13 September 2010

chardonnay raised by wolves: gilles et catherine vergé

Image swiped from wildernessclassroom.com.

Many of the most innovative and fascinating vignerons working in France right now conduct serious business under the humble Vin de Table appellation, the laws surrounding which stipulate that said wine can display neither vintage nor grape varietal on the label. Hence you often get labels like this one, which adorned one of the most memorable wines I've had in months.

A label like this says almost nothing, but nevertheless it's total catnip to the wine geek who notices the following things: 

-It's currently on sale at La Cave de l'Insolite, a beautifully atmospheric cave near Metro Oberkampf. A good cave won't stock rubbish. 

-It's not cheap (18eu), particularly for a Vin de Table. Classically the Vin de Table appellation has catered to bulk wines and liquor store bins - wines intended for unthinking mass consumption, rather than as subjects of critical thought. 

-It's by Gilles et Catherine Vergé, Macon vignerons who are kind of the vanguard for this sort of thing, releasing no less than 6 different cuvées of Chardonnay under the freewheeling unrestrictive Vin de Table appellation. For them it's all the more remarkable, since their Chardonnay derives from Macon, which is itself a relatively well-respected appellation for the grape. (It's not Beaune, but it's not Vin de Pays de l'Ardeche, either.) 

Image swiped from www.verge.vinsnaturels.fr.

-Then you have that poetic little description - "Elevé au grand air" - which in four words tells you something deeply strange has gone on in the winemaking process. You see, ordinarily a winemaker will avoid undue oxygen contact at all costs throughout the wine-making process. Too much contact will oxydize things, robbing wines of acidity and making them taste like mushy brown apples. There are however certain places on earth wherein oxygen plays active and integral roles in the vinification process - Xérès, Jura, a certain corner of Sicily, etc. The best of these particular wines from particular regions will, in defiance of all normal standards of oxidation, possess a strange kind of enzymatic acidity. There will be other signs of oxidation - nutty flavors, cidery aromas, etc. But in these wines - Sherry, certain Arbois wines, all Vin Jaune d'Arbois, the rare great Marsala - these otherwise dead flavors come alive in spectacular fashion. Like in Thriller. The effect is exhilarating and exotic. 

Image swiped from guardian.co.uk.

This particular Vergé cuvée winds up tasting like white Burgundy that's been raised by wolves in the forests of Arbois. (In the latter, less famous region, they grow Chardonnay too, but I don't think I'll raise any major hackles if I submit that Chardonnay from Burgundy has more of a classic profile - it strikes me as more Chardonnay-like.) The effect is this: a hazelnut-apple nose, redolent of Sherry above all, with heaps of satly walnut and lemon zest on the palate. Maybe a strange molecule of spring onion in there as well. Bittersweet as forgotten Crackerjacks, and utterly entrancing.

Available now at: 
La Cave de l'Insolite
30, rue de la Folie-Mericourt
75011 PARIS
Tel: 01 53 36 08 33

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