, American bureaucracy, things (cars, computers, lawnmowers) breaking down. All the things that eat up your day and exhaust you.
I'm also busy tasting wines for the Touraine volume of Earthly Delights. I've made some terrific discoveries and hope to talk more about this soon.
Another thing that eats up my time -- and I'm sure there are some of you out there who can relate to this -- is Facebook. Issues I care about come up and I get involved in discussions/arguments.
Please regard this window into a former New Yorker's life in France -- Paris and the Loire Valley and beyond -- as a work-in-progress, not so much a website as a construction site. I’ll keep fiddling with it until I’m satisfied (more or less) with what I’ve written. (Please excuse the lack of accents and the occasional formatting blips)
BUYING MY BOOKS: If you would like to buy any of my books, please contact me directly.
THIS PAGE IS A CHRONOLOGICAL TABLE OF CONTENTS GOING BACK TO MARCH 2007. (It is also occasionally a blog.)
The NEWSLETTERI don't send one out very often but please subscribe. NB Many people write to me asking me to put them on the list. It's very easy to put yourself on the list. Just do the following:
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(Note: re TRANSLATIONS For those of you using Google to translate this, the results leave much to be desired. I've tried to correct mistakes but my efforts bore no fruit.)
April 10, 2013: Whither the French Patrimony?
Wednesday is restaurant day at le Figaro. Today I noticed something that observers of trends in France, structural linguists and just plain cynics might find interesting.
"Gastronomie" used to be listed under "Culture;" now it is listed under "Lifestyle." Hmmm. And one of today's features was an article on the formation of an association that will distinguish real restaurants -- those with an honest-to-god chef cooking each dish from the other 2/3rds of France's 150,000 restaurants in which pre-prepared food is simply reheated.
February 27, 2013: Just saw the list of Chinons that won awards at the Salon d'Agriculture in Paris. Heavens, what a sorry lot! When I was practicing criminal law there was a saying, "Never underestimate the stupidity of a jury." Not nice but sometimes it fit. Now I've sat on many wine juries while in France and I've come to the same conclusion. The results of the Salon d'Agriculture concours, at least where Chinon is concerned, merely reinforce my negative opinion of such "tribunals."
Herewith, a list of five Chinon producers whose wines are always prizewinners in my book: Bernard & Mathieu Baudry, Philippe Alliet, Domaine de la Noblaie, Domaine du Noire, Grosbois. My book, of course, will include many, many more recommendations that this but it's a good, sure start.
This is an open challenge to UK blogger Jim Budd who has, over the past two years, been posting vituperative blog entries decrying the alleged use of cryoextraction (aka cryoselection) by a venerable producer in Coteaux du Layon. Budd’s position seems to be that the use of the technique amounts to nothing less than vinous blasphemy and he has bombarded the producer in question with interminable and impertinent emails demanding answers to questions in a tone that can only be called adversarial, indeed, prosecutorial.
So Blogger Budd, would you please answer the following:
How would you compare the use of cryoextraction/cryoselection to the following frequently used winemaking techniques (I list only 12, in no particular order):
1) cold soaking of red grapes prior to fermentation;
2) skin contact of white grapes before pressing;
3) addition of yeasts;
4) pigéage and machines à pigéage;
5) brassage sur lie
7) brassage à l’azote
8) bleeding the tanks of fermenting juice of red grapes to concentrate the resulting wine;
10) addition of sulphur;
I await your response.
February 1, 2013: Another year, another Salon des Vins de Loire. But, with each passing year, there are more and more "Salons Off." First it was just the Renaissance des Appellations. La Dive existed. It had started some time in the mid-90s and was held in the Cave de la Dive Bouteille in Bourgueil. Then it moved to Paul Filliatreau's cellars between Montsoreau and Saumur and then to the Chateau de Breze where the historic troglodyte caves are glacial. La Levee de la Loire, after a nice Salon Off last year when it had no official name, came to Paris earlier this year with its 90 or so members. (I hope they're planning another Paris event as I won't be able to go to the tasting in Angers.) And then there's another Salon Off in the Hotel des Penitents. (I think I've got the name right.)
Meanwhile, I've been fighting the flu and hope that it won't stop me from doing all the tasting I've planned. My focus this year is still on eastern Touraine. I want to finish Vouvray, the huge, generic Touraine appellation and some small ones I've been saving for the end eg Valencay and Orleans.
Wish me luck!
Alan Shenker aka Yossarian aka Capn Stan
January 29, 2013: Hommage to my old friend Alan Shenker
Please, do not ever disparage Facebook in my presence. Like many of my fellow baby boomers who lived the Leary credo –“ You can be anyone you want this time around.” – I’ve had many incarnations in this life and have met, loved and left behind many wonderful beings as my career choices and experiments took me far and wide. (For the past 20+ years I’ve been living in France, writing about wine.)
And like many FB addicts, I look up names of friend from days gone by, finding people I’ve not seen in over fifty years. Shenker was one such. I hadn’t seen or spoken to him since the early 1970s when I left EVO to go to law school.
Then, in July 2010 I came across the page of one Alan Shenker with a funny, indecipherable profile picture. I sent a message asking if he was the Shenker from EVO. He was, and thus recommenced a beautiful friendship.
I was immediately reminded that Shenker also called himself Yossarian or Yo. And I learned was that he had adopted yet another identity (alias, if you will): Capn Stan. (See below.) I also learned that Zod, née Donald Fenster, was using his alternate alias, Charlie Frick, exclusively, as someone had informed him that “Zod” in some foreign language meant “shit” or something like that. (At EVO most of us had multiple names. Jackie Diamond was Coca Crystal. Jaakov, our fearless leader, was called the Arab (pron. A Rab.) And Shenker dubbed me Roxy Bijou.)
Memories flooded back: rock concerts in open fields, Electric LadyLand, and mostly of afternoons and evenings spent schmoozing around Jaakov’s desk – particularly on paste-up nights.
Now, we writers were not needed on paste-up nights. We’d completed our jobs. But we stayed. All night. When the office was above the Fillmore East, we went downstairs to Ratners, then back upstairs, and at some point, wandered home.
When the office moved to 12th between University and 5th I no longer had a NY apartment. I’d given that up with the idea that I’d join one of Wavy Gravy’s bus “communes.” Then Jaakov asked me to cover the Panther 21 trial and the rest is history. Well, Jackie/Roxy history. And on paste-up nights I’d curl up on a desk and fall asleep, reassured by the low hum of conversation coming from the lay-out guys – Shenker, Steve Kohn, Fred Mogubgub and others, including, if memory serves, Roger Tomlinson.
Like everyone at EVO, Roger had his own particular brand of weirdness. When asked if he was going to have a Christmas tree, he gazed into the mid-distance, made a sweeping gesture with his hand, and said he was going to have twelve. A forest. That idea appealed to me. I was less than amused when he illustrated my extremely serious Panther 21 coverage one week with comic animal figures and I loudly complained to Jaakov. Shenker was the only member of the art team to be similarly outraged – though I also had the support of writers Ray Schultz and Dean Latimer.
In the course of catching up, Shenker told me about the “Bald woman fetish.” I was both fascinated and repulsed and asked him to explain. Here’s what he wrote:
I don't really know how to begin. The story could easily fill a book. As an artist I became fascinated with hair. It takes years to understand the fall and flow of hair in order to render it. It's the same with all forms of folding and draping of cloth. In my effort to learn how to capture hair on paper I ruminated about it for a long time, and not only did I gradually accomplish the task, I slowly came to the realization of the fact that all of human culture has an obviously strong, but surprisingly mostly subconscious hair fetish (which has grown tremendously since I've been watching it). Just this could fill a book.
In the late '70's I was working as the advertising "paste-up" department for SCREW magazine, handling the production of all of the advertising pages. A photographer came into SCREW wanting to offer for sale photos that he had acquired from someone involved with Synanon (the California drug treatment program that de-volved into a cult).
In 1972 all the women at the Synanon centers shaved their heads in a show of equality with the men (!?). For years the men who fell off the program were punished by having their heads shaved, while women were only required to wear a bandana to show their lapse to the rest of the community. At some point one of the lapsed female Synanonites had demanded that her head be shaved to show her equality with the men. When that happened all the women in each of the several Synanon locations shaved their own heads as a sigh of support, and to also announce their equality (you must remember how things were in 1972, and none of these people had a full dozen of eggs in their basket in any case). My photographer friend (later to become my partner) managed to sell a reasonable amount of these hand developed photos. We realized that there was an un-fed fetish market out there, and we started a small magazine- THE RAZOR'S EDGE to capitalize on what we imagined to be a small, but possibly profitable sub-group of hair fetishists.
We published 12 issues, about 400 copies of each, which we sold for $10.00 a piece but only amassed a subscription list of about 150. We stopped publication in 1978. Because of the low print runs old issues of R.E. have sold for a much as $250.00 a piece on ebay, but it was a few thousand dollar loss to me. Publishing RE was an eye opener, not only did I find an even deeper unconscious part of societies hair/no hair drives and motivation, I learned that almost every aspect of life was reflected by the un-talked about hair fetish. The motto for RE became "The whole world as seen through a very tiny window." (actually I don't remember when that became the motto- perhaps in the next magazine YANKEE CLIPPER.)
We did garnish a lot of media attention for RE, including a half hour episode of the, then popular, NBC show Real People, which covered the 1978 (I think) "Miss Bald America Contest," which we created for them, and female head shaving came out of the closet. I said throughout the 80's that if every shaven gal would give me a nickel that I;d be rich. (to date not one of those bitches sent me my nickel).
Interestingly we had opened a can of worms, and the subject of female baldness became part of the social fabric of our times, but you had to be aware to see it. I first started noticing it in the garment center where the mannequins, which had previously always been decked out in cheesy wigs slowly started discarding the wigs, also by this time a number of bald fashion models had appeared (most notably Eve Salvail a Quebecois, who was known for the great dragon tattoo that she wore on one side of her head).
The voice of THE RAZOR'S EDGE was the putative editor- "Captain Stanley", who in the beginning was either my partner, or myself, but as it worked out my partner (Bob Fitzgerald) became the front man for the project, as his experience came from public relations, while I wrote the larger part of each issue. After the death of RE I became the personification of the Captain for purposes such as the performance art piece by Spider Webb at Franklin Furnace gallery, which I directed you to.
Before RE there had been about 3 shaven-headed women in all of Cinema history, "Joan of Arc" by Carl Dreyer made in the 20's, "Caged," a girls in prison genre movie from 1954, and the wonderfully crazy "Girl in the Kremlin" (1952) which portrayed Stalin as a lover of bald women. During RE's publication an Indian actress, Persis Khambata shaved her head for a role in the first Star Trek movie, with some good publicity coming from it. Since then there are many actresses have shaved their heads for movies (often for reasons barely necessary for the story line- think Natalie Portman in "V"). Now we have many young actreses jumping to find a part allowing them to shed their hair.
Then there is the body modification crowd. For young women today shaving their heads is preferable to permanent markings such as tattooing, or facial studs. Bald teenagers are a common commodity these days. You can trip over them on YouTube.
In the early '90's when magazine construction became possible using the personal computer, with programs like Quark and Photoshop I thought the time had come for producing a magazine on computer, and I started Captain Stanley's YANKEE CLIPPER. The Internet quickly steamrolled me, providing much more free material than I could provide at a cost. This time I lost a small bundle.
There is an explosion of material available on the Internet dealing with shaven women. I could direct you to thousands of YouTube videos. There are charities (St Baldricks, Cops for Cancer [asshole name- yes?] Leucan (Canadian Leukemia Society) for instance that raise money to fight cancer by sponsoring head shaving events every year (check St Baldrick's on YouTube to get an idea). Most of the videos are young girls who shave their heads, or their friends heads, and put them on YouTube just for the attention it gets them.
In the fetish part of this community I am a big potato... mash me.
The YouTube video I pointed out before was from a performance art show at Franklin Furnace Gallery in (I believe 1983), I shaved the model's head in preparation for the tattoo artist -Spider Webb, who signed his name over her ear.
Here's some random videos on YouTube. I could point you to literally thousands more:
Well that came out pretty concise, but it doesn't scratch the surface.
I think you’ll agree that this is a beautifully revealing historical document, a faithful recording of aspects of our society at a particular period of time.
I also find that it reveals essential aspects of Shenker: the sentences I’ve underscored illustrate his commitment to truth in his art: getting it right – from the draping of cloth to the way in which hair grows on the human skull. If you watch the YouTube clips you’ll also see essential aspects of Shenker – his innate gentleness and modesty. So self-effacing and tender in contrast to the preening shavees, his humanity elevates this bizarre fetish into a quest.
One of the last emails I got from Shenker revealed another aspect: his jewish boy from the Bronx sense of humor. One which I, a jewish girl from Brooklyn and NJ, share. I think it came on December 1. I had heard that Spain Rodriguez, who predated me at EVO but about whom I’d heard many stories, had died. I asked Shenker about it and asked if they were friends. Yes, he said, and it’s a great loss.
When I got Mary’s email on January 16th saying that Yossarian had died I couldn’t believe it. I thought she had mistaken Shenker for Spain. Then I began to realize that she was right and I felt that loss deeply. I also felt robbed. I had been planning to come to NY sometime this year after a much-too-long absence and Shenker was on the top of my list of people to see. I’m only glad we were able to reconnect.
RIP Al Shenker, Yossarian, CapnStan. You did honor to all those identities.
January 9, 2012
Back from Sicily. Lots to report but my writing will have to wait while I track down and recover the coat I left on the bus from Siracusa and Catania and deal with Al Italia for having lost my suitcase. (Yes, it was recovered but not without loss of time, money and peace of mind.)
Favorite wine of trip: 2008 Etna Rosso Passopiciaro "Contrada: Rampante"
Favorite dish: cavatelli with chopped pistachios (from Bronte, a pistachio appellation!), tiny shrimp and guanciale.
Dec. 27, 2012,
On my way to Sicily to ring in the New Year. Hope to taste lots of wine from Etna and Ceresuola di Vittoria. Reports on my return.
Best wishes for a healthy, happy and gastronomic New Year!
December 21, 2012: All I want for Christmas is great Armagnac: Find out more in WineTastingNotes.
Dec. 20, 2012: Here's one reason I never want to leave my neighborhood in Paris: go to the hairdresser (Armelle, 60 rue des Martyrs, in the 9th) and, as Xmas is near, there's Champagne (grower!) and foie gras. In the picture, beauty parlor owner Laurence Armelle and client of 39 years Mme Gaudron.
Say it ain't so, Joel!
December 8, 2012
Your Name is on it, You Own It: Talkin’ to You, Joel Robuchon
I am not ashamed to admit that I am lazy. One of the manifestations of my lethargy is that I frequently take the low road in the kitchen. Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoy cooking. Sometimes. When I’ve invited friends, for example. But after a long day of writing, tasting or researching – or of keeping the boutique open although I’m not actively working – I often take the easy path of eating sandwiches or prepared foods.
It was in this spirit that I bought a packaged parmentier de canard from the cold shelf of the grocery on my corner.
It was made by one of France’s leading packaged food companies, Fleury-Michon. And it was in their “celebrity chef” line of products, where each recipe is supposedly created, tested and approved by such culinary luminaries as Alain Senderens.
Dubbed “le fameux Parmentier de Canard,” this recipe was the brainchild of none other than the holiest of holies, Joel Robuchon, whose mugshot – in chef’s whites— occupied prime real estate on the package.
Given this snarky prologue, you will not be surprised that I found the dish barely edible. First, a mega-overdose of nutmeg. Then the near futile search for any semblance of duck meat. The list of ingredients on the package claimed that duck meat accounted for 95g of the composition which weighed in at 320g. But all I found were the occasional strands of meat. The damn thing was surely 98% fluffed up potatoes.
The price for this masterpiece of culinary blasphemy was nearly 6€. For half that price I could have bought the same amount of Parmentier de Canard at Picard. In case you have never heard of Picard, let me tell you that it is the frozen food chain made in heaven. One day I will write an essay on Picard for it has made my life and the lives of many of my friends much easier and much tastier.
Although I have enjoyed hundreds of Picard’s dishes, I have never tried their Parmentier de Canard. But, if experience is any guide, I know I will not be disappointed.
Yes, Picard, as I've intimated, has exceptionally high standards. But you'd think that when a chef of Robuchon's standing lends his name to a mass market product he'd be thinking not only of the financial rewards but, at least on some small level, of his own hard-earned reputation. Products such as this can only serve to tarnish that.
November 29, 2012 In TastingNotes, some gems from the Gens du Metier tasting.
Happy Thanksgiving 2012!
Tonight, this delectable Cotes du Bourg (Coulee de Bayon, cf p. 46 of The Wines of France: the Essential Guide for Savvy Shoppers) will be poured into this antique Venetian glass carafe.
Nov. 19,2012: In TastingNotes, A Perfect Wine. (Hint: its picture is on this page.)
November 14, 2012 Exciting news: At a Montlouis tasting yesterday. Francois Chidaine, the president of the growers syndicat, told me that Montlouis AOC, following the lead of Bourgueil AOC, has withdrawn from InterLoire, the organization responsible for, among other things, promoting Loire Valley wines. As of December, Montlouis, one of the Loire’s most dynamic appellations, will take charge of its own publicity –as it has been doing quite effectively for the past five years or so – and its members will no longer have to contribute to the mammoth, lumbering machine that is InterLoire.
Very briefly, here are my coups de coeur from the tasting, listed by style:
Damien Delecheneau/La Grange Tiphaine Nouveau Nez, Montlouis Petillant Originel
Xavier Weisskopf La Rocher des Violettes 2010 Pretillant Originel
Patrice Benoit Methode Traditonelle Brut/Best Buy, under 6 euros at cellar door!
Francois Chidaine 2009 Les Choisilles
Patrice Benoit 2011 Dilectum
Francois Chidaine 2010 (domaine)
Francois Chidaine 2009 Les Lys
Domaine Flamand-Deletang 2009 “L’Or des Petits Boulay”
Oct. 10, 2012: Slings & Arrows or, in today's parlance, So That Happened and then It Happened Again:
For those of you who have wondered why I haven't posted in such a long time, know this: it's not for lack of things to say, it's for the lack of a means with which to say it.
On or about Aug. 21 I tripped over the wire of my MacBook and the laptop fell to the floor. I was in Touraine and, on the following day, took the MacBook to Tours -- currently in an urban mess due to tramway construction. The hard drive was replaced, as was Microsoft Office for Mac. Initially all the Office apps were in French but we managed to get the English versions for all but Entourage. Then I found out that Bluetooth had also been affected but not repaired, which led to a visit to the Apple Store-Opera on my first day back in Paris.
On Sept. 22 I returned to Touraine in order to lead a budding wine professional around the vineyards of Anjou and Saumur. Getting off the local train between Tours and Chinon, I dropped the bag carrying my laptop. It still worked but I could only see a tiny triangle in the upper left hand corner. The screen had been broken.
I immediately tried to make an appointment with the Genius Bar at either of Paris' Apple Stores for the first day of my return but Opera was booked for weeks and Rivoli's first opening was the day after my return to Paris.
So I brought my poor MacBook to the Carrousel du Louvre-Rivoli the next day, the 28th of Sept. I just picked it up today -- such is the backlog.
In the interim I brought out my old iBook and found that I could access my email by using the cable connection but could do nothing else. Demanding more of the creaky old iBook meant staring at the spinning beach ball of doom for a miserable hour for each maneuver.
As I try to catch up over the next couple of days, I'll try to post some notes on the Anjou tastings as well as give some impressions of a recent visit to the vineyards of Savoie.
Right now I'm praying to the powers that be to keep my dear MacBook healthy and happy and safe from the clumsiness of its devoted owner.
Sept. 4, 2012: In FrenchFeast, what to do when life gives you too many mirabelles. With a recipe.
This morning's windfall. Well, the fraction not bitten by wasps. Click over to FrenchFeast to see pre-lunch wine samples.
July 25, 2012: In TastingNotes, A Bunch of Tasty Bourgueils from "Off" Vintages.
July 5, 10, 11, 2012: In FrenchFeast, my Pic St. Loup saga -- with plenty of tasting notes. July 4, 2012: I'm back in Touraine after an unexpectedly long stay in Paris. As often happens, life gets in the way of posting but here are some "tweets."
1) Major thanks to David Schildknecht for his hearty recommendation of Earthly Delights... in the latest issue of The Wine Advocate.
2)In the coming weeks, I hope to play catch-up on myself and post reports that have been waiting patiently to be written. Here's a preview:
a) Report on Languedoc tasting with a number of discoveries;
b) Report on a trip to Pic St. Loup;
c) The red wine section of my Chateauneuf-du-Pape report (which began in April);
d) Some recent thoughts on hypernatural wine;
e) Loire, Loire and more Loire.
I hereby entitle you to bug me about further delays.
June 29, 2012: Squirting sauce gribiche on hot-dog-shaped tete de veau at Yannick Alleno's Terroir Parisien. (I have no idea why it's sideways.)
Auberge du Cedre
June 25, 2012 In Out&About, a great little auberge in the heart of Pic St. Loup.
June 20, 2012: In WineTastingNotes, a round-up of delicious rosés.
June 4, 2012: Wonderful review of Earthly Delights by David Cobbold (in French).
2008 St Nicolas de Bourgueil "La Mine" from Yannick Amirault
May 29, 2012
My very basic cell phone camera is working again (thanks, Pascal), permitting me to take a picture of a lipsmacking St. Nicolas de Bourgueil just perfect for drinking today. I'm sure I don't have to tell you how terrific a vigneron Yannick Amirault is or that his wines are organic. At 12.5 alcohol, let's hear no complaints about lugubrious reds. Lightly chilled, this smooth and structured cab franc is fragrant with cherry fruit. It would be the perfect choice in a Bistrot Gourmand or to serve at home anytime at all.
May 28, 2012: In the mood for some comfort food? Try the recipe for Amish Chicken in FrenchFeast. May 16, 2012: In FrenchFeast, slothful Jackie has finally finished Gardening Day! May 9, 2012: In FrenchFeast, a meal with Annette and Pascal on the eve of Gardening Day.
May 7, 2012: Farcidure
If you watched the French elections last night you might have been puzzled by the "Farcidure" posters. This being France, it's not surprising that farcidure is a local gastronomic specialty.
Below, a clip from an article on Hollande's farcidure published in L'Express:
Plus exactement "farcidure grillée du pays d'Égletons ou milhassou", cuisinée par le député (PS) et président du conseil général de Corrèze.
Temps de préparation : 20 min
Temps de cuisson : 25 minutes
Ingrédients pour 4 personnes
1kg de pommes de terre (ni trop jeunes, ni trop vieilles) épluchées et lavées
1 vingtaine de petits morceaux de lard gras
8 pincées de sel
4 pincées de poivre
Pour le farci:
1/4 de blanc de poireau
1/4 de feuille de blette (vert et blanc)
2 gousses d'ail
2 branches de persil
"Si vous ne possédez pas de râpe à farcidure, utilisez une râpe à parmesan."
Hachez ensemble le blanc de poireau, l'oignon, la blette (vert et blanc), l'ail et le persil.
Râpez les pommes de terre et placez la pulpe obtenue dans une jatte.
Ajoutez-y le farci de légumes, le sel et le poivre et mélangez.
Dans une poêle ou une cocotte, faites suer la moitié du lard gras et sur feu assez vif, versez le mélange.
Laissez saisir puis baissez le feu et laissez cuire une dizaine de minutes; puis remettez à feu vif durant quelques minutes pour que cette face grille à nouveau.
Retournez sur un plat.
Mettez le reste de lard gras à suer dans la poêle et renouvelez la même opération pour l'autre face en laissant cuire plus longtemps à couvert ou, mieux, couvrez la cocotte et mettez à cuire au four.
Au final, votre milhassou sera grillé dessus et dessous et moelleux à l'intérieur. Ce milhassou se mange seul avec une salade ou bien en accompagnement d'une viande en sauce, un coq au vin par exemple!
May 5, 2012: First installment of meals leading up to Gardening Day in FrenchFeast. May 3, 2012 : Forgive the silence. Sometimes Life happens. I'm going to postpone writing about CH9 reds in order to post notes on Gardening Day and some meals and wines leading up to it. (Sometime between tonight and Sunday.) April 26, 2012: A return to those "best laid plans" in WineTastingNotes, with six white CH9s. And in Jackiezine, I provide a further comment to the Baumard dispute. April 17, 2012 : And in the realm of "the best laid plans," I had planned to continue my Chateauneuf-du-Pape posts but got blindsided by a renewal of attacks against the Baumard family and their challenge to changes in the laws regulating the Quarts de Chaume appellation. In Jackiezine, you'll find a long entry -- with much back and forth between me and Jim Budd (who seems to be prosecuting the Baumards). Indeed, this is my second Jackiezine on the subject. And I'm sure I'll be adding to it.
April 10, 2012: In WineTastingNotes: Tantalizing Tavels.
March 22, 2012: Another charmer from Jacky Blot's La Taille aux Loups in WineTastingNotes.
March 19, 2012: Two dry Vouvray’s from Huet’s “Le Mont” vineyard in WineTastingNotes.
March 11, 2012: On the Earthly Delights page, a couple of new fans.
And an apology for having been so silent. Painters are hard at work in my apartment and I have been relegated to my bedroom. (God bless WiFi!) There is a solid layer of plaster dust everywhere you look. But when it's over -- in about a week -- it will be wonderful!
2012 Michelin Ratings (177.5KB) February 27, 2012: For those of you who still place some stock in the Red Guide 's restaurant ratings, here is the 2012 list, hot off the press.
February 29, 2012: In WineTastingNotes, the subject is Montlouis: four beauties from Francois Chidaine and four from Jacky Blot/Domaine de la Taille aux Loups.
February 25, 2012:
I don't read the RVF but I'm glad David Schildknecht does. Last night I got an email from him with a link to the RVF's "scoop" that Noel Pinguet, who was due to retire in 2015, would be leaving Huet this year. The parting sounded less than amicable. Later, David received a more positive take on the matter from Huet's US importer:
"Blake Murdock of Huet importer The Rare Wine Co. has written me just now, for attribution, the following:
Noel will be a loss to this estate, but I think that we owe it to the estate and its continuing arc of history to put his departure in context. In other words, this will not mark the end of Huet's long period of greatness.
The quality will not change. In fact, the quality and consistency have only improved in the Hwang era. And I think that committing to a larger proportion of Sec wines (which, as the RVF article noted, has been encouraged by the Hwangs) will only strengthen the demi-sec and dessert wines at this estate – refining the selection of fruit for these cuvées.
The long time cellar-master/vineyard manager, Jean-Bernard Berthomé, and Noel’s hand-picked successor, Benjamin Joliveau, are both staying on and committed to building on the strong base they’ve inherited from Noel (and Gaston Huet before him).
Furthermore, as the RVF article pointed out, Noel had already planned his departure (in 2015). The team he leaves behind is highly skilled and passionate; they won't miss a beat."
February 23, 2012: Still hung-over from yesterday's lunch. Montlouis tomorrow -- with any luck.
February 21, 2012: Having finally recovered from the head cold from hell that struck after my return from Angers, I am finally getting around to putting my notes on my hard drive and picking out some favorites to feature here. In WineTastingNotes, superb Vouvrays from Domaine Vigneau-Chevreau and from Domaine Daniel Allias, a razor-sharp Chinon blanc from Domaine Olga Raffault, two stunning Jasnieres from Domaine de Belliviere as well as a lap-it-up Pineau d'Aunis.
February 11, 2012
I have moved the back-and-forth between me and blogger Jim Budd regarding Domaine des Baumard and the Quarts de Chaume appellation to Jackiezine where I have combined it with an earlier back-and-forth. The earlier correspondence puts the debate into greater perspective.
To further clarify the situation, I will be posting what I'll call the "Baumard Back Story" which I hope will give further clarify the current, deeply regrettable donnybrook.
Now in general distribution!
Yes, my book is now available on Amazon and on BarnesandNoble (see links below). Give your favorite wine geek a great Xmas gift and shop here!
January 11, 2012: Nice to see my book as the subject of an enthusiastic thread on website wineloverspage.com. Here's the start of the thread, name removed to protect the innocent.
"Here is Jacqueline Friedrich's long awaited follow up to A Wine and Food Guide to the Loire, her classic published in 1996. Actually, this is only Volume 1 of a planned 3-volume set. The focus of this volume is the eastern Loire which Friedrich calls the Kingdom of Sauvignon Blanc. In addition to up-to-date coverage of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume, there is extensive discussion of the ongoing renaissance in Menetou-Salon, Reuilly and Quincy. Friedrich is enthusiastic about the improved quality she finds throughout the region. This is a must (rather a book) for every Loire head." scroll down for January 24th's post
January 10, 2012: More praise for "Earthly Delights..."
In the current edition of his wonderful quarterly, "The Art of Eating," Ed Behr writes a lengthy, reflective review of "Earthly Delights..." I'll be posting more of the review later but here's the last paragraph:
"The first volume of Earthly Delights is a superb portrait of a region and its achievements. I only wish all three volumes were ready. For those of us who truly love the Loire, the book is a required tool to understand the breadth of current possibilities. Every wine region deserves such a passionate advocate. "
If you want to order the book, this link should take you there. If it doesn't, please let me know!
February 3, 2012: In WineTastingNotes, pairing Vouvray with the exotic cuisine of the Ile de Maurice.
January 28, 2012: This is the Question
Early tomorrow morning I head off to Angers for Act One of the yearly Salon des Vins de Loire. I say Act One because this year, to the great irritation of many visitors, the various "Salons Off" decided to hold their tastings -- the three most important, anyway -- a week before the official Salon des Vins de Loire. The range of organic, biodynamic and hypernatural wines is the focus, with tastings being held by Renaissance des Appellations, La Dive, and Vins Bio de la Loire. So it's down to Angers tomorrow, back to Paris Monday night, then back to Angers on Monday, February 6th for Act Two, the official Salon des Vins de Loire, which will last until Wednesday night.
This year my focus will be on the wines of Eastern Touraine. And therein lies my question.
My plan has been to make Touraine the subject of Volume II of my Earthly Delights from the Garden of France: Wines of the Loire. Though that is still the plan, I have been brooding over three alternatives:
A) Volume II would follow the style of Volume I and would cover all of Touraine, east and west; or,
B) Volume II would cover only eastern Touraine -- Vouvray, Montlouis, Jasnieres, the vast Touraine AOC, including its satellites (hyphenates like Touraine-Amboise, and spin-offs like Cheverny) -- and the emphasis would be on Chenin Blanc but would not neglect the other grape varieties. Western Touraine would be combined with the Saumurois to make Volume III, and Cabernet Franc would be the focus; and Anjou/the Pays Nantais would become Volume IV.
C) None of the Above: Simply write a pan-Loire book in the style of the 1996 edition, A Wine & Food Guide to the Loire.
I would love feedback. So please email me with your thoughts. In case worries about financial returns influence your thinking, I should tell you that I never make any money out of any of this. It's pure folly.
January 23,24,25, 2012: Notes from a Cahors Tasting in WineTastingNotes.
January 12, 2012: In WineTastingNotes My Wine of the Year.
January 7, 2012: The Best Laid Plans
Well, I was going to post -- belatedly, yes -- my Wine of the Year. (Surprise, it's not from the Loire.) And I was going to write about holiday meals, my trip to Puglia and a heavenly 4-day stop-over in Rome. Three days set aside for this purpose. Then, a winemaker -- whose has become a friend -- asked me to translate the text of the pamphlet he has prepared for the Salon Bio in Montpellier. Fuggedaboudit! I may be asking for trouble here but: winemaking is a craft and writing is a craft. So...I've still got another day of translating ahead of me. And this after a very amicable dispute in which I suggested he might have some "Freudian issues" about referencing the past, even when the past is really, really good. Ah, it be's that way sometime. I'll get to the other stuff but I'm also preparing my plan of attack for the Salon des Vins de Loire. No small thing.
And, because one must always take notes, in WineTastingNotes, the chosen Champagne.
December 22, 2011: A bit of personal gossip:
Back in rain-soaked Touraine. Arrived yesterday. First mission: bail my car out of jail. I had parked my deluxe 1987 Super Cinq in the open lot at the Langeais station. Sometime, probably mid-November, someone or ones decided to have a little fun with it and, seemingly without gaining access to the car, turned it so that it faced sideways and took up two spaces. They also broke the rear mirror, the gas tank cover and put a nice dent in the hood. So first to free my car: 328 euros. Then to the gendarmerie to put in a complaint re vandalism -- in the hopes, probably vain, that my insurance company will pay me something, and then home.
What disaster awaits me here, I wondered. Well, two mini-disasters: William, the boulanger who was babysitting my plants, has flown the coop. No idea where my plants are but will start hunting. Then, no internet connection. After several hours it was determined that the problem was the 'Livebox' which I should exchange for a newer model.
How long can you live w/o internet? Me? Not very long at all. Early this AM went into Chinon. Paid them 40 euros to "parametre" it and took it home. Still no connection. But somehow, after lunch and a nap, I could get a connection. Major relief.
Time for a cup of tea. Unscrew the cap on the gas canister, do all the stove top manipulations. Nothing. At this point, there's a knock on the door. Deus ex machinus!
It's Jean, my neighbor. Come to bring me two freshly made boudin blancs -- made that morning by the menfolk of the village under the tutelage of Guy, the retired boucher/charcutier.
Jean determined there was no gas left in the canister and he lugged in a fresh, full one from my barn, installed it and now, here I am, happy, au chaud, drinking tea and ONLINE!
December 19, 20, 2011: In WineTastingNotes, two enthusiastic Champagne recommendations.
December 11, 2011: Sunday Morning Tweet: This just noticed: my Danone (Dannon) Activia yogurt "Saveur Citron" (lemon flavored) also describes its flavor as "Aroma Citroen". I know some people love the way new cars smell but this is carrying it too far.
December 9, 2011: A personal apology for being so derelict in my writerly duties. There are reasons.
From November 22 to December 1 I was in Italy. This trip has provided me with a lot of material which I hope to share.
Once home, however, I was put out of commission for over a week by the head cold from hell. I am finally recovering and hope to begin posting tasty commentary very soon.
November 20, 2011: In WineTastingNotes, my report on the succulent gamays of the Cote Roannaise.
November 17, 2011:
Official report on the 2011 vintage in the central Loire, aka les vins du centre. To be taken with a grain of salt.
Summer weather in spring, autumn weather in summer: an extraordinary set of weather patterns shaped the 2011 winegrowing season. In April and May the vines experienced unusually rapid growth which continued right up until flowering; then things settled down again, and normal growth and ripening patterns resumed. 2011 is bound to go down as one of the earliest vintages since the famous harvest of 1893. Despite the weather, the wines are just as we had hoped and expected: full and supple on the palate with the classic Loire freshness, well-defined flavours and the potential to broaden out and develop over the next few months.
In the Vineyard
Temperatures were mild towards the end of winter and bud-break came early, around the first week in April. A very warm, dry spring (2.7ºC above average in April and May, rainfall down by 65%) caused an almost unprecedented rate of growth; each new phase followed the last at a frenzied pace, leaving only 53 days between bud break and flowering instead of the average 65. Flowering itself was rapid, three weeks ahead of schedule and was over by the end of May.
And then everything changed. Temperatures fell, especially between July 14th and August 15th. It became more humid; and not a moment too soon for the grapes on which the frenetic pace was starting to take its toll. The vines recovered well, took up the moisture they needed and quickly got back to normal. The temperature rose again during the ripening stage; pockets of thundery rain sped up ripening but had a negative effect on plant health in certain places.
Apart from the hailstorms which caused some severe damage in part of the Quincy vineyard on May 2nd, the weather was not quite so unkind at harvest time. Mildew and oidium, the two main vine diseases, were relatively superficial, and little remedial intervention was needed.
Early development and healthy foliage were among the first indicators of a high quality vintage. Despite rapid development in most areas, the ripening phase was slow. Patience definitely proved to be a virtue this year: in addition to monitoring the sugar-to-acidity balance which quickly reached the required levels, wine growers were well advised to taste the berries to assess flavour ripeness. Delaying in this way was a feasible option as the grapes were generally in good health, except for the 10% or so of parcels where botrytis made a worrying appearance. Where grape health was compromised, débourbage (whites) and painstaking tri (hand picking) for the reds helped to “clean up” the harvest and maintain a high level of quality.
The grapes began to show good levels of sugar (but not excessive, as in 2009) alongside relatively low acidity. Thanks to mild temperatures and an often overcast sky, freshness of flavour has not been compromised.
Harvesting was staggered over almost a month, and the weather was kind throughout. The terroirs which had suffered from lack of water during June and July were the first to be ready; the first grapes were picked from August 29th onwards, in Sancerre for whites and Pinot Noir in Reuilly for reds. Reds and whites were harvested simultaneously. In the Central Loire most were harvested between 5th and 17th September with the last crops coming in on September 22nd. Never before has a harvest been over before the end of summer; not even 2003 and 1976 were quite this early.
2011 Vintage: First Impressions
Whites are soft and mellow with a lovely natural sweetness. They are beautifully rounded, and despite reduced acidity, freshness and balance are good. Flavours are already intense and elegant, but will open up more over the next couple of months. White flowers and fruit are the dominant flavours (citrus and white-fleshed fruit) with vegetal and spicy notes.
Reds are showing a vibrant, intense colour. They are well-rounded on the attack with expressive flavours of fruit (morello cherries) and flowers (peonies). Tannins are well-balanced and even, often a touch firm on the finish, but this will mellow over time and meld with the softness already apparent on the mid-palate.
November 15, 2011: In WineTastingNotes, an up close and personal look at THE COTES DU FOREZ :
Oct. 29, 2011: First update to new book plus a restaurant recommendation in Selected Works/Earthly Delights. (NB: You must click on the book's own page, not the general page for selected works.)
Sometimes I wonder why I bother. Then I get a note like this from one of the people I most respect in the wine industry -- in this case, Robert Vifian, perhaps the world's finest expert on the wines of Pomerol. "Ton livre est superbe car bcp plus qu'une actualisation ,c'est un GRAND APPROFONDISSEMENT (bonnes mentions utiles sur les vins natures )du précédent,on attend impatiemment la suite. Pour moi qui ne me suis vraiment intéressé au rouges de Loire (j'ai toujours aimé le chenin & certains sauvignons) que depuis 1988 ,alors que je déguste sérieusement depuis 1968 ton premier etait LA référence pour moi. FELICITATIONS
Oct. 7, 2011: In Jackiezine, a reconstruction of an email dialogue between me and Terry Theise on high alcohol wines, why they exist and what can or should be done about them.
Email from my pal Abel Osorio, vigneron at Domaine Nau in Bourgueil, in response to my query about the harvest.
Well, not that bad at all.
Bien sur l'été a manqué et la vigne n'a pas progressé convenablement, mais au final le raisin (I mean our cabernet) est sain et il y aura quelques bons coups à boire.
Comme la vie, qui n'est pas une ligne droite comme on le sait depuis que nous avons pris conscience que le passé existe, le vin est une affaire de petits détails que nous cherchons dès que nos verres se remplissent.
C'est une année ou l'impression final se fera sur telle ou telle qualité et moins sur une impression global. Ceci dit, il y aura, chez nous aussi, de superbes coups à boire.
Tout ça pour te dire que je suis bien content du résultat et espère l'être plus après la malo.
Now I've got to start contacting other vigneron pals though I'll wait before pestering the chenin producers.
Sept. 29, 2011:
Terry Theise and I have been good buddies since he contacted me after reading the first edition of my Loire book. We, and his wonderful wife Karen (aka Odessa) Piper, have shared many wonderful bottles and spent many hours remaking the world. Terry has just returned from one of his many voyages and wasted no time purchasing and reading my latest book, "Earthly Delights: The Wines of the Loire: Volume One etc.
Here's the email he sent me (minus a point or two of very well observed constructive criticism which shall be taken into account for Volume II): "Howdy,
Both our copies arrived. We each ordered one so that we wouldn't fight over a single copy. I've more or less finished my first pass, and will be dipping in again at leisure, and more deliberately.
You will certainly have produced the standard reference for these times. The things I will applaud are the fundamental things one always applauds in your work. You are thorough, responsible, intellectually rigorous, considerate of your reader, large-hearted but not overly sentimental, somatic and careful.
I can't wait to see Touraine, because I suspect it will draw from an even deeper and more lyrical part of you.
I agree with nearly all your ideas and arguments, even the most provocative ones.
I have really nothing negative to say, nor any caveats that would diminish my praise. Yours is important work, and you do it seriously and well. I think when all is said and done, the collected volumes will accumulate into something that is also beautiful.
The big-picture is that you're one of those people the wine world really cannot do without. I'm blown away by the sheer honor of this work of yours.
August 26, 2011: I am creating a separate page for my new book. Watch this space for info.
In the meantime, the title is, TA DAH!
EARTHLY DELIGHTS FROM THE GARDEN OF FRANCE
Wines of the Loire
THE KINGDOM OF SAUVIGNON BLANC
And the Sauvignon Satellites
Front and back cover of my new book. More information, including how to buy it, coming soon!
August 10, 2011:SOME PERSONAL GOSSIP: I have been pretty silent of late but it’s been for what I hope is a good cause. I’m finishing a book that will be published – if all goes as planned – in September. Yes, it’s on the Loire. But, no, it’s not exactly what you expect. More details very soon.
(I’ve also been trying to rid my country cottage of an infestation of meal moths. Quite an ordeal, I can tell you. And now I’m attacking the weeds that are quickly turning my garden into a virgin forest and am enjoying my own crop of tomatoes.)
The rights to my book, The Wines of France, have just reverted to me. I have been asking for this and I am thrilled. The experience of working with Ten Speed Press was a nightmare. When people ask for specifics, I say, “How much time have you got? The list of lapses and blunders would read like Bernie Madoff’s Bill of Particulars.” One of these days I’ll be moved to write it all down and post the sad story in Jackiezine but right now, it’s time to look ahead, finish the last little bits on the upcoming book and get started on the next.
July 11, 2011: In Out&About a wine-and-food pairing dinner in downtown Budoni, Sardinia.
July 2, 2011: In WineTastingNotes, two more wines from Sardinia, both from a grape called Monica
June 27, 2011: In WineTastingNotes, two Cannonaus from Sardinia.
June 25, 2011: In Out & About, night one of my recent trip to Sardinia, a pictorial essay of sorts. This was my first vacation in four years. I had just finished the project -- which I'll tell you about before September -- that has kept me from blogging for the past several months (or longer).
May 14, 2011: Talk about a blast from the past! The reason for my silence on these pages is that I've doubled down on the Loire book update, working 24/7. Spent all day reading James Wilson's terrific book Terroir with the hope of being better able to explain the varieties of limestone soils etc.
I was brooding of a number of geology-related subjects while trying to a nice glass of Sancerre in my garden. Then I decided I wanted to look up "mud." Most of my references, not to mention my MacBook, were upstairs. I pulled out my undergraduate geology book, entitled, appropriately enough, Geology and written by William Putnam, updated by Ann Bradley Basset.
From various underlinings, I see that I had referred to this book when writing the first Loire book. No recollection.
I found a sheet of legal foolscap inserted between two pages, fully covered with my handwriting. It was something I had written way back in the day at the time of final exams. I don't know if I ever gave it to the teacher and, if I did, what his response was. But I was pretty surprised reading it tonight, as I struggle through Geology 101 yet again. Here's the text:
"I'm writing this because I feel unhappy about this text. Unhappy for you and for myself. I feel like I'm regurgitating facts that I've picked up from the text, the encyclopedia or elsewhere. I don't really understand some of the concepts and don't feel I could do any independent thinking with them.
"Because I don't like that feeling, I occasionally stick in a stray idea here and there -- all of which are probably totally erroneous -- but I had no way of knowing and figured some independent thinking, even if wrong, was better than none.
"We are in an unfortunate bind. NYU requires that liberal arts majors take 3 courses in science. So we have to take something and you have to teach people who "aren't interested." Because we are perhaps sick of being where we don't want to be just to fulfill some bureaucratic ideal, we are defensive about learning. Because you feel deeply about your science you are defensive about people who aren't interested.
"Actually, I think all of us are interested. Maybe I shouldn't speak for everyone. My feelings are just my own. I just have a habit of projecting them.
"Unfortunately we are not taught motivation in public school. We arrive at university generally bored and alienated by our previous schooling and have no real desire to learn when we get to college.
"But underneath that boredom, I think, lies great curiosity that just wants turning on or opening up.
"Because of the inadequacy of pre-college training perhaps the most one can hope for out of college is that that curiosity will win out, encouraging people to continue their studies for the rest of their lives. That is no small thing, although ideally it should be a given and not a goal.
"So what I'm driving at is that geology is "relevant" to us especially now with all the talk of ecology. Aside from that, geology, like everything else one can know, is just plain interesting.
"I know that general tests have an important function. The problem is that tests are among the most boring things in the world. One must have a desire -- really a desire beyond a passing grade -- to read and remember anything. I think that desire, at least for myself, comes about when I have learned about a particular thing in moderate depth, which then makes me want to understand the totality.
"I read about geothermal and tidal energy and still don't really understand it. Synclines and anticlines, while beginning to give me a picture of how mountain ranges were formed. are still very fuzzy concepts in my head and are very awkward and pretentious words in my mouth. I felt like an ass drawing the stages of the development of the ranges because I don't really understand it.
"I fell that I would benefit more from working on a paper where I could begin to understand the concepts I was reading about because I could spend more time with them."
That's all she wrote. I passed the course. And here I am today, trying to make sense of Jurassic and Cretaceous soils.
April 21, 2011: I know, I know. I said I'd write more about my transhumance and getting back into the rhythm of country life but I haven't. I've been doubling down on the Loire book and offer, instead, the draft of my review of the wines of Francis & Pascal Cotat in WineTastingNotes.
April 12, 2011: The Transhumance, Part I
Back in Touraine: the bad news: you can't imagine what it's like to schlep suitcases and backpacks full of notebooks, documents and a MacBook, plus a minimum of clothes, from apt to the Gare Montparnasse, TGV to Tours -- the beautiful Gare is all but buried under scaffolding -- then get on the navette to Chinon which finally brings me to my car, a 1987 Renault Super Cinq within which even the crown jewels of England would be safe. Arrive at home: grass and weeds in ecstasy, indoor plants dead; freezer frozen shut. Ok, on the plus side: gorgeous weather, some of the fruit trees still in bloom, irises coming in, tulips fading in heat but perking up at night, everything is green, green, green and I'm about to have an artisanal pastis in the garden. (More to come.)
March 29, 2011: In Out&About, dinner at Georgette with Dante & Co.
March 23, 2011: In Out&About, a report on a bacchic meal at Le Miroir in the 18th arrt of Paris, the last of the March madness meals. (I'm working backwards.)
March 18, 2011: On a happier note, the first report on March feasting madness is now on view in FrenchFeast.
March 17, 2011: I do believe I have the dubious distinction of having been defriended by none other than Marcella Hazan. Anyone who gushes enough over her majesty's existence can be Marcella's friend but I guess it takes something special to pierce her 'me-myself-and-I' bubble to provoke an outward generated stab. If you've read an earlier post in Jackiezine, you've witnessed part of an earlier skirmish -- which Marcella deleted from her site. She lately re-initiated her obsessive diatribe against cele
March 14, 2011: I don't care what it means in Vietnamese, "dung" is not a good name for a restaurant.
March 1, 2011: In WineTastingNotes, a report on the delicious Sancerres from Domaine Bailly-Reverdy.
Feb. 15, 2011 : In WineTastingNotes, a report on a wonderful Quincy producer, Pierre Ragon/Domaine Trotereau who I missed in the first edition of the Loire book but definitely found this time around!
Feb. 8, 2011: In WineTastingNotes, a report on a singular Sancerre producer, Vincent Gaudry.
Feb. 4, 2011: It's about time. Right? I'm currently wrapped up in shawls and sniffling and sneezing and generally aching all over. I felt the cold/flu coming on during the Loire wine marathon but thought I could stave it off until the end. No such luck. On the morning of the last day I knew I had to head directly to the train station instead of the Parc des Expositions. Fortunately, I'd gotten a lot of work done while still in relatively good health. As soon as I can breathe, I'll start posting some tasting notes and news.
January 17, 2011: Apologies for my silence. I'm working hard on the Loire book, preparing for the Salon des Vins de Loire and dealing with serious home repair problems.
In Jackiezine you'll find parts of a debate between me and Marcella Hazan on the merits of French cooking. It's only part of what were two lengthy threads and some of the formatting is very strange and I don't know how to fix it!
Jan. 3, 2011: Tasting Tweet 2008 Sancerre rose from Bernard Reverdy. They were known for their terrific roses and I'm so glad to see (taste) that that's still true. This is taut and focused and big (for a 12.5 Loire wine) -- I mean it's a stand-up wine, lightly fruity and floral but more mineral. I love it. Drinking it with remains of truffle-layered Brie (which gets better by the day). Now ideally, I might have liked an old GC from le Mesnil or Chouilly with this but I'm determined to get through my Sancerre samples (and schlepping 17 bottles up to Paris with me tomorrow) so I figured I'd treat myself to the Reverdy. Happy Vinous New Year!
December 31, 2010: Menu for the New Year: foie gras on pain d'epices, galantine de canard aux noisettes, terrine de biche, followed by lapin a la moutard with bow tie pasta tossed with sweet butter and parmesan; salad of local cress, St. Nectaire, Brie de Meaux layered with black truffles; then assortment of dark chocolate with clementines and rum. (Wines not yet entirely set.)
BTW, I never posted Xmas extravaganzas because I never got the jpegs.
BTW #2, posting listed below for October 24 has been deleted. Thanks to the kind intervention of Francoise Vellinga, a wonderful Dutch wine merchant, I have received samples from Francois Cotat. Can't wait to taste them!
December 28, 2010 : In WineTastingNotes, a bow to the Baumards.
December 22, 2010: In WineTastingNotes, a gaggle of lesser-known Sancerres.
December 17, 2010: In Out&About, a cozy, hearty meal at Les Ronchons, down-home cooking at nice prices just a half block from La Tour d'Argent.
December 14, 2010 In WineTastingNotes, a clutch of fine biodynamic Sancerres from Alphonse Mellot.
December 8, 2010: In WineTastingNotes, seven lovely biodynamic Sancerres from Domaine Vacheron.
December 7, 2010: In WineTastingNotes, some very fine, biodynamic chenins from Chidaine, Huet, Nicolas.
December 4, 2010 In WineTastingNotes, Notes on Wines Drunk at Thanksgiving.
November 30, 2010: In WineTastingNotes, Let Them Drink Yellowtail, a brief report on Gens du Metier tasting and the wines of Philippe Alliet.
November 24, 2010:So what's everyone drinking tomorrow? I'm staying in the Loire, natch: 2 Pouilly-Fumes, 2 Menetou-Salon whites; 1 2004 Chinon; 1 2006 Bourgueil; 1 Cot-Cabernet combo; 1 Valencay; at least one Cremant de Loire. Tasting notes to follow. (Right now I'm making the cranberry sauce and the stuffing and clearing wine cartons out of the living/dining room.)
For November 25 - November 29, 2010: For advice on which stands to visit at the Salon des Vignerons Independents in Paris, Go to Out&About, date
November 24, 2009: A Tour de France in 31 Stands :
The Salon des Vignerons Independants starts Thursday, the 25th of November, an ends on Monday. Thousands of vignerons will be offering samples of their wines. And many more thousands will be tasting, shopping for the holidays (or for the entire year). The scene will be like Time Square or Trafalgar Square on New Year’s Eve. How to avoid a nervous breakdown?
Here’s a list of 31 stands, a mini-tour de France. Yes, there are good winemakers who aren’t on this list. But it’s meant to be a Cliff’s Notes guide, a short(ish) list of reliably fine producers, vignerons whose wines I think you will love. (The Letter and Number after each name refers to the aisle and the stand. There's practical info at the bottom of the list.)
November 23, 2010: The Loire gains two additional AOCs: Haut-Poitou and Cotes d'Auvergne.
November 22, 2010: In Out&About, my take on the hot new Paris bistro, Saturne.
November 13, 2010: So I'm at this restaurant, one I like, the other day for a wine tasting. On the blackboard there are three wines listed to be served by the glass. One of them, written as a 2005 Touraine moelleux Pibaleau interests me -- for the obvious reasons. I was a bit curious, however, about why it was listed as a "Touraine" as Azay-le-Rideau, where Pibaleau is located is made from chenin blanc so why not use the Touraine-Azay-le-Rideau appellation?
The restaurant, I should note, is closed to the public for this event, BTW, and we'll be having lunch there.
I've finished the preprandial tasting and ask if I can taste that Pibaleau. You'd think I'd asked for a swig of DRC. Well, it will cost you 4E50, I was told. "I just want a tasting sip,"I said. Many servers were consulted, including the very stiff person -- who may have come across as super stiff because his white shirt was starched within an inch of its linen life -- who seemed to be the manager. I walked away, shaking my head in that combination of 'what more could I have expected' and outright disbelief. (Full disclosure: I have worked in many restaurants.) I think they must have consulted the chef owner and by-and-by a glass with about 2 ounces (all I needed) was handed to me. I had a question. This did not go over well either. But they listened, lips pursed. Is it a Touraine-Azay-le-Rideau? Is that what is says on the label? When they looked at me as if they were Christine O'Donnell reacting to the statement that the separation of church and state was in the First Amendment, I added, "Touraine?" Same stupefaction. One of the crew offered that it was a Vin de Pays. Ok. Sometime later, starched shirt approached and whispered that the wine -- which was quite nice, BTW, was, indeed, a Touraine-Azay-le-Rideau.
Note to young wait staff: when you are serving wine at a wine tasting, held for wine professionals, many of whom have more than one grey strand in their hair, count to ten before you manifest outright scorn when they ask you a wine question.
November 10, 2010: Tasting Tweet: I hope you've read my LA Times article on Montlouis Petillant Originel, which should be posted in Article Archives. Here's a wee update. Yesterday I attended a Montlouis tasting lunch. One of my favorites was Xavier Weisskopf's (Rocher des Violettes) Petillant Originel. It was oh-so-dry, creamy, chalky, saline, with lemon accents. It made me think of Champagne from the Cotes des Blancs. I couldn't -- and didn't -- stop drinking it. (It was served with an appetizer of veal carpaccio garnished with hazelnut butter, lemon zests and what the chef called "cauliflower couscous". The meal went on. More wines were served. And then came coffee. My colleague and friend, Michel Smith, went off in search of a bottle and came back with this. The two of us polished it off and then headed out into the grey sunshine that is autumn in Paris.
November 3, 2010: While watching the depressing election returns I received this wonderful note from Victor Hazan (via Marcella's Facebook link):
Jackie, Victor wants me to send you this:
Your book The Wines of France has bowled me over. It is the product not of a pedagogue or of a publicizer or of a tale spinner, but of an astonishingly well-informed, disciplined and acute tasting se...nsibility armed with language of great communicativeness, immediacy, and clarity. It is simply the best, most useful book on the wines of a single country that has been written. No one who drinks wine, and is likely to buy or order a bottle of French wine can afford to be without it. My admiration for what you have accomplished and what you are capable of accomplishing is immense.
October 24, 2010: In WineTastingNotes, the sad tale of a wine journalist trying to taste the Sancerres of Paul and Francois Cotat.
October 17, 2010: In Jackiezine, an insider baseball post on a debate about the wines of Domaine des Baumard, particularly the Quarts de Chaume. It was triggered by a post on Jim Budd's blog, Jim's Loire. I consider Jim a friend and colleague but, as you'll see, disagree with both the position he has taken and the manner in which he's pursuing the matter. The debate seems to have spilled over onto other blogs so I've posted the meat of it -- the latest 'skirmish' -- here.
October 8, 2010: The best laid plans.
So much for my promise to write all about the Roussillon trip before the end of the week. Dead-ended by the flu. But I hope to get back to it as soon as the wheezing and sneezing and chills stop and my head no longer feels as if it’s orbiting another planet.
In addition to talking about exciting new winemakers I also want to tackle some issues. These are topics I’ve been categorizing as “Get Over It” issues – like the question of alcohol levels and the people who condemn out of hand, even refusing to taste, wines over, say 14.5 degrees alcohol. I say “Get over it” and I ‘ll explain why. I also want to explore the subject of wine writing in the following sense: the world of wine has become too vast for any one person to be able to cover it adequately. We all need to specialize and to understand our limitations and/or prejudices. This leads to another concern: I think there’s a real split in the wine writing world between those who have traditionally focused on what I’ll call Blue Chip wines and those who have concentrated on, for want of a better term, vignerons. When reading articles by American wine writers located on the west coast, I'm also struck by how ignorant they seem to be of what's actually happening in vinous France and how biased they seem to be against it. Enough fighting words?
Here's hoping that a weekend of bed rest will restore me to my habitual state of semi-sanity.
October 4, 2010: Just returned from a terrific trip to the Upper Agly Valley. Lots to report -- tasting notes and visits to properties such as recent discovery Domaine des Soulanes as well as new structures set up by Hugo d'Agosta ("Mexico's Mondavi), Katie Jones, and others, as well as perennial faves like Herve Bizeul/Domaine des Clos des Fees. Right now, however, I'm going mano-a-mano with the onset of what seems like it could be a nasty flu. So watch this spot...
September 25, 2010: For a girls' night in, a half-dozen wines described in WineTastingNotes.
September 23, 2010: As promised, in WineTastingNotes, a lengthier review of Pouilly-Fume's rising star Jonathan Pabiot.
September 16, 2010: Tomorrow, September 17th, is the second anniversary of the death of Didier Dageueneau. In WineTastingNotes, I've posted a tribute to the family.
September 13, 2010 Returned last night from exciting but exhausting ampelographic journey in the Gers. More on that later. In the meantime, just read Jancis Robinson's article on Savennieres in the Financial Times. Surprised, shocked really, not to see some favorites among the seven producers recommended. Among the missing: Pierre-Bise (Joelle & Claude Papin) (!!), Vincent & Catherine Ogereau (!!), Dom des Forges, Ch la Franchaie, Ch de Soucherie, Ch de Plaisance and others...
Jonathan Pabiot: Pouilly-Fume's Rising Star
Sept. 10, 2010
The new Didier Dagueneau? That’s easy: it’s his son, Benjamin (or Louis-Benjamin). But Benjamin has a soul brother, Jonathan Pabiot, 26, whose first vintage of Pouilly-Fume was 2005. Benjamin and Jonathan went to through public school together, defied death in motocross races together and, together – well, each at his own domaine – are making the best, most probing and most exciting Pouilly Fumes.
I'm off to the Gers for a seminar/conference on ampelography. When I get back, I'll put my interview and tasting notes on Jonathan in order and post them here.
September 5, 2010: In FrenchFeast, the last Sunday Summer lunch in the garden before returning to Paris.
September 2, 2010 : In Mail&Events a brief answer to a reader's question about producers in Auvergne.
August 21, 2010:tasting wine for tomorrow's village aperitif. Lots of Pouilly Fume, Valencays, some Fief-Vendeen-Mareuils and maybe a sparkling Vouvray or two. Marvin Shanken, eat your heart out!LOL!
August 18, 2010: In WineTastingNotes, a post on the Pouillys of Serge Dagueneau & Filles.
August 17, 2010: In Jackiezine the wine world's debate on biodynamics continues. Warning: a lot of it is in French.
August 13, 2010: A tasting tweet. I've never thought Friday the 13th was an unlucky day. In fact, I once scheduled an operation for Friday the 13th -- because, though this wasn't one of my many superstitions, it obviously scares a lot of people. The operating rooms were empty.
But I digress. As evidence of my luck on this supposedly sinister day, I discovered an excellent Pouilly-Fume. It's from young Jonathan Pabiot. There are lots of Pabiots in Pouilly. Jonathan represents the new generation, a la Louis-Benjamin Dagueneau. I'll be writing more about him later but I absolutely loved his basic cuvee of 2008 -- crystalline, focused, good grip and wonderful handling of that 2008 acid.
August 11, 2010: In FrenchFeast a wee report on a Franco-Scottish feast practically in my backyard.
August 8, 2010: In Friends and their Stories a distinctly non-wine-related story from an old friend from my East Village Other days. It's both fascinating and revolting -- opening a window on a distinct sub-culture: women who shave their heads. (I told you it wasn't wine related.)
August 5, 2010 : Yet more examples of how, as Dickens's Mr. Bumble would have said, the law is a ass and how the Loire keeps adopting measures bent on defeating itself:
1) Two new AOCs: Touraine-Chenonceaux and Touraine-Oisly have just been authorized. The Loire already has too many appellations. These latest were totally unnecessary. The new appellations can make good, even excellent country wines that will sell for reasonable prices. But in no way have they demonstrated that they make better wines than those in the general Touraine AOC. As it is, can anyone name five good producers in Touraine-Mesland? This is simply ridiculous and ultimately self-defeating.
2) Other recently enacted laws limit Touraine blanc to one grape, sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc is excluded. Reds may come in two styles: minimum of 85% gamay for upfront fruity reds and a minimum of 50% cot for more structured reds.
I have long felt that sauvignon blanc is the best white grape for the broad Touraine AOC and that chenin didn't do really well once you got past the boundaries of Montlouis and Vouvray. Lately, however, I've tasted some superb Touraine AOC chenins, chenins every bit as good as those from Montlouis. Only a handful, it's true, but I'd hate to see them declassified.
I have also long felt that cot should be more widely planted in the Touraine aoc. It makes scrumptious wines. So I guess I can't say anything bad about this law -- except that maybe they should have gone a bit further and prohibited the use of cabernet east of Tours. But does this mean no Pineau d'Aunis, a totally Loire grape?
Some of my favorite Touraines will have to be declassified into VdP (or IGP).
July 30, 2010: In WineTastingNotes a write-up of Domaine Philippe Gilbert in Menetou-Salon.
July 21, 2010 : In Mail&Events , a much belated answer to a reader's questions concerning Guy Bossard/Domaine de l'Ecu and the timing of the updated edition of my Loire book.
June 30, 2010:
JUST ASKING: GRENACHE DAY
Like the song says, I read the news today, oh boy!
In this case Tim Atkin’s “On the Case” column in the June 11, 2010 edition of Off-License News. His subject was what he called “the first ever conference dedicated to Grenache.”
In May 2001 Slow Food sponsored the first “Les Journees de Grenache” held in Perpignan. As it happens, I wrote a piece on the event for the Wall Street Journal.
Atkins goes on to say, “Pushed to come up with famous wines made solely from Grenache, most of us struggled to get beyond Chateau Rayas in Chateauneuf-du-Pape and L’Ermita in Priorat.”
They may not be as famous as Rayas but a growing number of French wines are made from pure Grenache. Just off-hand, without doing any research other than consulting my own book on French wine, the following very dynamic Chateauneuf-du-Pape domaines have cuvees that are pure or nearly pure Grenache: Domaine Bosquet des Papes, Domaine de la Charbonniere; Domaine de Christia. (This list is by no means complete.)
Additionally, I went to a CH9 tasting in Paris a couple of months ago for the publication of Harry Karis’s book. Most of the major players were there. I went up to Michel Blanc, the superb head of the Growers’ Syndicat, and said that it seemed to me that people were using a lot more Grenache in their blends. He said, yes, that had been a deliberate initiative and they’d been working in that direction for a long time.
Additionally, the entire appellation of Rasteau – now an independent AOC -- bases its wines primarily on Grenache. How about trying the wines from Domaine de Trapadis or Domaine de la Soumade whose owner recently bought land in CH9 where he is making a pure Grenache.
And let’s hear it for some other cutting-edge Rhone producers who are fond of Grenache and devote cuvees to the grape, such as Domaine de la Roche Buissiere, Domaine le Sang des Cailloux, l’Anglore.
Languedoc-Roussillon? Coume del Mas, Domaine Gardies, Maria Fita, Mas de la Barben, Chateau de Valflaunes, Domaine de la Rectorie all have cuvees that are pure or nearly pure Grenache. And Herve Bizeul’s cult wine “Petite Siberie,” is pure grenache and costs as much as a Trophy Bordeaux.
Atkins is hardly the only wine writer to have covered this supposedly unique event – and in much the same breathless tones. What surprises me is that these very experienced wine, well-traveled journalists didn’t seem to have known about the existence of these wines or to have assembled the evidence from diverse sources -- appellations and up-and-coming winemakers – and sense that something was afoot with Grenche.
And, as Atkins’s seeming ignorance of the Journees National de Grenache manifests, they seem unaware of other events, particularly those that are not star-studded. (Atkins points out that this event was attended by such wine luminaries as event planner Stephen Spurrier, Randall Graham, and Zelma Long.)
So, as someone who has loved drinking fascinating 100% Grenache wines for the past decade or more and who also attended the second Journees International de Grenache held in the Rhone Valley a year after the debut edition where attendees included producers from the Rhone, Languedoc, the Roussillon, and Priorat, here’s my question:
Like the proverbial tree in the forest, if bold-faced British and American wine names don’t come, did it exist at all?
June 23, 2010: I'm in the lovely city of Bourges. Have had two excellent meals and walked my feet off. Spent two days with various Dagueneaus in Pouilly. Amazing how Benjamin has channeled his father. If I closed my eyes I'd think it was Didier talking. Benjamin's 2009s are sublime.
June 19, 2010: On the theory "better late than never," I've posted reviews of two top Cote Roannaise producers in WineTastingNotes.
June 7, 2020 : I'm writing the subchapter on the Cote Roannaise right now. By rights, this appellation should be linked with Beaujolais, not the Loire. But I'm delighted to have it.
My latest, very purple prose on a yummy wine from Domaine de Fontenay/Simon Hawkins: My first reaction on tasting his 2009 Cote Roannaise rouge “Expression” was “This is Gamay?” Said – written, rather – in admiration. Now I happen to love Gamay but this wine was in a wonderful world of its own. And with only 11.5 degrees alcohol. Oh, come all ye who vilify high alcohol wine! Deeply colored, profoundly saturated, the wine had rich, concentrated aromas and flavors of red and black fruit. It’s purity and freshness were amazing. The wine – a vrai vin de plaisir – was compulsively drinkable. Definitely PMG. On a par with the best of Chermette/Vissoux. I was tasting the wine at the Salon des Vins de Loire in 2010 – not in front of the winemaker – and liked it so much, I brought it for my vigneron pals Francois Pinon and Abel Osorio to taste.
More on Hawkins as well as a couple of other CR producers to come later this week.
May 29, 2010: In Mail&Events a curious letter from a curious reader.
May 26, 2010: A tasting tweet and treat. I'm sitting, MacBook on knees, quietly getting plastered because the wine sample I was tasting for the book was just so good I just keep on drinking. No Trophy stuff here, folks. In fact, this particular wine -- suspense building -- makes me think of a recent column by Lettie Teague in which she's trying to find a tannic-less red to charm a friend who doesn't like red wines because of their tannins. Well, here's a candidate: the 2007 Valencay rouge Le Clos du Chateau from Claude Lafond , the well-known Reuilly producer. Here's a vibrant, succulent red -- all cherries, strawberries and raspberries -- with bright acidity. Compulsively drinkable. I'm guessing it's a gamay based blend with pinot noir and maybe some cot and possibly some cab franc. Pure pleasure.
May 23, 2010 : Church bell is striking noon. Waiting for Antoine Foucault’s 2005 Saumur rouge Domaine du Collier to get to warm up from fridge, to retaste and then pair with rotisserie chicken. This 2005 is what remained from yesterday’s tasting – which included lot of fascinating chenins sampled from barrel and bottle. Only got to taste the one red – which Antoine had just bottled – because, by that time, we had resurfaced from the tuffeau caves and were sitting on the terrace of Antoine’s parents’ house in downtown Chace (cf Clos Rougeard). I had brought along Guy and Annie Bossard. We’d met for lunch mid-way between their home in Muscadet-land and mine in the Chinonais. Now, French vignerons know that Guy is the Real Monsieur Biodynamic. So both Antoine and his father Charly Foucault got Guy into an interminable lecture on rootstocks and grafting – complete with diagrams drawn by Guy in my tasting notebook. Result: we never got beyond that 2005 red. It may not be a ’98 Ausone or a ’98 Cheval Blanc (I'm citing merely two of at least a half-dozen trophy St. Emilions Jeff Leve says -- on a Facebook post -- that he treated himself to after having been excused from jury duty) but it’s mighty good. But I wouldn’t touch it for another five years. I'll probably start with an apero of a tank sample of Guy's 2009 "Expression Granite."
May 17, 2010: In Out&About: Lunch chez Jacky Dallais with comments on wine from Foreau, F. Cotat, Philippe Tessier.
May 16, 2010: Exhausted. All day tasting Chinons, Bourgueils, Touraines etc. Some discoveries, including a Chinon made from 50 year old ungrafted vines. Came back to Usse exhausted and starving so decided to stop at the garage sale ( vide grenier to see who was around and if the buvette was still selling food. The village boulanger insisted on treating me to an andouillette sandwich. We now have a bet on the highest level of andouillettes: he says 3 "A"s, I say 5 "A"s. Also a bet with the man cooking the andouillettes who was waxing poetic about red Jurancon. I said Jurancon was only white and was made from Gros Manseng and Petit Manseng. (I left out the Corbu.) To prove his claim to the truth, he pulled out his driver's license showing he comes from Auch. Doesn't matter, I said, Jurancon is made from white grapes. He huffed that real Jurancon was red. It's good to be back in the country.
May 5, 2010: NEW TO THE SITE: A REVISED PAGE UNDER SELECTED WORKS: FRIENDS AND THEIR STORIES. This evolution was inspired by the story I've posted today. It's one of five or six emails sent by my friend,Pascal Faucouneau, while he was traveling through Laos. This particular post is the second or third. I'd like to start with the first but his sister needs to retype them with an AZERTY typewriter and add the accents. NB: It's in French.
May 4, 2010: For Chenin lovers, in WineTastingNotes I've posted notes that I took during a blind tasting of dry Loire chenins from the 2002 vintage. The tasting took place in August 2005.
May 1, 2010: In Out&About annotated snaps of Palermo's Ballaro market.
April 29, 2010 : In Out&About, a report on the world's best cannoli, made in a bakery in Monreale, outside of Palermo.
April 28, 2010: I'm back from Palermo where I was participating in the big wine competition known as Concours Mondiale de Bruxelles. I'll write more on this later -- I hope -- but, in general, the wines I tasted were ssssoooooooo much better than the wines I tasted while judging in the LA County Wine Fair in May 2008.
One specific food note here: the Ballaro market is Palermo's oldest outdoor market and it's well worth the visit. Go with an appetite. I spied a little storefront no bigger than a small walk-in closet in a side street off the market. Its vibes must have spoken to me. Its plasticized vitrine held a week's worth of delectable goodies. I must have been drooling. One of the cooks-salesmen offered me a round of toast loaded with mouthwatering caponata. There were many variations on the theme of eggplant. How to bring back food on the plane? They had only the most rudimentary take-out paraphernalia, ie aluminum barquettes wrapped in butcher paper. Anything with oil would leak everywhere. So I contented myself with the breaded, fried sliced of eggplant -- which only seemed oily when I opened the bag in Paris -- but which were so meltingly good they were worth whatever I may have to pay in cleaning bills. And one big, round, tennis ball of an arancini. Remember arancinis? Gloppy, gooey, often drowning in tomato sauce? Not this one: pristine, just a mere inner lining of rice, the rest, a toothsome filling of ground meat and peas and seasoning. A meal in a ball. I should have bought as many as my suitcase could hold. I'm already dreaming about it.
April 3,5 2010: Below there's a link to my article on the 2009 Bordeaux Primeurs. It was published today in the WSJ.
As usual, I collected enough information for a NYer essay. My editor did a nice job of cutting the piece down to size but a lot of my favorite stuff bit the dust. I hope to post most of this on the website.
Today, April 5, key points of my interview of Allan Sichel follow the link to the WSJ article.
And, in FrenchFeast: Mike and Mac Get Married.
Bordeaux 2009: the vintage, the market, some illuminating remarks from some important players:
Allan Sichel, Maison Sichel
Allan Sichel is the director of Maison Sichel, which owns Chateau d’Angludet, 34% of Chateau Palmer, as well as a number of other properties in Bordeaux and the Languedoc-Roussillon. Maison Sichel also has a negociant line, Sirius, and distributes the wines of many other domaines. Here is part of an interview I conducted with him during on March 31, 2010.
Changes in system:
From now on producers are going to be active in directing sales and not just hand everything over to the Place de Bordeaux. Additionally, most chateaux today want to reduce the number of negociants they sell to. Some sell to as many as 120 negociants. I think it’s better to have a pool of ten to twenty selling your wine. That would represent a fundamental change. And a growing number of chateaux want to drive the market – with visits, tastings and dinners.
At Maison Sichel we sell about 200 Grand Crus en primeur. Grand crus are about 50% of our business – with 50% being sold en primeur and 50% older vintges. In a good vintage, there are about 400 chateaux who can sell en primeur; in an ok vintage, about 150. We have also have core range or small wines that we don’t sell en primeur.
The best chateaux aim to sell 80% en primeur. Primeurs are the focus; that’s where the buzz is. The reason you want to be in the system and sell well en primeur is that if you don’t, everyone knows you’re sitting on a lot of stock. There’s gossip.
Prices for 2009:
Expect prices to come out in mid-April. People who sold 2007 well will do what they want with the great 2009. They’ll go back to 2005 prices or even higher. The considerations are two: quality of vintage and the economic climate. 2007 was a weak vintage but the economic climate was strong; 2005 is the inverse.
In 2005 Palmer futures sold for 350 euros a bottle. That went up to 1000 euros and you can now find 2005 Palmer on the market at 500 euros.
Our historical focus was England. It’s still our prime market.
The United States was always hard. Since Chateau & Estates (abandoned its Bordeaux portfolio) there’s more opportunity as each importer will have fewer chateaux to represent. The USA market was growing for Maison Sichel but it’s about being there. It represents an enormous potential for Bordeaux.
Right now we have offices in Japan and China. China is becoming fourth biggest export market for Bordeaux. The current ranking is: 1) UK, 2) Belgium; 3) Germany; 4) China and Hong Kong; 5) USA.
(Unfortunately, I did not get to taste the 2009 d'Angludet. My tasting notes for 2009 Palmer are in the WSJ article. Alter Ego, another wine from Palmer -- not a "second wine" -- was also excellent.
Next up: Jean-Luc Thunevin, Chateau Valandraud.)
March 29, 2010 : A Tweet from Bordeaux Primeur-mania before I go to the Thunevin tasting. Yesterday: Cercle Rive Droite tasting, 135 red wines. Great dinner last night at Chateau Lassegue, owned by Jess Jackson. Tasting 2005 and 2009 Lassegue and 2007 Verite (Parker 100/100) among other things, including 40 year old Armagnac. Pierre (who makes both wines) and Monique Seillon are kindred spirits and lotsa fun.
March 23, 2010: Thoughts on "Vintage" in FrenchFeast.
March 17, 2010: In FrenchFeast, a lengthy post, TERROIR:Smile When You Say That!
March 16, 2010: As Gilda Radner used to say, "It's always something." Returned to Paris Sunday night. Knew there would be no water -- because I'd asked a friend to turn it off because of a leak. He'd "bandaided" the leak but, as I was out of town, I thought turning off the water completely was the best bet. All I'd have to do is turn on the "vanne" and the water would start running again and I would start dealing with insurance companies, plumbers, masons, etc to get estimates for the repairs. But I couldn't turn on the "vanne."
Well, I had spent the day over-eating and over-drinking at Dominique and Abel's annual codfest -- their excuse for making a Portuguese meal -- Abel is from Lisbon -- on the nameday of their village.
My stomach was bursting, my head throbbing. No water. And I was convinced that, at any second, fluids noxious and noisome would exit by any and every means of egress in my body.
Took a sleeping pill and 2 pepto-bismal.
Monday: Tasting of wines from the Cote Roannaise and Cotes de Forez, two small wine regions that the French wine bureaucrats, in their infinite wisdom, lumped in with the wines of the Loire. Thus, part of my turf.
Six hours of stand-up tasting. Some surprisingly good stuff -- notes to come, at least on some of my favorites. Arrived home -- still no water -- and, in stupor, ate a half container of Haagen-Dasz Dulce de Leche. Went to bed.
Thank Heaven! Plumbers are here right now. Hope for a normal, calm evening is restored.
March 13, 2010: In Main&Events, a reader asks why I dislike the "wet wool" aroma often associated with chenin. I give part of my answer.
March 10, 2010: Spinning my wheels a lot but not getting very far. Astonished to see snow drops, buds on hydrangea and crocuses (croci?) everywhere when it's still freezing cold outside.
Still slogging away on the book, a snippet of which I've edited for the site. In WineTastingNotes, a post on my favorite producer of Chateaumeillant, Geoffrenet-Morval.
February 26, 2010:Trying to put my ducks in a row to return to Paris as well as to arrange visits in Bordeaux during the Primeurs, all with 90 km/h winds howling outside. Hectic. In WineTastingNotes, another producer of riveting Jasnieres: Pascal Janvier.
February 18, 2010: In WineTastiingNotes, a post on a bunch of sublime Coteaux du Loir from artist-vigneron Eric Nicolas, Domaine de Belliviere.
February 12, 2010: In WineTastingNotes, a report on a surprising visit to sparkling wine producer Ackerman. Update: just received the three bottles with different levels of dosage. Won't be able to test them until May but will report back.
February 6, 2010: The Salon des Vins de Loire was even more exhausting than usual. I did, indeed, have to defrost my car before leaving and was so panicked about missing the train that I got to the station an hour and a half early. (Believe me, there's nothing to do in the Port Boulet train station.)
I will surely post some tasting notes but I'm still recovering. I spent all of my time chasing down producers who hadn't sent samples. Didn't get to taste with any of my favorites but I did taste some terrific stuff and I've added some new people to my favorites list.
This meant that I was tasting a lot of wines from Anjou, Saumur and outliers in the Massif Central. No surprise that in Anjou I was concentrating on the sweet chenins.The 2009s are stunning, even from less than stellar producers. With any luck, notes will follow in the near future -- though in terms of the manuscript, I'm working on all that lies east of Tours.
Returning home was another adventure: train strikes. Luckily, I was going back to my cottage in the Loire and so got a ride back with Abel (Domaine Nau/Bourgueil). This meant waiting while all the vintners dismantled and packed up their stands. We went for dinner at a garish all-purpose (pizza, salads, grill etc) pink-adobe-like restaurant on the highway near the Parc des Expositions called "Villa Angevine" and ran into quite a few other winemakers making a similar pit stop.
I know it's hard to believe but I couldn't face another sip of wine. Francois Pinon was with us and had brought what remained of a magnum of his (vg+) Vouvray Petillant and they ordered a St. Nicolas de Bourgueil from Fred Mabileau. All of this tempted but I was really and truly over the edge. I drank two bottles of Diet Coke.
Having rightly predicted that I would be in no shape to write immediately after the Salon, I had planned finally to get around to doing some desperately needed housework -- like defrosting the freezer which had become frozen shut, vacuuming spider webs out of the apexes of cathedral ceilings, picking up state-supplied garbage bags from the village Mairie. Fun stuff.
I have not had a drop of wine since the Salon though that may change tomorrow. I have, however, consumed some nice rum and my default cocktail: Campari, big slice of some citrus fruit, and Diet Schweppes.
If this post does nothing else, it may dispel illusions about wine writers living glamourous lives.
January 31, 2010: Back from the various "off" tastings and getting ready to leave for Angers for the Salon des Vins de Loire. I had to defrost my car to leave this morning and will probably have to do the same tomorrow morning. I'm leaving a 10 litre jerry can of water by the door to slosh over the car windows.
Tasting favorite thus far: 2006 Saumur Blanc La Charpentrie (not sure of spelling) from Antoine Foucault, Domaine de Collier. It comes from a single vineyard with 100 year old vines. Maybe you can't get blood from a stone but Foucault seemed to draw this wine right out of the bedrock.
Below, a link to a Youtube clip from Brigadoon. Explanation included. Well, it appears a bit got cut off -- including the fact that I played Meg Brockie in the Columbia High School production.
January 30, 2010 : And so the yearly Loire marathon begins. I'm about to leave for Angers for the Renaissance des Appellations tasting.Back home tonite to clear my palate for tmw.
January 25, 2010: As you may have guessed, I've been obsessed by Loire2. The Salon des Vins de Loire is fast approaching. So I've decided to provide those interested in visiting with a game plan. In Jackiezine you'll find a list of recommended stands and producers -- enough to keep you busy for a very, very full day.
01/01/10: an auspicious date: In FrenchFeast, some annotated photos of year end festivities.
December 30, 2009 : In WineTastingNotes: Wine of the Year 2009. (I'm finally recovering from that wicked head cold and, holiday festivities notwithstanding, can get back to writing.)
December 20, 2009: A bleak Touraine Sunday. Rain on snow. Drove to the next village to get a farmhouse chicken from the butcher and a dozen oysters from the family that comes in from the Atlantic coast on Sundays. Back home. Fire in fireplace. Tasted a couple of Sancerres, including one to go with the oysters. (I had been looking for a good Muscadet for the oysters but the cartons of samples are under the cartons of samples of Saumur Champigny so I settled for the more ready-to-hand Sancerres. 2006 Sancerre blanc Domaine Vincent Delaporte, a real beauty. Tasted as though it had come from the majestic hillsides of Rangen de Thann rather than the superb slopes of Chavignol. So that, the oysters, country rye bread with sweet butter from Beillevaire, one of the greatest butter makers in France. (I prefer him to Bordier though I like Bordier a lot.) Listening to my Xmas gift to myself, a new Ella release, "Twelve Days in Hollywood". Recorded in small clubs when Ella was in her 40s. Highly recommended for Ella freaks. May try some of the peach ratafia I made this summer. Then a nap. It looks as if the Itineraires post will have to wait. What else is new?
One Perfect Financier
December 19, 2009: Back in Touraine. The trip down was like a transatlantic crossing in steerage. The French who aren't in the mountains do not know from snow. The snowfall yesterday and this morning were like those I recall from my childhood in New Jersey when we rode sleds down the middle of the street, made snowmen and igloos we could actually sit in. And blizzards in Manhattan when the entire city fell silent. I remember looking out the window once and seeing Ronnie Reagan jr and his wife navigating 6th avenue in their cross country skis. But I've never seen that kind of snow in the Paris Basin. Copenhagen, take note.
So, what does this have to do with the classic French sweet pictured above? Well, it's from a restaurant called Itineraires which I had intended to blog about today before the snow cut off my highspeed connection. (It still looks iffy.) With any luck, I'll write about it tomorrow -- after a meal of oysters and roast chicken and red and white Sancerre.
December 8, 2009: In WineTastingNotes, Tangled Up in Blois, an initial report on an organic wine fair in Blois with revelations from Emile Heredia/Domaine du Montrieux
December 3, 2009 : In Jackiezine some hilarious Jewish haikus plus a haiku of my very own.
November 29, 2009 : Wall-to-wall tastings at this time of year. I hope to post highlights when things calm down.
In the meantime, in Out&About: Thanksgiving a la Francaise -- in a wine bar called Les Enfants Rouges. The post includes a musical interlude.
November 24, 2009 : In Out&About, a list of 31 sure-fire producers whose stands you should visit if you're planning to go to the Salon des Vignerons Independants which starts on Thursday, November 26.
November 20, 2009 In WineTastingNotes, another PMG a succulent Cote du Rhone from Domaine Rouge-Bleu accompanied by some snarky asides about wine competitions.
November 9, 2009: In Out&About: Rouge-Passion, a restaurant(?), a wine bar(?) in Paris's 9th arr.
October 31, 2009 : In FrenchFeast: Very Late Season, Going Back to Paris Soup.
October 30, 2009: In WineTastingNotes, I become a Wine Nazi in the course of tasting the 2007 Chaume Chateau Pierre-Bise.
October 29, 2009 : In FrenchFeast, a dinner tweet.
October 25, 2009: In WineTastingNotes three more blanks filled in on wines tasted at last aperitif session.
October 18, 2009 : In WineTastingNotes, another photo and some back story.
October 16, 2009 : In WineTastingNotes, a couple of additional wine notes and photos.
October 14, 2009: Beginning to fill in the blanks in the appropriately named WineTastingNotes section.
October 13, 2009 : In FrenchFeast, a really easy and useful recipe --a zucchini soup that A) aids recovery from a weekend of excess and B) solves the age-old problem of 'what to do with an overgrown courgette'. And, in WineTastingNotes, a list of the wines that caused the damage.
October 4, 2009: In Jackiezine, a "Remember, you're alone in the kitchen" moment making peach ratafia. And advice from the great, the wonderful Odessa Piper.
October 1,2009 : In WineTastingNotes, tasting notes on the wonderful Montlouis of Xavier Weisskopf.
An apology here: I'm spending most of my time working on Loire2. The Weisskopf post is a judicially redacted excerpt of that text.
September 28, 2009: In Mail&Events a reader reports back on a trip to the best chenin-producing regions of the Loire.
September 23, 2009: In WineTastingNotes, a PMG from Didier Dagueneau.
September 16, 2009: In FrenchFeast, annotated photos from a trip to Vendome to celebrate Pineau d'Aunis.
September 7, 2009: Another village aperitif:
Village Aperitif Group 9/6/09: the group had grown to 19 or 20. I'll annotate the individual wines this week.(Eek! I meant to post this in Frenchfeast and I'm too lazy to change it!)
--Sparkling wine from Muscadet country
--2005 Vouvray Brut Chateau de Montcontour
--2008 Menetou-Salon blanc, G.Chavet
--2008 Quincy Domaine du Villalin
--2008 Quincy Siret
--2006 Pouilly Fume Domaine des Riaux
--2006 Jasnieres “Sur le Nez” Les Maisons Rouge
--2006 Touraine chenin sec Domaine de la Trochoire
--2005 Touraine chenin sec Domaine de la Trochoire
--2006 Chinon Rose Couly-Dutheil
--2008 Touraine Noble-Joue, Freres Rousseau
--2008 Malvoisie, Freres Rousseau
--2006 Vouvray Montcontour sec
--two mystery stickies -- surprisingly fine and characterful sweet chenins from the vast Touraine appellation.
Nibblies: rillettes, salmon rillettes, herbed fresh cheese, golf-ball sized tomatoes stuffed with herbed cheese, sliced Carmelo tomatoes – I need to research this variety, really flavorful – on bread with smiley faces painted with mayonnaise. Lunch: Yes. The two women, referred to as les filles, who own the village epicerie – general store – took over the old bar and opened a lunch room with some basic guest rooms upstairs. The band of regulars had promised to eat there at some point during the summer. Since the season is now ending, this past Sunday was picked as the day. It was sunny and we ate in the garden. I was reluctant because the girls haven’t gotten a wine license yet. But I was persuaded. Then, when the last clients left, we got the green light to bring in our own wine. Jean ran to his house to pick the wines I had brought but that we didn’t get to drink. I ran home and brought some wines I’d tasted and had recorked. I also brought my eau de vie from 2007 as I have been lobbying for a) all of us to pool our apples and pears and ferment and distill them; and b) someone to ferment 60 litres of plums like me so that we’ll have a sufficient amount for a still run with our own fruit.
An Odile postscript: the raspberries -- organically grown in her garden -- were the best I've ever eaten. Sunday she gave me another supply.
Sept. 2, 2009 : In WineTastingNotes, another PMG and a couple of words about its packaging.
Another sideways picture. This one of Odile, one of my nicest neighbors.
Odile, an aperitif regular, stopped by this morning with a basket of garden plum tomatoes (this is refused as I'm in tomato overload), garden raspberries (yum) and a jar of boar rillettes. How nice to live in a community in which everyone grows their own fruit and vegetables and the men hunt but don't bring their guns to political gatherings.
August 31, 2009: Hotel recommendations that were in Jackiezine have been moved to Out&About.
August 30, 2009:What can be better than this? A blue-green day, a cloudless sky, tall roses bushes swaying in the cool breezes, tomatoes red and fat on the vine, and lettuces growing in the shade of a Mirabelle tree. On NPR – here in central France – the 50th Newport Folk Festival is playing. Joan Baez is singing. Pete Seeger – please tell me he’s received a medal of freedom – to come. Eating roast farmhouse chicken, a gargantuan tomato, sliced and seasoned only with the chicken’s juices, and garden arugula. Drinking a succulent, too delicious 2005 Cot (aka Malbec) from eastern Touraine.
Now, several things about those tomatoes. First, there are too many of them -- both cherry tomatoes and big tomatoes. I'm desperately looking for cherry tomato recipes. The cherry tomatoes are delicious. As good, if not better than ever. The regular tomatoes, Marmandes, are gorgeous: big, fat, county fair prize winners. But they're bland. Distressingly bland. I was having dinner with my friends Geoff and Joy the other night and Geoff was complaining about the tasteless of his garden tomatoes. I said, "Mine, too! And what's more, they're watery." His too.
Watery? And this is a drought year here in the Garden of France.
Another thing I'm wondering about is the vintage. A number of years ago I decided that years that were good for tomatoes were good for grapes and, if the weather held through harvest, heralded a good vintage. That may well be true this year. But the blandness and watery-ness of my Marmandes worries me. Well, time will tell. I must say that today's tomato had more flavor than previous ones but not as much as you would expect from a fully ripe, organically-grown tomato in a sunny, hot, dry year.
August 26, 2009 : If a good health care plan -- with a public option -- were named after Ted Kennedy wouldn't it put some moral pressure on legislators to vote for it, aside from being a fitting tribute to the man?
August 25, 2009 : In WineTastingNotes, the first of four PMGs.
August 19, 2009: In FrenchFeast, a PortugueseFeast in Touraine.
August 16, 2009: Join my own mini-health care debate in Jackiezine.
August 11, 12, 2009: In WineTastingNotes: TWO WINES GUARANTEED TO GENERATE DISCUSSION AMONG VIGNERONS IN GENERAL AND LOIRE VIGNERONS IN PARTICULAR.
August 10, 2009:A Straightforward Tasting Note that Veers off into Stream-of-Conscious Silliness:
The Wine: 2008 Cote du Rhone Blanc “Les Clavelles” Domaine Brusset.
August 4, 2009: In Jackiezine, some thoughts on budget hotels in the chenin-producing areas of the Loire.
I am once again obsessing about which wines to serve. Vincent & Catherine Ogereau, Claude & Joelle Papin (Pierre-Bise) and Philippe & Claude Alliet are coming for dinner Thursday night.
This is my tentative list: aperitifs: '96 Cour-Cheverny, Francois Cazin, 2008 Cotes du Rhone blanc "Les Clavelles", Domaine Brusset; first course: two wines to be tasted blind and 2006 St. Chinian blanc, Mas Champart; main course: 1999 Calbello Ardingo (Super Tuscan), 2001 Faugeres "Jadis", Leon Barral, 2007 Cotes du Rhone rouge, Domaine Rouge=Bleu, and a red to be tasted blind; with cheese and dessert: 2008 Jurancon from Benjamin Dagueneau, and 2006 Barsac, Cypres de Climens. Each has a back story. When I recover from the event I will post tasting notes and back stories.
July 30, 2009: Tribute to Stephane Cossais
The wine world in general, and the Loire wine world in particular, has lost yet another of its shining lights well before his time. Stephane Cossais died last Saturday of a heart attack. He was 42 years old.
Cossais was an integral part of the team of Young Turks revolutionizing the Montlouis appellation. A former classical music professor in the north of France, he decided to make a career and life change at the end of the 90s. By 2001 he had created his own small, 3 hectare winery, along strict organic principles, turning out ambitious, idealistic, terroir-driven wines.
I met Stephane numerous times at tastings. At one such, he stopped me and said, “You played a part in my becoming a vigneron. When I was thinking of making the move I called you and asked you for advice.”
I was thrilled to have encouraged such a passionate, sincere young man. And he came to the Loire naturally. Many young would-be vignerons are attracted to various Loire regions because the prices are lower than in other, more prestigious appellations. But as Cossais told me, “I’m Vendéen. My mother has a shop in Saumur. For me it’s Chenin. That means Anjou or Saumur or Touraine.”
Cossais didn’t want to “study” wine but attended the Lycee Agricole de Montreuil-Bellay in order to qualify for government subsidies. And once installed, he was “thrilled to be my own boss.” He planned to double his acreage.
Here are some brief notes on two wines from my last tasting with Stephane earlier this year: 2006 Montlouis “Maison Marchandelle”: the vines, roughly 15 years old, come from a single vineyard, lieu-dit Maison Marchandelle. Hand harvested, by successive passes through the vineyard, and aged in 400 litre barrels of three wines, it was riveting, stony and mineral, with a mellowness that came from the oak. Very nice indeed. His Volagre cuvée tended to show signs of reduction and seemed overly oaked – to wit, the 2005 and 2006 – but I felt they just needed time for all the elements to integrate for there was plenty going on in those wines. Once past the reduction and the oak you were on pure bedrock. Back to Maison Marchandelle for the most recent of Cossais’ wines I’d tasted: the 2007, which, at the time of the tasting, had just been bottled. Pure as a mountain stream – as stream coursing over stones – it was very dry and very promising. A lovely, sad legacy to have left us.
July 28, 2009: In WineTastingNotes, Wine of the Week becomes PMG and the first PMG is the 2006 Coteaux du Loir blanc "l'Effraie" Domaine de Belliviere.
July 22, 2009 : In another instance of "the best laid plans," I had intended to post wine tasting notes today but spent that time writing The Broccoli Chronicles in FrenchFeast.
Spoke to three vintner-couples today -- the Alliets, the Papins (Pierre-Bise) and the Ogereaus -- and they're all cluster-thinning courageously though they admit the humidity (which is keeping me inside) is wearing them down.
July 19, 2009 : in FrenchFeast, some notes on the BBQ with the neighbors.
The producer of this Mystery Chinon will be rated "Outstanding" in the new edition of my Loire book.
July 16, 2009: Sitting here in the heat, watching the Sotomayor hearings on MSNBC and entering my Chinon notes onto this MacBook. I'm a little surprised to see how many more producers will be included in this edition of the book -- 50 or more -- than were in the first edition, to wit 29. July 17, 2009: Just tasted 30 samples so I can bring them to my neighbor's grillade tonight. Hope to post tasting notes soon as hangover lifts. Preview: 3 of my favorites: 2 Chevernys from Domaine de la Petit Chambord and an luscious Aubance from Domaine de la Haute Perche.
July 15, 2009: In FrenchFeast I update the May 24 post on the new tradition of an aperitif sauvage in my village.
July 13, 2009 : It would be funny if its implications weren't so scary. In Jackiezine a newsfeed about water into wine ... literally.
July 9, 2009: In Jackiezine, advice from a "doctor" that should be followed by every wine lover.
July 7, 2009 : I'm distracted from planned posts to comment -- in WineTastingNotes -- on an experiment in ridding a wine of Brettanomyces conducted on a 2005 Chinon.
July 6, 2009 : Another wine-soaked week-end to report on -- once I've recovered. There were two meals with my friend, Mary, an American marketing prof who teaches marketing at ESCEM-Poitiers (roughly equivalent to an ivy-league MBA program) and another Sunday aperitif session with my neighbors (and additional participants). I will give specific tasting notes, along with notes promised but as yet unposted, but we were, once again, 100% Loire, starting with a nice Cremant, proceeding through whites and roses from Sancerre, and ending with sublime Coteaux du Layon. It has been too hot for red wines and most of the foods we've been eating go better with whites and roses.
July 2, 2009: I had hoped to write about birthday wines today but it has been so crushingly hot -- shades of 2003? -- that I became alarmed that my wine samples were suffering, particularly those kept in the dining room. So I've spent the day hauling cartons of wine into the coolest part of the house. Any reasonable person would have thought there wasn't even a single centimeter of space left in that room but if you've been a lifelong pack rat, as I have, you can always squeeze, pile and re-organize to meet your needs. I'm almost done. My back is killing me. I hope my wine samples appreciate the effort!
July 1, 2009 In Jackiezine, (right hand margin), there's a link to iWineRadio's interview of me. Most of you already know this stuff about me but, if you've got some time you want to kill...
June 30, 2009 : In Out&About, a lovely hotel-restaurant in Chavignol (Sancerre).
June 27, 2009 : In FrenchFeast, notes on preparation for a low-key but tasty birthday celebration.
June 26, 2009 : In Mail&Events, response to a reader's email concerning Paris restaurants and current Joguet wines.
June 17, 19,22 2009 : I've just returned from visiting friends in the Limousin. I'm preparing a post on my time there, including an explanation of a local religious parade, Les Ostensions, that took place while I was there. I have already posted some pictures in FrenchFeast. More to come.
A definition of Les Ostensions has been added as well as an outline of the meals. Still more to come.
June 10, 2009 : Ever tasted a wine called ChaChaCha? I thought not. Read all about it in WineTastingNotes following the post on Benjamin Dagueneau.
June 9, 2009: In WineTastingNotes, my comments on the 2008s of Louis-Benjamin Dagueneau.
June 3, 2009 : I've been felled by the rotten head cold that seems to be going around on both sides of the Atlantic. Today I felt zippy enough to enter all my Sancerre/Pouilly trip notes onto my MacBook. I hope to turn these into English and post them over the next couple of days. There's a heads up re Louis-Benjamin Dagueneau under his picture in WineTastingNotes.
June 1, 2009: Back from an action-packed, wine-soaked trip. I've posted some photos in WineTastingNotes. Tasting notes to follow.
May 26, 2009: Travel Tweet: Leaving for Pouilly-sur-Loire and Sancerre tomorrow. Will be spending the night with Didier Dagueneau's kids in the office/guesthouse where I once lived. Then on to Sancerre, with lots of exciting appointments and great meals planned.
An out-of-focus picture of Charles Joguet in front of one of his paintings.
May 24, 2009 This Saturday was the opening of an exhibit of the paintings, drawings and sculptures of Charles Joguet (erstwhile Chinon winemaker). The show is put on by the Hotel de Ville de Tours. It's a pretty complete retrospective -- with works dating from 2009 and those that go back as far as 1968 when much of what he created was inspired by a trip to New York City.
The focus isn't great. But this picture -- taken with my cell phone -- represents about two square feet of my living space and accurately represents the state of my home. I am camping out in a wine warehouse.
May 19, 2009 : In WineTastingNotes, I explain my category Quiet Reds and recommend Guy Bossard's (Domaine de l'Ecu) 2008 Cabernet VdP Jardin de la France.
May 15, 2009 : In Mail&Events, another reader asks pertinent questions.
May 14, 2009 : In Mail&Events a reader asking some pertinent questions which I try to answer.
May 12,2009 : I've been slightly under the weather (with a mild stomach virus) and have restricted work activities to transferring tasting notes from notebook to MacBook and contacting winemakers -- or trying to -- who have yet to send samples for Loire2.
Trolling the internet, I found an article I wrote for the Los Angeles Times -- way back in 1994. It's posted in Article Archives and is called Rabelaisian Pleasures.
In TastingNotes my post on Gardening Day Wines.
Despite my tummy, I hope to get to my superb tasting with Pierre Couly before the week is out.
May 5, 2009: In FrenchFeast, more notes on Gardening Day.
April 29, 2009 : My friend, Virginia Gift, just published the definitive book on Argentine tango. In Jackiezine, I've reprinted the cover and a link to Carlos Gardel singing "Adios Muchachos".
April 27, 2009 : In TastingNotes, my comments on the wines drunk the Eve of Easter.
April 25, 2009 : In TastingNotes, a suprisingly delectable, old-fashioned Vouvray.
April 20,21, 2009 : In FrenchFeast, initial post on Gardening Day, and Part 2.
April 15, 2009 : In TastingNotes, the beginning of my explanation of Slow Tasting: A Necessary Luxury and, as a case in point, tasting notes on the 2005 Chinon "Les Picasses" Chateau de Coulaine. I demurely refrain from commenting on any TeaBagging that might be taking place in the USA today.
April 10, 2009 In Jackiezine , more on the industrialization of French cheeses. And, in the right hand margin, two links: the first to one of the insidious Lou Perac commercials I spoke of in the Roquefort post; the second, a take-off on that commercial posted on YouTube. (I'll translate later.)
April 3, 2009 In TastingNotes, a handful of Saumur beauties from Chateau de Villeneuve.
March 29, 2009 : Some of you may have read my post in Jackiezine explaining my stance on the Roquefort cheese tariff.
I've tweaked that a bit and last night I posted it on DailyKos under the title The Wrong Food Fight. My username,if you need it, is jackief.
March 18, 2009: In Out&About a terrific bar a vin in Pezenas (the Languedoc).
March 16, 2009: In FrenchFeast I finally get around to describing one holiday meal -- with recipes.
March 10, 2009: In Jackiezine, a mini-diatribe against restaurants that lead us to believe they're serving food they make when they're pushing food they've purchased frozen or vacuum-packed.
March 4, 2009: I've been tasting a lot of 2008s from the Languedoc and am very happy to report that it seems to be a very good vintage, with lots of delicious wines. I'll be posting tasting notes when I get back to Paris.
February 27, 2009 : Please note that the Tribute to Didier Dagueneau, formerly in FrenchFeast, can now be found under Selected Works where it is joined by a previous tribute to Didier and the entry on him from my Loire book.
February 19, 2009: In Jackiezine my take on the Roquefort kerfuffle.
February 17, 2009 : In Out&About,Dinner during the Salon des Vins de Loire (in Angers):Part II:
In Jackiezine Another joyous trip down memory lane -- with an Obama connection. (For those of you who were wondering where he got the phrase "pick yourself up, dust yourself off," it's here, Jerome Kern's song from the 1936 film "Swingtown," performed by the inimitable Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
February 10, 2009 : In Out&About, Dinner during the Salon des Vins de Loire, Part I.
February 8, 2009 : In TastingNotes, some gorgeous 2007 Layons from Vincent Ogereau and Claude and Joelle Papin.
February 6, 2009 : In Mail&Events, a reader's query and a hint at the answer.
January 27, 2009 : In TastingNotes, an exploration of Yannick Amirault's 2006 St. Nicolas de Bourgueil "Les Malgagnes."
Watching Barack's inauguration at the Hotel de Ville de Paris. (I think the photo, as well as the two below, were taken by members of my Barack-meetup group.)
January 22,25, 2009
I was fortunate enough to watch the inauguration at the Hotel de Ville de Paris, along with Betrand Delanoë, the city’s excellent mayor.(I hope he remains the Mayor of Paris for the rest of my life.)
After the deeply moving, five kleenex event – with lots of cheering (the Obamas, the Bidens, Teddy, the Carters) and booing (Bush, Cheney), of hugs and high-fives between strangers, and the exchanging of business cards – tasty little canapés (the deep-fried shrimp were my favorite) were served along with real Champagne: Champagne Fleury, an organic Champagne from a very good family winery in the Aube Valley.
The Hotel de Ville de Paris
We -- members of Democrats Abroad France and BarackMeetUp -- received engraved invitations. We were advised to come early because of overbooking. I thought I'd be the first crazy Obamanik on line when I arrived at 3:30 but there was already a line of several hundred ecstatic, shivering people.
Setting up for the vin d'honneur: Champagne and finger food after the inauguration.
I suspected the Mayor of Paris would serve honest-to-God Champagne (not California "Champagne,"see below) but I thought it would probably be a boring, industrial bubbly from one of the big houses.
Wrong! "This is nice,"I thought after my first sip. So the wine geek in me went behind the service table you see here to check out the label. I saw the name Fleury. "No!" I thought. A biodynamic, family grower from the Aube! Maybe there's another Fleury. I asked the waiter, helpfully adding that the domaine was in the Aube. The waiter insisted all Champagne was made in and around Reims. (The French have a lot to learn about their own wines.) I tried to read the minuscule print on the label and succeeded, before being chased from behind the service area by a manager, in discerning an address in the Aube.
When I read that The Golden Gate Quartet would be entertaining us after the inauguration, I was expecting a sedate chamber music group. Wrong again. Instead, this terrific gospel group. They closed with "Amen". We all joined in -- with as much emotion as you can imagine.
In fact, we were euphoric. There was a profound feeling of fellowship, deeper than any I’ve ever before experienced – not even at Woodstock. I am so glad to have lived this moment.
January 18, 2008 : I've been trying to email this little comment to Obama, without success. I had posted comments on his "Citizens Briefing Book" but that has been closed since last night. My posts were concerned education, infrastructure etc but this one, way down on the scale of priorities, concerns wine and, arguably, diplomacy. Since I can't find a way to send this heads up to Barack, I'll post it here.
It’s a small world, one full of even smaller worlds. And it’s sometimes true that the smaller the ‘world,’ the more nit-picking its citizens.
This is a minor issue but I bring it up only to make our man Barack Obama ever more perfect.
The issue is wine. Ricocheting from Singapore to Paris (where I heard it at a Burgundy tasting) comes the word (accompanied by tsk-tsking) that the Team Obama has selected Korbel “Champagne” to be served at the official dinner.
Cardinal, easily remembered rule: the only wines that are entitled to call themselves “Champagne” are those made within delimited zones of France’s Champagne region.
The French, with good reason, are very protective of the names of their appellations. And wine might well be explored as a diplomatic tool.
So it’s important to get it right.
The only reason Korbel escapes legal liability for calling itself something it is not is because it has been (mis)using the name Champagne for so long that it got grandfathered in because it was appropriating the term before laws were passed against such usage.
Korbel is a sparkling wine. Not a Champagne. As for its selection, de gustibus et coloribus nen est disputandum.
January 14,17, 2008: I'm trying to get around to writing about various holiday feasts -- including a couple of recipes -- but today I'm as excited as I imagine Malia and Sasha will be when they get their new puppy. I just got my invitation to Obama's Inauguration. Not in Washington. In Paris. At the Hotel de Ville, with Mayor Betrand Delanoe and 1198 other people. Since I'm too delighted to concentrate, I think I'll watch last night's The Daily Show on my laptop. Meal and tasting reports soon!
In Jackiezine a link to an inspirational song I just received. Apparently written by Keith Carradine and Norman Lear and performed by a cross-section of America, it reflects what I think a lot of us are feeling on the eve of Barack Obama's inauguration.
In Article Archives I've just posted seven old(ish) articles that I wrote for the Choice Tables column in the NYT. They appear before the Barcelona story and cover: Paris Wine Bars and, in another story, Tea Parlors; and the restaurants of Lisbon; Rouen; Brussels; Seville; and Barcelona.
January 7, 2008: Wine of the Year, 2006 Silex par Didier Dagueneau with reminiscences etc in FrenchFeast. Please note: there is an earlier tribute to Didier on this page. Scroll down to September.
December 31, 2008 : It's time to announce 2008's Wine of the Year. Few will be surprised by my choice: the 2006 Silex "par Didier Dagueneau," in other words, a Blanc Fume de Pouilly, as he took to calling the Pouilly Fume appellation. I will be posting tasting notes as well as some reminiscences and updates. I can't do that now because I'm visiting friends and internet connection is an 'issue.' More anon.
December 16, 2008: In TastingNotes, Part II of Vincent Ogereau's Savennieres .
December 12, 2008: In Jackiezine, L‚Obama, ossia L‚Avvento del Messia
Opera in Tre Atti, a truly hilarious, absolutely brilliant synopsis of an opera on Obama. The author is unknown to me but I'd love to meet him/her.
December 10, 2008: In TastingNotes, Wine of the Week: 2002 Savennieres Clos le Grand Beaupreau, Vincent Ogereau.
December 3, 2008: In Blog, an extended email 'conversation' between me and Terry Theise -- on chenin, Quarts de Chaume, wine flaws, wine mysteries and more.
November 27, 2008: IN HONOR OF THANKSGIVING: a link on my blog page will take you to a YouTube download of a medley of Thanksgiving songs. We sang these songs in grammar school, led by Miss Sandquist, our kindergarten teacher, and, lo, these many years later, I've not forgotten a single word.(Our lyrics, however, were 'sanitized,' in that some of the religious references were replaced with secular ones. The last line of "We Gather Together, " for example, was changed to "And our people be free.")
Some Obama Feel-Good Cartoon-Commentary
November 19, 2008: Tomorrow is Nouveau Beaujolais Day. In its honor -- and in TastingNotes -- 3 delectable, drink-me-up Primeurs from the Loire.
November 16, 2008: Dear Readers, be of good cheer. I may soon have finished obsessing over the election. However, discussing the probability of Hillary's being Secretary of State with friends, we came up with this joke: Every night at midnight Obama should put his red-phone-line on Call Transfer.
November 13, 2008: In Blog , a wee bit of post-election humor. Feel free to add.
November 12, 2008: In TastingNotes a passel of Rhones.
The right man at the right time. I'm still pinching myself. November 5,2008: YES WE CAN!!! Sorry, I'm a bit groggy having spend the entire night following the election, the speeches but, to borrow a line from our First Lady-Elect, For the first time in my adult life I'm proud of my country. And my tears were flowing like the joyous tears of Jesse Jackson.
Herewith an email message I just received (I think from Linda Lee Hopkins): Rosa sat so Martin could walk... Martin walked so Obama could run...Obama is running so our children CAN FLY. Keep this text going. November 6, 2008: More exulting on the Blog page.
October 30, 2008: In Mail&Events a reader asks when the new edition of the Loire book will be published and I explain why it won't be tomorrow.
October 28, 2008: In Mail&Events a reader asks for sommelier anecdotes. I give two. You're encouraged to submit yours.
October 27, 2008:: In TastingNotes a clutch of scrumptious Chinons from Jean-Max Manceau/ Domaine de Noire.
October 24, 2008: In TastingNotes, the 1999 Coulee-de-Serrant subjected to the three-day-tasting test.
October 22, 2008: On the new blog page I share some of the ways in which my election obsession manifests itself.
October 21, 2008: In TastingNotes, a couple of tasty Pugliese Primitivos .
October 14, 2008: In TastingNotes, a Pugliese discovery: Susumaniello.
October 6, 2008: In FrenchFeast a recipe for a delicious, multi-purpose savory loaf cake made with goat cheese, white raisins and mint.
October 4, 2008: In Out & About , a swell new restaurant near my apartment in the 9th arrondissement of Paris.
(I will be writing more about Didier before the end of the year.)
September 18, 22, 2008:HOMMAGE TO DIDIER DAGUENEAU I'm in the Manduria region of Apulia at the moment. This morning I learned that Didier Dagueneau had died in a flying accident in the Dordogne when his microlite stalled after take-off, plummeting some 50 meters to the ground. I've since learned that Didier was on his way to Jurancon to check out the ripeness of his vines there. He'd stopped in Cognac to refuel. His passenger, a flight instructor from Nevers, was thrown from the plane and escaped with a broken leg. The wing of the plane pierced the fuel tank and the plane caught fire or exploded. We hope that Didier died immediately upon impact.
(For those who don't know about Didier, I've included the text from my first Loire book, below.)
I hope to share some memories of Didier with you over the next couple of days -- particularly after I return to France. I lived in Didier's guest house for several months in 1990 when I was researching les vins du centre for the first version of my Loire book. While many of the Loire's wine bureaucrats and its vintners and negociants doubted I'd ever write the book -- six Loire books were published between the time I start my research and the publication of my book -- Didier always believed in me. He "got it." When I held some post-publication tastings in New York he insisted that his importer donate all the bottles of Silex I would need.
I helped harvest the 1990 vintage. It was a Saturday. Didier, like his uncle, Serge, got his harvesters from the local wine school. As the students had no school on Saturday, they didn't come to harvest. So all friends within spitting distance came and harvested. There wasn't much left to do. We had finished by lunch time -- even with a break for wine (Chinon brought by Charles Joguet) and a snack -- and then Didier bought us all a super lunch in downtown Pouilly s/Loire.
The student harvesters also ate great lunches: Didier spared no expense. He would buy artisanal cheeses, confit de canard for the days when a copious lunch wasn't prepared at home. We all ate at long tables in the winery. And even at the height of the harvest we wouldn't have needed those tables: the winery was at all times clean enough to eat off the floor.
And speaking of eating: Didier believed in taking his vineyard workers to high-end restaurants on the principle that they should understand first-hand where the wine they had helped make ended up.
The house was always full of wine-nuts. Eric Bordelet, now making sublime cider, was then the sommelier at Arpege in Paris. He came down on weekends. And it was then that he told me he was leaving his 3-Michelin-star post to go back to the family farm in the Mayenne and make cider with the same perfectionist principles that guided Didier's winemaking. Philippe Catusse, who earned a living driving a moving van, was another regular. He now has the wine shop in Beziers and recently opened a wine bar.
I hope to share more memories later. I just want to say that, saddened as I am by Didier's untimely death, I can't help but feel that this was the way he would have wanted to go. He was always defiant, always in search of the next challenge and ever more daring risks.
MORE THOUGHTS, REFLECTIONS -- from Paris
Thinking about the introduction of the second version of the Loire book, I’ve been reflecting on the past twenty years and on how our understanding of wine and winemaking has evolved.
A principle factor has been the concept of phenolic maturity. When I began my research in the Loire, we were all still judging ripeness by sugars and potential alcohol. One person alone was talking about phenolic maturity. That was Didier. And it made so much sense. And now it’s part of our daily vocabulary.
Then, in the summer of 1990, when I was on my way to research the wines and cheeses of the Auvergne, I stopped off at Didier’s house in St. Andelain to drop off most of my gear.
Didier had organized a tasting of sauvignon blanc that evening. The kind of thing he often did.
There were his wines, wines from uncle Serge, the Cotats, Alphonse Mellot, the Masson-Blondelets, and many others, including wines from California.
But it was the Pouillys and the Sancerres that derailed me. It was the first time I’d encountered so many really ripe versions. They were ample – some were even blowsy – not shrill or scrawny; their aromas recalled white peach, melon, fig, grapefruit, not cat’s pee, asparagus or bourgeons de cassis. I wasn’t sure what to think. The new “Sancerre/Pouilly” was an acquired taste. Or at the very least, I had to put aside the shrill, raw, wine-as-wake-up-call template that seemed to be the conventional view of Loire sauvignon. And there was minerality. Indeed, Didier’s best cuvees – Silex and Pur Sang – were more evocative of stones and minerals than fruit. And that’s the expression I adore. Now, nearly 20 years later, I’m finding that an increasing number of the region’s sauvignons convey that sublime minerality. And, Didier, again, managed to push the envelope: he’d recently gotten a very small plot of land in Chavignol (Sancerre AOC). The 2005 utterly blew me away. I think it’s the most exquisite Sancerre I’ve ever tasted and, perhaps, the best wine Didier ever made.
Text from A Wine & Food Guide to the Loire:
Didier Dagueneau, St. Andelain: My last visit to Didier Dagueneau's
winery was on a bright December morning. Didier was about to set off for
Slovakia to compete in dog sled races. As his crew swept cages, he broke
off to taste through his '94 Pouilly Fumes, ending in a dimly lit cellar
lined with barrels. Taut, bone-dry, with bracing acidity, the wines were
the best reflection imaginable of one of the worst vintages in recent
memory. "This year my neighbors made cocktails of '94, '93 and sugar,"
Fighting words? You bet. Dagueneau, the 40-ish enfant terrible of
Pouilly, means them to be. Central casting's dream of a rebel, with his
tangled mane of flame-red hair, his ice-blue stare, his grunge garb
(logger shirt, baggy jeans, trucker's cap), Dagueneau crusades for his
idea of authentic Pouilly Fume, denouncing its infidels anywhere he
finds an audience.
On French national tv Dagueneau inveighed against over-production.
At home he leads visitors on tours of Pouilly's vineyards like a
prosecutor marshalling evidence, showing not just his own impeccable
plots but a sampling of neighbors' high-yielding, weed-infested parcels
as well. He also sent journalists his declarations of harvest, covering
yields, chaptalization and his bill for harvesters. Like a politician
revealing his tax returns, he was providing proof of purity. And like a
politician, he was throwing down the gauntlet to his confreres. (Like a
politician, he sometimes exaggerates: while his claim about "cocktails"
may be true in some cases, it does not apply across the board -- at
least according to my tastebuds.)
In any event, Dagueneau's best gauntlet is his wine which has become
the region's new benchmark. Many concur with Denis Dubourdieu, the
Bordeaux enologist credited with revolutionizing white wine production
in that region, who says, "Dagueneau is one of the great winemakers of
our generation; an artist in the truest sense of the word. He makes wine
according to an ideal in his head. His wines reveal the finesse of
Dagueneau cultivates 11,5 hectares spread over St. Andelain. When he
made his debut in 1982, he had had no training in wine. He spent his
youth as a motocross racer and credits its spirit of competition --
which he recaptures today in dog sled racing -- for his rigor as a
winemaker. "I want to be the best," he says. "If you want to be the best
you need the methods and techniques to get you there: your vines must
bear the best grapes; your vinification must be the most meticulous."
In the vineyards Dagueneau goes well beyond the mandates of the
INAO. Vine density ranges from the legal minimum of 6000 to 14,000
plants per hectare. He prunes severely, de-buds, de-leafs, cluster thins
and keeps yields under (often well under) 45 hl/ha. He judges ripeness
not merely by levels of grape sugars but by "aromatic maturity," which
will produce flavors like apricot, fig, grapefruit, passion fruit and
cassis rather than vegetal ones like green beans or pipi de chat. Grapes
are then hand harvested by successive passes through the vineyard.
Dagueneau's costly investments include his winery. Built in '89, it
looks like a cathedral -- or at least like a church in an affluent
suburb. It operates on the gravity principle and is so clean you could
eat off the floor. After the devastating spring of '91 he installed
Chablis-style anti-frost equipment in his vineyards. And he positioned
weather posts in key parcels to monitor temperatures, rainfall, humidity
and so forth and thereby to fine tune his treatment of vine maladies.
Dagueneau claims his winemaking is not systematic. Broadly, grapes
may or may not undergo skin contact. If the harvest is ripe and healthy,
grapes are not destemmed. Several varieties of yeast are added.
Fermentation occurs in small, thermoregulated stainless steel tanks or
in oak barrels (some designed to his specifications). After an initial
racking the wines stay on their fine lees until bottling. (He is opposed
to malolactic fermentation for sauvignon blanc no matter how acid the
As might be expected, Dagueneau produces some novelties: Pouilly from
ungrafted vines, riesling and an off-dry sauvignon which he calls Maudit
(cursed) because it was denied the Pouilly appellation as it was not
Tasters accustomed to feisty sauvignons may find none of Dagueneau's
wines typical. In his Pouilly Fumes, a creamy texture replaces raw
acidity; mineral flavors combined with exotic fruit often recall the
wines of Alsace. He currently bottles four versons: En Chailloux
represents half of production. It's a big, friendly wine; as I often
find it soft, I tend to prefer years like '94 when it's bracing and
steely as well as aromatic.
Next is the single vineyard Buisson Menard, a flinty, mineral-rich
Pouilly.'92,'93 and '94 should develop great complexity. The barrel
fermented Pur Sang (Thoroughbred) tends to be the bridge between En
Chailloux and Cuvee Silex. I loved the mellow, pear and mineral '94 and
the suave, almost viscous '93.
Silex, also barrel fermented and aged, is made from 35 to 60 year
old vines on the silex-rich soils which Dagueneau believes make the most
structured, "intellectual" Pouillys. The '94 was tart, minerally, with
flavors of red currant and grapefruit when tasted from barrel.
Promising. The multi-layered '93 was a great wine. Wine in capital
letters. As were the opulent '90 and '89, and the rectilinear yet
sumptuous and complex '88. All confirm Dagueneau's view that sauvignon
is one of the most complex and subtle grapes and that its wines are as
noble as great white Burgundies. (Silex is also priced like one, at
roughly $45. But, cognizant of the work that goes into the wines,
customers -- collectors and restaurateurs alike -- never balk.)
"I'm lucky," Dagueneau reflects, "I make wine without regard to cost.
I don't want to know how I'm doing financially otherwise that will
dictate how I make my wine."
Banks underwrote Dagueneau's dazzling ensemble of vineyards, cellars
and seven full-time employees. After his winery was built Dagueneau
conceded that its expense was "disproportionate," adding "But I didn't
want to wait and do it bit by bit. You've got to move quickly. Life is
short. I hope in five years I'll still want to be a winemaker but maybe
I'll want something else."
Five years have passed since that statement and Dagueneau is still
making wine. And he recently replanted a historic vineyard and bought
and trained a mare to maneuver its tight rows.
I realize, sadly, that if I delete the last paragraph and the last sentence of the preceding paragraph, I've written Didier's epitaph.
September 12, 2008: I am off to Apulia on Sunday -- to taste wine and olive oil for a week. I'm bringing my laptop with me, so if I'm not too exhausted, I hope to be able to post a couple of (brief) comments.
I also want to get back to some of August's feasts and have a recipe that I hope to put into 'posting' form either on the train to Paris or at the airport. If that fails, I'll get to it when I return to France. It's a savory batter bread that is not only great to serve with cocktails and aperitifs -- and, with a salad I'll recommend, as a first course -- it's also a brilliant way to use up otherwise over-the-hill goat cheese.
September 9, 2008: In Tasting Notes, Wine of the Week: 2005 Sancerre Cuvee Edmond, Alphonse Mellot and some comments on my evolving admiration for Sauvignon Blanc.
August 31, 2008 : In FrenchFeast, Regression/Atavistic Eating.
August 29, 2008: Back to the Future. Ok. For those of you who are just tuning in after two weeks or so, you'll notice a change in the look and lay-out of the site. Here's why:
My site is supported by the Authors Guild. Recently -- sometime in March or April -- our sites evolved from Sitebuilder1 to the more sophisticated and elegant Sitebuilder2. It turned out that the latter had too many bugs. So our sites are being migrated back to the more rustic Sitebuilder.
During this transitional period we were asked not to post anything new until the re-migrated sites go live.
They tell me the sites will go live today. I'll wait to make sure that happens and then start posting again.
By which point I my body clock should have readjusted to French hours after four nights staying up until 6am CET to watch the Democratic convention.
August 19, 2008: This is too funny/painful not to share. You think it's easy writing an update of your own book? Not only have most of the producers changed -- either outright sales, or generational shifts or gone organic -- but so has the climate, our understanding of the grape varieties and methods of vinification. At least, thought I, the opening section on the Loire and its history won't need much tweaking. It appears I may have spoken too soon.
While visiting friends in the Limousin this weekend I met a former wine shop owner who announced that research had recently shown that the source of the Loire was not -- as has always been believed -- Mont Gerbier de Jonc. No. That illustrious spot in the wilds of the Ardeche gives birth to the Allier -- at least that's what he thought -- which subsequently gives birth to the Loire, much further north. This discovery, he went on to tell me, had been made by scientists analyzing the river's flow.
Good grief! I can't fudge this one. The first sentence of my book tells readers that the Loire is the longest river in France and that it's source is Mont Gerbier de Jonc. If the latter is not true, the former may not be true either -- depending on the distance the "new" source of the Loire is from the old.
Upon returning to my cottage in Touraine I immediately began a Google search. First: Mont Gerbier de Jonc. It still claims to be the source of the Loire and it was updated in July 2008. Not a very helpful site as there was only one contact number -- which appeared, upon further inspection, to belong to a wood carver but which, in any event, got bounced back to me with one of the funniest "Mailer Daemon" messages I've seen:"I've given up. Sorry it didn't work out."
So now I try calling around France. I'm about to start with the Chambre d'Agriculture in Ardeche, though the office is probably closed for August. I bet they don't get many questions like this one!
August 13, 2008: In Tasting Notes, the first installment of wines drunk with my old friends Ahmed and Lena over the past weekend. We begin with 3 Cremants de Loire from Domaine Baumard. (There will also be a food equivalent in FrenchFeast.) In Mail & Events, an encouraging word from Terry Theise.More to come on all fronts when I return from the Limousin.
August 8, 2008: Just a note to say why I've been such a sluggard. A storm knocked out my internet connection for a half a day; a gum abscess got me obsessed; transferring tasting notes to the appropriate chapters in Loire #2 takes lots of time, dog work; and I'm preparing for yet another set of visitors. I've been tasting a lot of Chinons and Sancerres in preparation and will describe which ones made the cut. (I'm tasting enough to send them back to Paris with a trunkful of wine.) I've discovered some terrific Muscadets and also discovered that some of the top cuvees from Mark Ollivier (Pepiere) need to be uncorked, tasted, put in the fridge overnight and restasted the next day, before they reveal their glory. Some recipes to come, too, but probably not before Tuesday.
August 4, 2008: In Mail & Events, a long post consisting of two "letters" -- the first by Guy Woodward, the editor of Decanter magazine, on the trials and tribulations of receiving hackneyed proposals from freelance writers; and the second, by me, by way of a response. Woodward's letter appeared as an article in the April/May issue of Circle Update, a publication put out by the Circle of Wine Writers. It invited response(s). My response appears in the current (June/July) Update. Both appear here under the title The Audacity of Love.
July 30, August 1, 2008: In Tasting Notes, the wines drunk at a series of meals over the past two week ends.
July 23, 2008: In Tasting Notes, Wine of the Week, a Sancerre so good it makes me reflect on why so many people underestimate this grape variety (including me, in the past). In Mail & Events, answers to a reader's questions.
July 21, 2008: yet more on the birthday meal in FrenchFeast.
July 19, 2008: the expression dejeuner-dinatoire defined in FrenchFeast.
July 18, 2008: Some tips for a reader who asks where to buy the best rillauds and Bordier butter in the Chinon-Saumur region in Mail & Events.And, in FrenchFeast, the cheese course.
July 17, 2008: Woe is me! I'm recovering from July 14th festivities -- which I do hope to write about -- and still haven't finished describing meals long digested. That said, I have added to the birthday post in FrenchFeast.
July 11, 2008: In FrenchFeast, first installment of the 'solid' side of my birthday feast.
July 10, 2008: The best way to get to eat at Momofuku Ko (NYC) in Out & About.
July 8, 9, 2008: July 1 tasting notes continued.
July 4, 2008: A distinctly un-American scoop for Independence Day:Chateau de Fesles, the legendary Bonnezeaux domaine, has just been purchased by Les Grands Chais de France, one of the country's largest negociants.
July 1, 2008: It takes me a full day, minimum, to recover from my own parties. And things aren't getting easier as I get older. I think I'm sufficiently recovered from my birthday to begin posting my notes and (blurry) recollections, starting with wines drunk. The first installment of these notes can be found under Tasting Notes. I'll write the next installment after a quick trip to Paris for a must-go Derenoncourt tasting.
June 27, 2008: Just when I thought maybe I should respond to Guy Woodward's criticisms, along comes an email from that White Knight of Wine Journalism, David Schildknecht, saying the very things I would have said -- though probably a lot better. I've put David's response after my email to Woodward, just to keep things in logical order.
June 26, 2008: I just received an email from Guy Woodward, the editor of Decanter magazine. Woodward is responding to a February 8 post on my site on this page in which I criticize the results of a Decanter's panel tasting of Loire reds. Woodward more or less dares me to post his email in its entirety here. I'm happy to do that. I'm amused and bewildered as I write this because I had just this morning finished writing a response to a piece Woodward wrote for the bulletin of the Circle of Wine Writers. If I can download that piece, I'll post it here -- along with my response.
I’m writing in response to the various sniping at Decanter which you published on your site (Feb 8, 2008). One of the first rules of journalism is that if you’re criticising somebody or something, you give them the right to reply. You chose not to do this, but instead just gave carte blanche to various detractors to put the boot into us, without once offering us the opportunity to respond. Hence I have taken it upon myself to do so.
In your exposé of our Loire Reds 2005 tasting, you ask the question ‘How can a group of professional tasters – including 3 MWs – get it so spectacularly wrong?’ By ‘wrong’, you basically mean ‘different to my opinion’. But whose opinion should consumers value – that of a group of six impartial wine professionals, three of whom are Masters of Wine, or that of a single individual who publishes a wine website, lives in the Loire and is plainly on very friendly terms with the producers concerned?
To quote you directly: ‘What’s with this category “Poor”? How dare you? There’s a person behind every one of these bottles. A person – and maybe a family – whose livelihood depends on our reactions, particularly when they’re published in a magazine. A person who has spent a year pruning, ploughing, de-leafing, obsessing over this wine only to have it written off as “Poor.” To my mind, that’s immoral. You can argue [that] the wines are out there and are fair game. But fair game means they should be treated fairly.’
I wonder what gives you the impression that the wines were not tasted fairly. You speculate as to the conditions of our tasting, confessing that you ‘assume’ this and that. You needn’t have ‘assumed’ anything. You could have just phoned us to find out. Instead you leap to the defence of these poor, beleaguered producers who you feel don’t deserve a poor rating, on the basis that they’re trying to make a living. So should be just give them all good marks and be done with it?
Likewise David Schildknecht suggests that if the ‘best’ producers in a region receive low scores across an entire panel of experts, we should ignore their findings and conduct the tasting again. Is he suggesting that all tastings should be conducted so as to arrive at scores which reflect the preconceived status of all the ‘best’ producers? If so, again, we may as well all go home now. This may be his – and your – approach, but it is certainly not Decanter’s, however many people we may upset along the way. (You speculate as to how outrageous it would be if the Premiers Grands Crus Classés of St-Emilion received lower scores than just a mere Grand Cru. Such things can and do happen. Check out our March issue.)
I trust in the same spirit of free speech in which you gave various parties free rein to criticise us, you will publish this letter in its entirety.
(And my back at 'ya email.)
Dear Guy Woodward;
Of course I’ll publish your letter in its entirety. Regarding your charges, I think enough has been said for readers to make up their own minds. Most of the people who read my website know, as you seem not to do, that I have written what is considered the classic reference on the wines of the Loire — which I spent seven years researching -- and that I am in the process of writing the second edition of that book.
As a journalist — and I do consider myself a journalist — I work very hard to maintain objectivity, even in a field where one inevitably comes to know and to socialize with people who are the subjects of my books, reviews and articles. I think it fair to say that many journalists find themselves in similar positions.
What I find more than passing strange is the timing of your email. My criticism of the Decanter tasting results was posted on February 8th. It has taken you four months to reply. Coincidentally — or not — I am just about to submit my response to the piece you wrote for the Circle of Wine Writers bulletin. I doubt you’ll like what I say in that any more than you did the contents of my web post.
I would like to assure you however, that the response I am sending to Jim was completed before I received your email. I undertake not to alter it in any way.
And now for David Schildknecht:
"Woodward has missed the point of my own criticism. In any area that pretends to a degree of objectivity - or at least of intersubjectively shared reason-giving - you cannot hope to be taken seriously and should indeed expect to be considered "wrong" if you make judgments completely at odds with standards that prevail in your area of investigation, or in conflict with the experimental results derived by virtually all previous well-trained investigators. It is no more reasonable to assert that the 2005s of Alliet, Amiraut, Baudry, etc.are not examples of high quality Loire Cabernet Franc than it would be to assert that 2005 Latour and Margaux are poor examples of claret; the 2005s of Grivot, Lafarge, and Roumier of red Burgundy; or the 2005s of von Hövel, Egon Müller, and Zilliken of Saar Riesling. Paradigms can change over time, and there is ample room for disagreement about wine at countless levels that mingle the factual and the evaluative. But certain criteria and a certain set of paradigms must at any given point in one's "research" be taken as fixed in order to participate in serious discussion. (A similar situation pertains not just to judging gymnastics, judging dogs in show, or in other where paradigms function in an evaluative context, but also I would argue, in any scientific enterprise.) Certainly, on some theories of evaluative discourse one could defend Woodward's right to insist that the opinions in question cannot strictly speaking be called "wrong." But in that case, the alternative is to describe them as so extreme as to be completely irrelevant. And under either description, the disservice done Decanter's readers (not to mention the Loire vintners) on the occasion in question was equally great.
What's more - and doing himself and his journal a disservice - Woodward does not seem to realize the full implications of the following fact. A tasting by any panel no matter how talented as individuals that resulted in across the board skepticism about the quality of the 2005 Medocs and characterized as "poor" the wines of normally iconic chateaux, would subject Decanter to ridicule and disrepute. For anyone who has followed the red wines of the Loire, the results of the Decanter report in question can only have the same effect. I have often had sessions or days when I had to "throw out my results and begin again," and when it comes to group tastings, with all of the psychological and social aspects of a group dynamic, there are additional opportunities for obtaining "wrong" results. At the recent (3rd) symposium on "Philosophy of Wine," Ole Skilleas of the University of Bergen presented a fascinating paper stimulated by an occasion when a group of reasonably wine-savvy friends and tasters failed to recognize as Chardonnay much less as white Burgundy three iconic wines he had chosen from respectively Chablis, the Côte d'Or and the Macon. In this particular instance, the group error seemed to be traceable to the most experienced and well-known taster in the group having begin the tasting by commenting about the first wine "well, the one thing we know is it isn't Chardonnay." And in a sense, to have said that was far from wrong-headed, because the classic Kimmeridgian wine in question was not "a Chardonnay," but rather a Chablis. So one ought surely not underestimate the ways unique to group dynamics in which a panel of tasters can sometimes go off track. (And of course, on felicitous occasions a group can act as a check on one another's results, such as in "throwing out" the highest and lowest scores.) One can look into Frédéric Brochon's or Jamie Goode's excellent studies on the psychology of wine perception to realize some of the many ways in which even talented tasters can be misled.
Are there instances where a paradigm is extremely controversial? Certainly. A classic recent instance was 2003 Pavie. But when a wine, vintage, or style is the fulcrum of such dramatically divergent lines of thought, there is at work an even stronger set of agreed-upon paradigms. So in this case, for instance, it would scarcely be credible to deny either that the practices and style of Perse or the characteristics of the 2003 vintage are themselves extreme. No such extremity surrounds the 2005 vintage on the Loire or the styles and practices of the Loire vignerons who were the subject of Decanter's report."
June 23, 2008: In FrenchFeast, my first distillation.
June 20, 2008: Back in Touraine -- with so many different stories that my brain feels gridlocked. I'm going through my California tasting notes -- now that the names of the wines have been revealed -- and hope to post some sage comments. Among my many New York stories will be how I succeeded in getting into Momofuku Ko without really trying (and what I thought of the meal). And life goes on here in France, with many meals and many bottles worthy of comment, including a report on the distillation of my very first eau de vie made from fruit grown in my back yard, gathered and fermented by yours truly. Best bottle since return: 2005 Clos de Vougeot from Fred Magnien, served for dinner at the home of Benjamin Stainmesse, head of Carrefour's wine department. (Don't go thinking this was one of those fancy shmancy black - tie events -- that was the James Beard Gala, of which more later. This was just me, Benjamin and his wife Marie-Aude. Benjamin cooked: super shrimp risotto -- much better than the risotto I had the next day at Da Rosa (6th Arr.) -- and oeufs en meurette made with lard from a pig killed by Benjamin's uncle and garnished withchanterelles gathered by Marie-Aude's aunt. (When it comes to relatives, some people have all the luck!)
May 29, 2008: Where I am: in sunny California, judging wines at the Los Angeles Wine Competiton. This is the first time I've been able to access my site but hope to post lots of thoughts about the event, old world vs. new world palates and other burning issues. I'm feeling the effect of the last flight of wines, which weren't wines at all but were: 8 brandies, 1 fruit brandy, one grappa, two eaux de vie and two cream-and-brandy-based concoctions. This morning my panel tasted 38 cabernet sauvignons and 43 zins.More on all of this later.
May 19, 2008: In Tasting Notes, 2005 Chinon Clos du Chene Vert, Charles Joguet.
May 1, 2008: In FrenchFeast, a very shaggy saga of a very long meal in a cave near Chinon, featuring Charles Joguet, seven vintages of Le Chene Vert, tete de veau, woodcock, eau de vie and a lot more.
April 24, 2008: Wine of the Week in Tasting Notes.
April 22, 2008: Good thoughts for Pierre Couly. I'm just back from doing errands in Chinon where I ran into Bertrand Couly, Pierre's son, at the bakery. Bertrand informed me that his father has been in a coma for the past two weeks. He is now hospitalized in Paris.
Many of you are aware that the Couly family has been involved in litigation regarding the separation of the Couly-Dutheil domaine. The stress has been particularly hard on Pierre and Bertrand, who have a minority share in the property.
Only a month ago I had dinner with Pierre, his wife, Colette, and a couple of mutual friends, at the Couly's home at L'Olive. It was the first time in a long time that Pierre had felt in sufficient good spirits to entertain. It was heartening to see him in fine, garrulous form and it was a lovely evening, full of laughter. But as the litigation took another turn, it hit Pierre hard. It's not for me to discuss the details of the family history but anyone has read Dickens (or who has had their own family misery) will understand.
I had planned to finally get around to posting more wine, food and FrenchFeast tales today but my thoughts keep turning to Pierre. I'm sure all of you who know Pierre, or who love Chinon wine, or simply love wine, will join me in my wishing Pierre a prompt and complete recovery.
April 14, 2008:
In Out&About, a country inn with great food near Cahors.
April 13, 2008: In Tasting Notes, Minervois and St. Chinian to drink with your cassoulet.
April 10, 2008: Foodie gossip: Dateline Paris: Rumor has it -- from well-placed sources, bien entendu -- that Eric Briffard, the chef at Les Elysees du Vernet, will soon replace Philippe Legendre as chef at Georges V.
April 9, 2008: Frost damage in parts of the Loire. Much of the Muscadet region was hit but it's too early to tell how fatal the damage will prove to be.
April 4, 2008: I'm about to leave Paris for Cahors for the world's first Malbec conference. The pile of notes I aim to post grows relentlessly and Site Perestroika is taking longer than I hoped for one good reason: ibook slowdown. Friends who are Mac experts diagnose the problem as insufficient RAM. Rather than buy more RAM -- as well as WiFi hookups etc -- I figure that since I'm slated to be in the USA in June, I might as well be on the benefit-side of the weak dollar rather than being slaughtered by it, and buy a new MacBook. So look for speed once I recover from jetlag in June. (I will keep posting tasting notes and anecdotes but, please understand, the way my ibook is working (not), what should take 15 minutes takes 45 minutes.
April 2, 2008:Cassoulet in Carcassonne and La Poussines, a gem of a B&B 39 kms northeast, in Out&About.
March 29, 2008: In Tasting Notes two 2007 Savennieres and an update in the Jo Pithon saga.
March 20, 2008
A swell hotel and restaurant (with appellation controlee mussels) in Cancale in Out&About.
March 18, 2008
I've created a new page, Out&About. It will feature restaurant reviews and will include hotel, B&B, and shopping recommendations in the margin. For now, I've merely transferred reviews from FrenchFeast but I'll be adding posts in the days to come.
March 12, 2008 A note on the Whys & Wherefores of my most recent trip to Sicily: The trip was organized by Assovino, an association of some 30 Sicilian wine producers. Journalists from the world over were invited to spend four + days visiting wineries, attending conferences and tasting, tasting, tasting. I'll be writing more about the trip -- the tastings, the winery visits -- later.
Some initial, half-baked reflections on Sicily: General: Sociology; Fashion/Girl-talk:
There appears to be a lot of reverse immigration: ie 3rd generation Sicilian-Americans moving back to the homeland;
Hairstyles: Unlike France, where every woman over the age of, say, 25, has her hair styled well above her ears, like a teenage boy, in Sicily, women wear their tresses long. Many in the PR and hospitality fields appear to have hair extensions. Every last one of them has better hair than Jennifer Aniston.
Landscape: Within the dramatic framework of sea and mountains, the countryside is a patchwork of vineyards, olive trees, dense clumps of bonsai-like blood-orange trees, scrubland and cacti. I suggested they make tequila as well as wine. It appears that the fruit of the cacti is popular. So why not a Sicilian cocktail? Sicilian tequila, juice of its fruit and a slice of blood orange. Sounds good to me.
Some wine generalizations:
I love Sicilian wines and, even more, their potential. Alas, I may have found another reason to renew my vow of poverty.
Again with the half-baked reflections:
The size of vineyard holdings is surprisingly large compared to that of, say, France. It’s not uncommon for two or three families to form an association with resulting holdings of 100, 200, 300 hectares.
Sicily seems to be entering phase three of its (r)evolution. Let’s say that the first stage was characterized by plonk production – bulk wine to be sold within Italy (or shipped to France) for blending, or to be used as the base for aperitifs like Vermouth.
The second stage seems to me to be the “Yes, We Can” phase, characterized by planting popular internation grape varieties like cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. Rolland-wannabe-enologists advocated modern style overoaked and overextracted wines. There are still many of these wines on the market and they tend to get well reviewed by Gambero Rosso among others. I’d put a number of the wines from Abbazia Santa Anastasia, Cottanero, DonnaFugata, Firriato and Tasca d’Almerita (Regaleali) in this category.
Some of the non-indigenous (what that means is subject to debate) work very well, others seem clearly out of place. Among those that seem to have found a happy home in Sicily are Viognier, Fiano and maybe Syrah. The Bordeaux grapes – merlot, the cabernets – clearly don’t work here. It seems to me, based on little evidence, it’s true, that they reach high sugar levels before they are near to being phenolically ripe. Flavors of green bell peppers are to be expected. Chardonnay gives nothing exceptional. Much more interesting (to this drinker) are local grapes like Grillo and Inzolia.
And then there are the grapes that the high-priced enologists and the winewriters who worship them disdain –-Frappato being my favorite example. This grape, when well treated, tends to make a charming, exotically perfumed -- roses, cherries, orange zests -- light reds.
That said, there’s still a lot to learn here. There are at least six distinct wine regions within Sicily and a multiplicity of terroirs.
I’ll be posting my Sicily tasting notes next week. (I’m off to Champagne tomorrow to have dinner with soul brother and sister Terry Thiese and Karen Odessa Piper.)
March 4, 2008 : Please bear with me. I'm leaving for Sicily (yay!) tomorrow morning and will be gone for about five days. In the interim, my site will change dramatically. Let me explain. My site is supported by the Authors' Guild. Up until now what I've been using and what you've been reading has been Sitebuilder1. Our sites are now migrating to Sitebuilder2. I've been one of the guinea pigs but, lately, have had a lot of trouble making the changes I wanted to make. So when you get to Sitebuilder2 it will look different but will not yet reflect the changes I want to make. Since I won't have time to make these changes before I leave, I'll have to wait until I get back. And it should take me a good month to get it all together.With luck.
The confusion resulting from all of the above is the reason I haven't posted anything since February 24th -- like the tasting and meal chez moi with Francois Pinon (Vouvray) and Abel Osario da Castro (Nau Freres/Bourgueil) and my trip to my local distiller to bring him a sample of my fermented fruit juice.(No off-color double entendres, please!) All in good time!
February 24, 2008 : Tasting notes on the wines -- Sancerre, Menetou-Salon, Quincy, Coteaux du Giennois, Chateaumeillant -- served at the truffle meals in Book Updates, plus some editing of Truffle Meals in FrenchFeast.
February 21, 2008 : Truffle meals in Touraine in FrenchFeast.
February 18, 2008: A reader makes a good point in Back&Forth.
February 14, 2008: And another letter responding to the Decanter article.
February 12, 2008 : Update on the Jo Pithon news. Unfortunately I didn't see the Pithons at the Salon but I did discover another aspect to the story -- one involving Stephane Derenoncourt. It turns out that the Pithon's backer, Philippe Fournier, also bought Chateau Chamboureau in Savennieres. He has hired Stephane to consult on the wines. I met with Stephane at the Salon and he was very excited about this new venture. He's never worked with white wines before -- partly, he says, because no interesting projects presented themselves. But he loves the Loire and chenin blanc; indeed, he places Loire chenins alongside Alsace rieslings and chardonnays from Burgundy as the greatest expressions of white grapes.
Chamboureau has gone organic and a new cellar is being built. The parcels are being restructured, vines will be t-grated, replacing inferior versions of chenin with the finest examples from the domaine.
Stephane is looking for purity and identity. The grapes will be picked when just turning yellow, by tri ;wines will almost always be totally dry and malo will be blocked, if possible.
Among Chamboureau's holdings is parcel (slightly under 4 hectares) of the cru La Roche-aux-Moines. Derenoncourt feels, rightly, that this cru can produce much finer wines that it has done.
The 2007, brut de barrique, certainly demonstrated a giant step in the right direction. It was ethereal, deeply mineral, crystalline, with accents of orange and lemon zests as well as herbal tea. It was elegant and racy. Excellent. The regular Chamboreau bottling, also brut, was almost as fine, very wordly and textured.
Exciting developments are in store here.
February 10, 2008:letters from David Schildknecht and Jim Budd reacting to my Decanter post follows the letter in question. (Makes more sense that way.) See below.
February 9, 2008: Two timely letters in Back&Forth.
February 8, 2008:Go Know. Or, Huh? Say What?
I’m recovering from the Loire wine fair. The pressrooms at big wine fairs have one thing in common with hair salons: plenty of magazines you wouldn’t spend your own money on. And in the press rooms at the wine fairs there are usually stacks of these magazines. So you’re meant to take them. Take them I did, coming home with a satchelful, among them the February 2008 issue of Decanter.
One of the articles rated 2005 Loire reds. A bit of an overstatement as the article covered only cabernet-franc-based reds from Chinon, Bourgueil, St. Nicolas de Bourgueil and Saumur. Cabernet-franc-dominated reds are also made in Anjou and there are plenty of Loire reds in Touraine, Sancerre, Reuilly, Menetou-Salon and other appellations made from grapes ranging from pinot noir to gamay to cot (malbec) to cabernet franc. But perhaps I split hairs.
What got my goat was the ratings given to wine producers as well as specific wines. Downright jawdropping. How can a group of professional tasters – including 3 MWs -- get it so spectacularly wrong?
Let me elaborate.
There were three classifications, with five stars being the highest. Somewhat misleading. As a two-star rating translated as “Fair” (basically a blow-off with no comment about the wine); and one-star as “Poor”.
In the “Fair” category were such personal favorites as Bernard Baudry (practically every single one of his cuvees); Yannick Amirault. Even more stunning was the “Poor” rating for Philippe Alliet, whose Chinon scored a 12.
Alliet and Bernard Baudry have, for the past twenty years, represented the very best of Chinon. Yannick Amirault is currently the finest winemaker in the Bourgueil/St. Nicolas de Bourgueil appellations. Each is an experienced, talented craftsman, dedicated to making the finest wine possible. (You’ll find my tasting notes on wines from Baudry and Amirault in FrenchFeast (month of August) and, I think, all three, in Loire Updates.)
Domaine de la Butte, a property on the rise since it was taken over by Montlouis luminary Jacky Blot also rated “Poor”; while the Cuvees Busardieres from Domaine de la Chevalerie and the Vieilles Vignes from Nau Freres were among those deemed “Fair.”
I’ve been delecting in Busardieres for the past twenty years; and when Abel Osorio da Castro, the winemaker at Freres Nau, brought a magnum of the 2005 to my birthday party, guests chased him around the house to keep their glasses filled.
I’m aware that not many consumers are familiar with the names of Chinon producers. So let me make a comparison – hyperbolic as it may be – with St. Emilion. Imagine, if you will, a Decanter panel rating as Fair: Chateaux Cheval Blanc, Le Tertre-Roteboeuf, Pavie-Macquin; as Poor, Chateau Ausone, and giving their 3, 4 and 5 star nods to Balestard la Tonnelle, Corbin, Couvent des Jacobins and Cap de Mourlin.
Dioterie, the most elegant cuvee from Charles Joguet, rated “Fair,” while the simpler Varennes du Grand Clos rated 3 stars, which, in itself, is damning with faint praise but seems to reveal an inconsistency on the part of the tasters.
At this point I want to open a parenthesis: what’s with this category “Poor”? Or, how dare you? There’s a person behind every one of these bottles. A person – and maybe a family – whose livelihood depends on our reactions, particularly when they’re published in a magazine. A person who has spent a year pruning, ploughing, deleafing, obsessing over this wine only to have it written off as “Poor.” To my mind, that’s immoral.
Well, you can argue, the wines are out there and are fair game. But fair game means they should be treated fairly.
Which brings me to the non-parenthetical question of how these wines were tasted. I assume they were tasted blind but that’s the least of it. What I’d like to know is how much time was taken with each wine. And were the wines poured directly from a freshly opened bottle? Had the wines been carafed? And, if so, for how long? If a wine had been freshly opened but tasted “closed,” was it put aside to be tasted again later, after a period of aeration?
As many of you know, I’m currently tasting wines for the second edition of my Loire book. Many’s the bottle I put aside to taste again – and again, and again – if I feel that I haven’t got the best of what it has to say.
For example, last week I was tasting wines from Chateaumeillant. The 2006 “Extra-Version” from Geoffrenet-Morval, a red made from 80% pinot noir and 20% gamay, came across as pleasant, light, fresh and charming when first poured. On day two, it tasted even better. On day three it had blossomed, revealing lovely flavors of griotte cherries, cherry pits, and raspberries. The ripeness, balance and freshness were all I could have desired. The wine was lipsmackingly delicious.
Now I think this leads to another question: did the tasters have preconceived notions of what Loire cabs should be?
Well, they said they were looking for fruit, easy and early accessibility and lightweight. Not surprising, then, that “too much oak” was an across-the-board criticism. Further, the Loire was said to be going through an “identity crisis” in which common flaws, along with too much oak, included over-extraction and, in general, “poor winemaking skills”. (Again, I invite you to read my tasting notes.)
Now Loire cabs will probably always be lighter than Chateauneuf-du-Papes and Pauillacs (at least I hope so) but there are a number of different styles. One style is that exuberant, upfront charmer. It usuallly comes from sandy soils, often from young vines, and is usually tank fermented and tank aged. Wines from tuffeau soils are more structured and often see some oak. Yes, they’re on a smaller scale than, say, Latour, but please, don’t refuse them the right to aim for greatness – for nuance, complexity and nobility.
The panel’s verdict was that “despite the good vintage, the wines tasted were, in the main, disappointing.” Frankly, I think that says more about the wine tasters than the wine makers.
Dear reader 2005 is a wonderful vintage. To illustrate my point, one of my tasting notes on a wine dismissed as “Fair” by the panel: “2005 Chinon “La Croix Boissee” Bernard Baudry. A beautifully mingled nose; on the palate, a delectable wash of black cherry. The wine is elegant and soigne. An excellent Chinon.”
I know, I know. There’s no disputing taste. But come on! The following post is from David Schildknecht, the White Knight of Wine Journalism imho. I seldom look at Decanter and have found their tasting panel results no more reliable than those of the New York Times - indeed probably less so, the number of M.W.s notwithstanding. Anybody who could rate Baudry's '05s "fair" and Alliet's and Blot's "poor" was either having a very bad day or has zero appreciation (or - dare I say - "tolerance"?) for Cabernet Franc. But for a group of tasters to have done this, i.e. not served as a check on one another's human fallibility?! There must have been some really negative synergy or "group-taste" going on there is all I can say.
But, wait ... there is more to say: after taking a look at what this group of tasters came up with as their "results," what possessed the magazine to PUBLISH them?! If there is a tasting and for some unknown reason (and - giving even those of us who are experienced tasters a benefit of the doubt, sometimes there really are "bad vibrations" between the taster and the wines or among a group of tasters on a given day) the "results" show that in a vintage of outstanding potential the leading growers of the region or appellation (or the leading growers of the grape) in question produced consistently poor to average results, THEN YOU THROW OUT THE RESULTS and you try the entire experiment on another occasion, with other bottles, and perhaps with another cast of tasters. In a scientific spirit - or for that matter in the spirit of common sense and fairness to the growers whose wines are being judged - only if you were able to replicate results that are completely at odds with normal theoretical assumptions and the accumulation of past data would you publish them!
I'm stone cold sober - haven't even had anything in a glass to spit yet today - and (as the wretched American pols say) I approve the above message for inclusion on your site (indeed, would welcome it, including this paragraph), should you have the inclination to stir things up. (I don't know who the panel was in this case, so hope I have not just make enemies of former friends!)
Horrible news about Pithons! I had not heard. (Have to find time to check in on your site more often.)
The following letter is from Jim Budd. Jim, who shares my passion for and knowledge of Loire wines, wrote the article on Loire reds that preceded the Decanter panel tasting results. He did not participate in the panel and did not know the results when he wrote the article.
Have to say I agree with you about the Decanter tasting. I was invited but
was unfortunately away in the Loire and was asked to write the intro later
not knowing what the results were. Sadly from the comments published the
tasters seem to have been fixated by the idea that all wines from these
three appellations should be light and fruity, so no wonder they were taken
aback by the 2005s.
I have written a letter to Decanter making some of the points you raise –
Alliet, Blot, Baudry fair or poor! Furthermore the idea that top Loire
winemakers lack confidence is laughable. Try telling that to Jacky Blot or
and another county heard from:
I went over to France for the Salon des Vins, staying in my house in Bourgueil, beneath which lie several dozens of 2005 Loire wines!
I thought the Decanter tasting article was disgraceful, and took the magazine over to Bourgueil to show to my favourite grower, in Benais. (Better withhold the name)
He rarely shows his wines to “panel tasters”, in fact his top 2005 cuvées will not be bottled before mid-2009. He certainly didn’t feature in the Decanter tasting.
He cursorily glanced through the Decanter article, noted where I had highlighted the producers ranked fair and poor, and told how when a publication last called on him to request samples for a comparative tasting, they told him he would have to pay €150 for the honour!
Did you notice the blue carpet at the Salon? Apparently this is the worst colour to have at a wine fair. Nothing to do with biodynamic fruit and root days, but peoples’ judgement is adversely affected by the colour,
according to my man in Benais!
Perhaps Decanter had a shocking blue carpet in their tasting room!!
Regards, Michael Keating
February 1, 2008 : Sad News: Last night I received an email from Jo and Isabelle Pithon. They explained that, due to disagreements with their financial partner, they had lost their domaine.
As many of you know, the Pithons have been making wonderful Coteaux du Layon for more than fifteen years. In the last ten years, their dry chenins became ambassadors for the Renaissance of Anjou dry whites. They had just begun making red wine and had expanded across the Loire to Savennieres.
I've tried reaching them today to get more information but got only the answering machines on their mobiles. (The winery phone is disconnected.) I hope the news is not as bad as it sounds. Jo answered an email saying he'd probably be at the Salon des Vins de Loire. I hope to talk to him then.
January 30, 2008:
1) My article on chef Olivier Roellinger is posted in Article Archives.
2) Today I'm moving back to the Loire to taste through hundreds of samples and to put all my ducks in a row for the Salon des Vins de Loire. (I leave for Angers early Sunday morning.)
3) I'm also in the process of restructuring the website. Version #2 will probably go 'live' before it's actually finished. (Exactly when depends on the powers that be at the Authors' Guild.)
The new version will have quite a few changes.
The Home Page will remain devoted to explaining what's new and will include the occasional off-the-cuff post;
Replacing "Book Updates" will be Tasting Notes: The name is self-explanatory. A number of you have observed that you found it difficult to find tasting notes on my site. From now on they will be on this page or, if posted on another page, there will be a reference (and,I hope, a link) to them. All Loire wine tasting notes will now appear here.
FrenchFeast becomes the Blog page. It will continue to document my gastronomic excesses. It will also include 'gastrologs', or gastronomic philosophizing (by me or others). The Wine of the Week will be moved from here to Tasting Notes and posts on travel outside France will appear in FreeRunFeasting.
FreeRunFeasting, as noted, will be devoted to posts on travel beyond France. There will be references &/or links to recommended hotels and restaurants within France.
Mail & Events have been combined. The more philosophical of your missives will be posted in FrenchFeast.
I'm also going to put indexes in the margins of Tasting Notes, FrenchFeast, and FreeRunFeasting.
4)To Come: (Probably after the Salon des Vins de Loire): More on Sicily; reports on St. Chinian and Minervois, including a great cassoulet in Carcassonne and a super B&B in the Languedoc countryside; and truffle shopping and eating in the Rhone Valley.
January 15, 2008: FrenchFeast goes to Sicily Part II -- but I've only written about dinner so far.
BTW, tomorrow morning I'm leaving for Carcassonne. Visits to AOCs Minervois, St. Chinian. Then, east to Rasteau.
January 13, 2008: FrenchFeast goes to Sicily Part I.
January 10, 2008 : This is just a note to share with you my enthusiasm for a wine I'm tasting. It's the 2006 Sancerre blanc "Les Pierrottes" from Claude and Stephane Riffault. The grapes come from silex-rich soils and the wine is far more mineral and stony than it is varietal. I've often felt that really top Sancerres are ringers for really top Chablis. Cepage plays a distinctly second role to terroir. That's certainly the case here. The wine is beautifully textured. I haven't permitted myself to look at the winemaker's technical notes but, to me, the wine seems to have the marrowy texture of a wine raised sur lie. It's rich but fabulously fresh, with accents of grapefruit zests and gooseberry enlivening the stone and mineral core. It's so fine and racy and thrilling I can't stop drinking it!
January 10, 2008 : I'm back in Paris, recovering from a fantastic, eye-opening trip to Sicily. Suffice it to say that I fell in love with the land, the food and the wines. Talk about a wine revolution! Well, I intend to. I'm now sorting out my notes and will post my impressions and recommendations over the coming days. (In what's currently FrenchFeast. Note, however, that I'm also in the process of restructuring the website and am thinking of calling one section "Moveable Feast". (Not very original so I'm open to suggestions.) I also have a bunch of quick trips coming up -- to St. Chinian and to Rasteau -- and hope to write about those too. And, of course, I'm tasting, tasting, tasting for Loire Wines #2.(The winemaker,himself, just dropped off six bottles of Bailly-Reverdy Sancerres.)
December 26-28 2007: More letters as well as a rambling email discussion with Terry Theise in Back&Forth and a holiday snap of the Vidal family in FrenchFeast. I'm fighting off a cold while preparing for a trip to Palermo but I still hope to post something before the New Year.
December 22, 2007 (evening): Wine of the Year in FrenchFeast.
December 22, 2007 (afternoon) : As Gilda Radner was wont to say, it's always something. I fled the noise of neighborhood reconstruction and took myself, my notebooks and my ibook down to Touraine -- where I planned to spend the bulk of my time tasting and writing. I've gotten through all my Reuillys except for the mixed carton from Jean-Michel Sorbe (tomorrow) and was, finally, going to finish my Thanksgiving notes. This morning 220 cases of wine arrived from le Centre -- ie Sancerre, Pouilly, Menetou, Quincy, Chateaumeillant and the Giennois, as well as a couple duplicate Reuillys from Jean-Michel Sorbe. The wine had been delivered, as instructed, to my neighbors, the Teillets (Jean and Francoise) and Jean trundled them down in five separate wheelbarrow trips. Ok, now for Thanksgiving. Well, though I'd carefully gone through which notebooks I thought I should bring to the country, I passed over the one with the notes on Thanksgiving wines. So that will have to wait. Now I will get to work on my Wine of the Year.
December 18, 2007 : Deafening, window-rattling construction work on the building next door has made it impossible for me to work. I'm leaving -- with ibook in tow -- for the Loire tomorrow in order to get something accomplished.
December 13, 2007 : More on Thanksgiving in FrenchFeast. In Back&Forth, a reader writes with a problem some of the retailers/wholesalers among you may be able to solve. I'm flummoxed.
December 12, 2007: In FrenchFeast, more on Thanksgiving (which I hope to finish before Christmas).
December 7, 2007: Lordtroglodyte returns in Back&Forth.
December 2, 2007: In Back&Forth, unusual email from a reader and my response.
November 29, 2007 : With jackhammers drilling under my window all day it was nearly impossible to get any work done. So the continuation of the Thanksgiving sage will have to wait until Saturday.I would, however, like to thank the newsletter subscribers who have sent such thoughtful and heartening feedback. For the moment, FrenchFeast seems to be winning as the site for the future blog.
November 28, 2007: In Loire Updates (click on Works, then on Loire book title): Matthieu Baudry of Domaine Bernard Baudry on the 2007 harvest in Chinon, as well as some observations on the To Bio or Not To Bio question. And in FrenchFeast, the beginning of my Thanksgiving report.
November 27, 2007: In Book Updates, Alsace harvest report from Philippe Blanck of Paul Blanck.I hope to post Thanksgiving notes tomorrow. BTW, Montlouis may be the most dynamic wine region in France right now. More anon!
November 25, 2007: In Article Archives, France's Maverick Winemakers and a sidebar published in the IHT on November 17, 2007. On Tuesday or Wednesday I hope to post notes on Thanksgiving in the Time of Transport Strikes in FrenchFeast. I expect to spend all day Monday at a mega-Montlouis tasting.
November 5, 2007: In Book Updates, notes on Champagne Drappier's Quattuor and on 2000 Moet.
October 24, 2007: First things first: I'm off tomorrow to Brittany to cover an oyster festival in Cancale, visit an oyster producer, interview Olivier Roellinger (3 Michelin-stars), and visit the workshop of one of the best producers of butter on the planet, Bordier. Second: as one of the guinea pigs for the 2nd wave of Authors' Guild websites, I'm told that they'll "migrate" my site to their lab next week. I'm supposed to work with their site and report back on how it goes. I can also add things to this site as it exists but, once the site has been 'migrated', the changes won't appear when the 2nd version is installed. It's supposed to have a lot of new functions, including a blog set-up. So I imagine I'll be changing things around -- eg a lot of what went into FrenchFeast will probably end up in the blog section -- in the not too distant future.
October 21, 2007: Why I haven't been posting: a) The fall tasting season is in full swing (so I've got lots of notes piling up next to my ibook);b)in preparation for work on the new edition of the Loire book, I'm redoing the infrastructure of my filing system and creating shelf space by throwing out 3/4s of the documents accumulated for The Wines of France and ruthlessly tossing out hundreds of magazine sections of the Sunday New York Times and The New York Review of Books (after first ripping out crossword puzzles and interesting articles; and c)getting ready for possibly big changes to the website.
Re (C): My website is supported by the Authors Guild. They are testing an new, improved version and I have volunteered to be one of the guinea pigs. I'm saving a bunch of items I've been wanting to post in order to test out the new system and give feedback to the support staff.
October 10, 2007: Meet Bob de Bourg in Book Updates.
October 4, 2007: In Book Updates, 2000 Cahors Chateau le Cedre Cuvee GC is Wine of the Week.
September 29, 2007: Harvest report from Champagne, and postscript to Burgundy report regarding organic viticulture vs. other types in the 2007 harvest. All in Book Updates.
September 28, 2007: Harvest reports from Burgundy and Chateauneuf-du-Pape in Book Updates.
September 24, 2007: You'll find the "author's cut" of a Burgundy article I wrote for the October 2007 issue of Food & Wine under Works/ Previously Published Articles. This version is longer than the one edited by F&W.
Also, I have just posted the .pdf file of David Schildknecht's review of The Wines of France which was originally published in The Art of Eating. Click on Works, then on the book's title.
September 5,6, 2007: I just returned from a short trip to the nearby Indre department. In the heart of Berry, it’s an area of la France profonde that deserves to be better known. Among its attractions – the Chateau of Valencay (in Valencay) and, in Vic-Nohant, George Sand’s house and the Eglise St. Martin with its eye-popping 12th century frescoes. In vinous terms, there are the AOCs Reuilly and Valencay but, taking a break from finishing the Wine Weekend saga, I want to write about two excellent restaurants: La Cognette, a long-time favorite, now better than ever; and l’Aubergeade, new to me and very much worth the visit. Tune in to FrenchFeast later today for details.
August 31, 2007: In Book Updates, Walden, from Herve Bizeul (Clos des Fees) is the wine of the week.
August 27,28,29, 2007: Another Wine Weekend installment in FrenchFeast.
August 25, 2007: Here Comes the Sun! Finally, a real, blue-green summer’s day. I took my mid-morning walk along the Indre river. My neighbor was out in his fishing boat (but the fish weren’t biting) and other fishermen were hauling out their tackle while their wives unpacked picnic baskets along the river’s shady banks. There were bikers and hikers and everyone was smiling. Many’s the time I regret not having bought a house by the ocean. But when I take walks like this I think, ‘Am I nuts?’ There are more dramatic vistas, yes, more spectacular sights, lots of them, but, where peaceable kingdoms are concerned, there may be many as beautiful as this but none, I think, more beautiful: a winding river, lined with trees and wild flowers, bordered by vast, varying fields of cereal crops – sunflowers or wheat mostly – and houses made of the soft local limestone, tuffeau, roofed with slate tiles and in the distance, the outlines of the Sleeping Beauty chateau. It would be hard, indeed, to find a gentler landscape. But thoughts return to vignerons. It’s not yet noon and it’s ‘hotting’ up mighty fast. It’s also very humid. Perfect conditions for rot, and not the noble kind – particularly when you’re talking about cabernet. But after a seemingly endless stretch of gloom-and-doom weather, it’s hard not to rejoice. I will indeed have lunch outside – after checking on the 60 liter canister of mirabelles, greengage plums and Williams pears fermenting in my garage.
In Article Archives I've posted six pieces I wrote for the Wall Street Journal -- ranging in topics from "Le Fooding" to Vinisud to Morellino di Scansano. Help Wanted These were the only articles I was able to retrieve because I'm not a subscriber to the WSJ online. If you are, and if you're willing to help retrieve other articles, please send me an email.
August 24, 2007 : In Back&Forth, recommended chateaux in the Dordogne area.
August 23, 2007: A Word on the 2007 Harvest, thus far, or The Sun’ll Come Out Tomorrow:
What’s this I see from my study window? Sunlight??? If so, it surely won’t last long. The sky will blacken, the rain will fall, first in big, fat, noisy drops, then in great, slashing sheets, and I’ll put on yet another sweater. I’m in my home in Touraine, not far from Chinon. Like all of my neighbors, I watch the weather forecasts religiously – but with increasing skepticism. The weather has been so bad that we are beginning to believe that when forecasters predict sunny, warm weather three or four days hence (always three or four days hence) it’s to forestall mass suicides. We are all suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, except that it’s not winter, officially anyway. Actually, it’s winter with leaves. Everyone is depressed. And even more depressing is the thought that la rentree is here – vacation over, back to school, back to work – and no one has had a summer to revive them, to recharge the battery for the coming winter.
The weather is so bad, some regions have begun to harvest. You may read – or see, if you watch French tv – reports on harvesting. They always say that the great weather in April allowed the grapes to ripen earlier than usual and they have, thus, reached maturity, despite the awful weather in June, July and August. The snark in me starts snarking.
I’ll believe it when I taste it. But I really doubt it. Ok. I’ve experienced firsthand only the weather in central France. But from what I read and what I see and hear, the only areas that might have had growing seasons acceptable enough to produce good wine are in the southeast of France. Maybe there’ll be some fine bottles from Bandol and Corsica. Maybe even Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Elsewhere potatoes are rotting in the fields; tomatoes rot on the vines; and the grapes are attacked by rot, mildew, hail…
Hardest hit, unsurprisingly, are those who practice organic or biodynamic farming. I just got off the phone with Guy Bossard (Domaine de l’Ecu, Muscadet), a model (and not dogmatic) biodynamicist, and I asked him if, upon reflection, the various organic etc associations might not consider making exceptions for treatments in growing seasons like this. Yes, indeed, was the answer. One year like this was enough, even though a year like this only happens, it’s said, every 30 or 40 years. Guy has some parcels that have been spared but there are others so affected that his wife, Annie, doesn’t even want to look at them.
And those who use chemical treatments? Well, the supply ran out – particularly since potato farmers bought so much of it. Good vigneron customers – those who paid their bills on time – got product but others didn’t. And then, there were those who, fooled by a nice, sunny week in early August, stopped treatments and found themselves in the same situation as those who had never used chemicals at all.
So we’ll see…or taste.
August 15,16, 23, 2007: Second installment in the continuing saga of the Wine Weekend in FrenchFeast: notes on the visit to Domaine des Champs-Fleuris in the Saumur-Champigny appellation, followed by a tasting and dinner chez moi.
August 17, 2007: Another nice review of The Wines of France from Dr. Vino's Wine block. Under Works, just click on the book's title.
August 13, 2007: In FrenchFeast, a 2003 Chablis as Wine of the Week. Tonight I'm dining with my neighbors and will be bringing a '99 Cotes de Roussillon Villages Domaine Cazes Cuvee "Trilogy."
August 8 & 9, 2007
I have installed a high speed internet connection at my country house. I pray it keeps working. So... News: The Loire book lives again! I have just signed a contract with the University of California press for an updated, completely revised edition of my Loire book.
I've post some recent notes from a Vouvray tasting held in Apri.
In Back&Forth there are a couple of letters regarding the new edition. A Shaggy Wine Week-end : A long story that must be told in spurts. This is in FrenchFeast. I've just set up the story today. I'll keep you posted on its development.
August I'm in the country where, for the past several weeks, I've been experiencing major problems with my internet connection. I've got lots of juicy info to share but will have to wait to post whatever I can whenever I can.
July 2007 July 10, 2007 : In FrenchFeast, report on July 4th festivities at my house, Wine of the Week, 2005 Domaine du Grand Cros Rose "Nectar." In Works, I've posted another Choice Tables piece on Budapest's restaurants. Tomorrow morning I'm off the the Cotes du Bourg.Details later.
July 9, 2007 In Article Archives, a piece written for the International Herald Tribune on Paris Wine Bars (and What We're Drinking Now); and, in The Wines of France, a nice new review. More tomorrow -- including Wine of the Week.
July 2, 2007
I’m busy preparing for a July 4 bash at my house. It’s also a combined celebration of my birthday, which was June 28, and Mary McKinley’s b’day, which is today. It’s an “apero-dinatoire:” the wine will flow and the nibblies will be filling enough to serve as dinner. I’ll write more about it later.
I’ll also describe another shaggy meal. This was a birthday party given for me by Charles and Monique Joguet. A wonderful meal – a gorgeous fresh fava salad and a lipsmacking lentil and sausage salad, followed by roast leg of kid, then cheeses and a light, fresh apple dessert – was accompanied by many, many, many wines. While we snacked on rillettes and hazelnut-studded sausages, we drank an ’85 Muscadet from Guy Bossard (who was one of the guests), a 2001 Sancerre Cuvee Edmond from Alphonse Mellot, and two whites I’d brought – a 2002 Pinot Gris Zellberg from Andre Osterag and a 2003 Bourgogne Blanc from Domaine des Champs de l’Abbaye. For the meal, Charles had prepared numerous vintages of Chinon: Clos de la Dioterie 2006, 89, 87, and 82; Varenne du Grand Clos ’89; Franc de Pied ’89; and a surprisingly juicy Jeunes Vignes ’77. As if this wasn’t enough, there was also a ‘’90 Gruaud Larose, a ’90 Huet Le Haut Lieu moelleux; and a ’90 Foreau moelleux. I’d brought a ’90 Jurancon Clos Uroulat. More on all of this after the 4th!
June 2007 June 27, 2007 : A reader wants to know when I will publish my Chateauneuf-du-Pape tasting notes. Good question. As I have said, EHOM. I hope, however, to post them before the end of August. I also hope to post tasting notes on Vouvray, Graves, Burgundy, the Ardeche and the rest of Rhone Decouvertes, as well as a bunch of restaurant 'reviews.'
June 25, 2007: In FrenchFeast: Wine of the Week: June 25, 2007:Domaine de l’Alliance, dynamic young couple making exciting Sauternes and Graves.
June 22, 2007 : More old articles. This time a Barcelona travel piece (with a couple of restaurants) as well as Choice Tables on Prague and on the Bouchons of Lyon.There are also two pieces I wrote for Food&Wine -- on Olivier Baussan, the founder of Occitane and O & Co (cf. olive oil) and on the Thunevins/Chateau Valandraud (cf.Garage wine).
June 20, 2007 : I've posted my Choice Tables articles on Amsterdam and Salzburg (particularly for those going to the music festival) in Article Archives. And I've added the very special restaurant at the Salzburg airport. This was to have appeared as a sidebar when the main article was printed, but there was no room.
June 15, 2007 : There's a new "Page," Article Archives , under Works, though you can also access it by clicking its title in the side column here. As I retrieve my old articles -- the ones that might still be useful -- I'll post them here. I've started with pieces on restaurants in Budapest and Bath.
Also, please join the dialogue in Back&Forth.
I have a lot of other notes to post -- new Graves producers, a great Burgundy tasting, my neighborhood block party, Vouvray, not to mention getting back to those Rhone Decouvertes -- but EHOM. (This is my abbreviation for a fact of life: Events Have Overtaken Me.)
June 13, 2007 : Check out Back&Forth for some feedback from Karen Odessa Piper , one of my favorite chefs and food philosophers. (I'll respond tomorrow.)
June 11, 2007 : In Book Updates, recent tasting notes for Domaine de la Madone.
June 10, 2007 : I have renamed TheMailRoom. It is now Back&Forth. The page, itself, serves a double function. I continue to post your letters there but I'm also starting a Forum. The first topics I've suggested concern 1) desserts and the sweet wines commonly called "dessert wines;" and 2) an article from the Dining Section of last Wednesday's NYT (with link). Feel free to respond and to suggest your own topics.
June 9, 2007 : Photo of book presentation at WH Smith on Works.
June 7, 2007: I'm on my way to Graves. When I return I hope to post my tasting notes as well as another Shaggy Meal story -- this one on a block party in my neighborhood. And, of course, I want to get back to posting all the tasting notes that are piling up on my desk.
June 5-6, 2007:
Another Shaggy Meal Story: Asparagus Day Chez Marionnet.
The start of a new section, Cast of Characters. (Listed under Works because of space limitations.)
Note, too, that parts of FrenchFeast have disappeared. I've obviously overrun my space limitation for that page. I'll try to correct this.
June 4, 2007: PICTURES!!!! To see what my living room looked like while I was working on The Wines of France, click on Works, then on The Wines of France, then scroll past the blurbs.
May 22, 2007 : See Book Updates for tasting notes on 2004 Bandol reds and 2006 Bandol roses; also, another extremely nice letter in TheMailRoom.
May 17, 2007 : See TheMailRoom for a tremendously encouraging letter -- as well as what I hope is a helpful response.And see FrenchFeast for additions to the Arles diary (scroll down to April 19.)
Sorry to have been so "silent." I threw my back out -- no doubt lugging a suitcase filled with my books from Paris to Saumur to Angers to Paris for Les Journees Nationales du Livre et du Vin -- and was immobilized for two days.
Before leaving for the Loire tomorrow I hope to add a couple of tasty posts.
May 11, 2007: See FrenchFeast for my report of an agonizingly short cruise on the Seine tasting 2006 Entre-Deux-Mers.
Sorry, but Schildknecht's review of The Wines of France has been removed (temporarily, I hope) from the site. I deleted it after Ed Behr asked me to postpone posting it until all his subscribers had received their copies. When he gives me the green light, I'll repost the review.
May 10, 2007 : I've posted the wonderful review David Schildknecht wrote of The Wines of France for Ed Behr's Art of Eating.Click on Works, then click on The Wines of France.
May 9, 2007: Two very nice letters posted in TheMailRoom. I'm on my way to a Cahors tasting/lunch and will answer the questions raised in the letters when I get back. (If I'm too tipsy, answers tomorrow morning.)
May 8, 2007: Details on upcoming book signing in Events.
May 5, 2007 : I've finally posted all my tasting notes from the Salon des Vins de Loire. Click on Works, then click on "A Wine & Food Guide to the Loire.
May 3, 2007: Gardening Day account, shortened by mosquitoes.
April 30, 2007 : In FrenchFeast, praying for sun. (Or at least, for the rain to hold off until after 3pm on May 1.)
April 27, 2007 : I'm off to the Loire for the week. I'm bringing my iBook and hope to keep posting items on the site, including notes from a recent Bandol tasting in Book Updates (at Drouant, which I'll probably include in FrenchFeast); the continuing Arles saga; the final tasting entries from the Salon des Vins de Loire; tasting notes from Stephan Derenoncourt's bash; AND, more shaggy meal stories, including ANOTHER GARDENING DAY! (More tasting notes from the Rhone Decouvertes when I get back to Paris.)
April 26, 2007 : Why Mel Brooks was right about Saran Wrap:FrenchFeast.
April 24, 2007 : Part Four of Rhone Decouvertes: Cornas and St. Peray: Book Updates. (Sorry for the delay.)
April 19, 2007 : The start of the Arles Diary in FrenchFeast.
April 16, 2007 : Another great Paris bistro in FrenchFeast.Check Events for news of my participation in the Journees du Livre et du Vin. April 12, 2007: Third Part of Rhone Decouvertes: Crozes-Hermitage in Book Updates.
April 11, 2007 : As soon as I recover from this hang-over, I'll enter the third part of Rhone Decouvertes (Crozes-Hermitage, and, with any luck, Cornas); continue the Loire updates (which will now be fleshed out by a very recent Vouvray tasting); and make some additions to FrenchFeast.
April 5, 2007: see FrenchFeast for a long restaurant review (which also serves as my definition of 'bistro gourmand,' a term I often use).
April 4, 2007 : see Book Updates for second installment of Rhone Decouvertes.
April 2, 2007 : See Book Updates for first installment of notes on 2006 Bordeaux.
March 29, 2007 : See Book Updates for first installment of Rhone Decouvertes.
March 28, 2007: Finally! Back to work. I've done "A" through "M" in the Loire update and there's a new bistro and a new Wine of the Week in FrenchFeast with a follow-up on the winery in Book Updates.
March 24, 2007: I have decided not to go to Bordeaux the first week of April to taste the 2006 primeurs but to dedicate that time to updating the site -- with the bushels of notes I've taken in the past few months. (I don't think there will be much of a market for the 2006 primeurs and, in any event, I'll get to taste a nice sampling of them next week at the Stephane Derenoncourt bash.)
Upcoming reports (in no particular order):
* Continuation of Loire tasting notes;
* Rhone tasting notes, by appellation;
* Arles trip;
* Notes from tasting of wines from young Burgundy producers;
* Paris restaurants;
* The 2006s of Stephane Derenoncourt's clients, and more. March 20,2007: This just in: The Wines of France has been nominated for the 2007 James Beard Award in the category of Best Wine & Spirits Book.
For LOIRE tasting notes: click on Works, then click on "A Wine & Food Guide to the Loire.
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Let me tell you a little bit about me and about what I hope to do on this site.
A member of the Big Chill generation, I’m a lapsed lawyer, a displaced New Yorker, an erstwhile actress and a former anti-war-pro-civil-rights activist (whose politics have not changed). I moved to France in 1989 to write a book about the wines and foods of the Loire basin (20% of France) and I stayed. As most of the subjects I want to write about are in Europe I now split my time between Paris and a small village in the Loire Valley, not far from Chinon.
In addition to books I write articles for numerous publications. My favorite stints have been for the New York Times Travel section when Nancy Newhouse was the editor and for The Wall Street Journal when Ray Sokolov was in charge of the Leisure page. For the Times I usually wrote for for a column entitled Choice Tables in which I surveyed, for example, the bouchons of Lyon, the best restaurants of Beaune, Prague, Budapest, and Amsterdam; for the Wall Street Journal I covered such diverse gastronomic topics as Tokaj wine, the Grenache grape, bad French cheese, iconoclastic winemakers, the wines of the Languedoc and Roussillon, and star chefs like Ferran Adria and Hiramatsu.
When your favorite editors retire it’s time to write a new book. The idea for this one--The Wines of France: the Essential Guide for Savvy Shoppers--came to me in the form of a question: why doesn’t such a book exist? Of course there are guides to the wines of France but the ones worth reading are heavy enough to use as doorstops. What I had in mind--and what I hope I’ve succeeded in writing--was something about the size of a Michelin Green Guide, encyclopedic in its range but down-to-earth in its approach. A user-friendly book people could bring with them to restaurants and to wine shops. (For a better idea of how the book works, click on the title. You'll also see some great advance praise from some of my favorite people in the wine and food world.)
And I'm currently working on the second edition of the Loire wine book -- this time for The University of California Press.
I firmly believe that France is the greatest winemaking country in the world. And it always will be, at least in our lifetimes. France created the Benchmarks for most, if not all, the classic wines in the world. Further, no one single country can compete with France when it comes to diversity. I don’t mean simple diversity. Many countries are capable of making an enormous range of wines, but only France has proven that it can excel in every last one of those styles. And in all price ranges. I’ve been living in France (and in a wine region) for nearly 20 years. (Scary how quickly time passes!) When I arrived one generation of vigneron was taking over from its predecessor and now I’m watching another generation of young Turks succeed their parents. And in this period of time I’ve witnessed a dramatic evolution toward quality. I’ve also witnessed amazing bureaucratic stupidity in face of these changes--all wine politics is local, and the same goes for food politics--and all of these issues will be recurring topics on this site.
But the pleasure principle is at least as important. My favorite word is “delicious.” And even though I’m trying to lose the 85 pounds I’ve gained tasting wines, cheeses, charcuterie etc and trying new restaurants, my discoveries will be another regular feature.