I don't know what I had in mind. When Mâcon vigneron Catherine Vergé told me at the AVN tasting that she was hosting her "Buvons Nature" tasting on rue Faubourg Saint Honoré I guessed I assumed it would be a kind of glitzy affair. I frequently have to visit said rue for work and I'm always tripping over small manicured dogs and choking on the perfume of passers-by.
Turns out the tasting was held in what looked like a converted pre-school rec room of the Espace Beaujon. When I passed through on the first night with my friends F and Z, there were small children shrieking and running around the courtyard and Mme Vergé herself was nowhere to be seen. Happily, glamorlessness aside, the event was pretty much what she'd promised it would be: 15 pretty terrific natural vignerons pouring, chatting, and selling* in a pleasant, relatively intimate environment.
I tasted something fairly memorable at at least half the tables, so rather than write it all up in one grand deluge I figured I'd space it out a bit, and begin by discussing the wines of Ludovic Bonnelle at Domaine du Pech, a biodynamic Buzet (southern France, southeast of Bordeaux) estate whose wines, for me, really encapsulate the excitement and the occasional frustrations of deeply natural wines.
Domaine du Pech is run by Ludovic and his partner Magali Tissot, who inherited the estate from her father in 1997. By 2004 they had converted the estate to full biodynamy, and they now produce a highly individual range of wines including one white, a Sauvignon, and four reds, which are blends and monovarietals of the Bordeaux trinity: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. All the Domaine du Pech wines I tasted that evening were fascinating, all the more so since it seems I only rarely taste extreme natural wines from classic Bordeaux red varietals. The effect is something like viewing a Ron Mueck sculpture, in which the adjusted proportions of otherwise familiar figures (grapes, in this case) forcefully estrange us from what they represent.
Later, tasting through Bonnelle's markedly more drinkable reds, I asked him whether he encounters many people at tastings who write off his wines as being riddled with brett.** He just grinned in a Philip Seymour Hoffman sort of way, saying something to effect that it's a whole combination of wild yeasts one detects, not really brett. The consistency of his reds lent credence to the explanation, and assured me I wasn't tasting through barmy farm. His "Jarnicoton" blends were chewy and impressive. But I was particularly captivated by Domaine du Pech's most intentionally bizarre wine, "Le Peche Badin" Rouge of 2005, a stuck-fermentation Cabernet Sauvignon that rests two years' on its lees in old barrels, finishing in bottle with a whopping 15g of residual sugar.
The craziest thing is, it's balanced. Like one of those Wile E. Coyote landscape formations wherein an enormous sphere of rock teeters on the tip of an impossibly sharp mountain peak. Thunderous black pruney fruit and savoury roast wood and jagged acidity provided yet more tension. I kept waiting for the sugar to thwack me in the palate but the thwack never came.
|Image swiped from webecoist.com.|
*I was actually surprised at how much actual selling was going on. The crowd on a Friday night was largely civilian, i.e. not industry buyers, since the latter were all working at that time. But checkbooks kept appearing and the vignerons kept having to run out to their cars to fetch more cases, leading me to believe Catherine knew exactly what she was doing, holding the tasting in the well-heeled 8ème.
**Short for brettanomyces, a particular wild yeast that vexes many winemakers for the horsey / metallic notes it imparts to wine.
Catherine Vergé at the AVN Tasting in the Parc de Buttes Chaumont, 75019