22 December 2010

free-run from the former press: gregory leclerc

At the recent "Buvons Nature" tasting organized by Catherine Vergé in Paris, my friends F, Z, and I had the pleasure of meeting the Loire vigneron Gregory Leclerc, whose Vin de Table Gamay "La Mule" is by now probably recognizable to most of my friends as "the wine Aaron always seems to have in his bag."

(Not, like, on street corners. I mean when people invite me over.)

I continually turn to "La Mule" partly because it is reliably in stock at the two or three cavistes within walking distances from my apartment, and while being light enough not to shut off my palate for the night, it's weighty and red enough to please most casual hosts. It's organic carbonic-maceration Gamay from 25-30 year old vines, brightly acidic, but surprisingly black and structured, which latter qualities I imagine account for the wine's name, although it didn't occur to me to ask. In other words, it bears more than a passing resemblance to solid cru Beaujolais, at about half the price (around 10€).

M. Leclerc holds a different magnum of wine, however, in the photo above: it is the free-run* juice of "La Mule," a pretty astounding variation on the original that we first tasted that evening. Out of some blend of perversity and economy Leclerc bottles it with the same label.**

Frequently winemakers will blend the free-run juice back into the press wine to improve the quality of the overall blend. I'm going to indulge in a little psychology here and speculate that Leclerc, who was a wine journalist for years before purchasing his 6.5 hectares in Touraine in 2007, and whose range of wines doesn't include any cru heavy-hitters to wow the critics, probably just tasted the press wine, decided (rightly) it was fine, and made something a little special on the side.

The "Mule" given free-run, as it were, is an entrancingly floral creation, a wreath of flavor, all high-toned violet and pure, translucent red fruit. It seems to levitate in the mouth, sort of like the song by Minnesota soft-rock group Gayngs - "Faded High" - in which, for once on their debut album, the band ratchets the tempo up slightly, and all the plaintive atmospheric moans and wails of their sound coalesce in a majestic way.

What strikes me as very unusual about Leclerc's range, and what impels me to write slightly further when the last line would have ended this post just fine, is its general brilliant marketability. This is clearly a very well-thought-out gamme.

The wines are united in their honesty and accessibility, both in terms of fruit and pricing. His firm, citrusy "Sauvigneron" Sauvignon is a steal at around 10€, and the Vin de Table old-vine Chenin "Tête de Gondole" (not present at the tasting, usually around 14 or 15€) is an opulent dry marvel. In addition to some fun but marginal Loire sparklers, he also makes a Grolleau called "Coup de Canon," whose violent name describes the general hard, shrill tendencies of the grape rather than what he's done with it: "Coup de Canon" is just about the kindest gentlest varietal Grolleau I've ever had.***

* Free-run juice is that which flows from the vat without any pressing. Typically it is of higher quality than the press wine that results from pressing the cap on the vat. 

** Probably like 90% the latter. But the name of Leclerc's wine operation "Chahut et Prodiges" is an anagram, so the guy has a sense of humor.  

***Benoit Courault's, in particular, is sort of like being karate-chopped in the palate. Not in a totally bad way, but still.

The classic "La Mule," last I checked, was available at:

Au Nouveau Nez
112, rue Saint Maur
75011 PARIS
Metro: Parmentier
Tel: 01 43 55 02 30

Au Nouveau Nez
52, rue Bagnolet
75020 PARIS
Metro: Alexandre Dumas
Tel: 01 43 56 94 55

Le Verre Volé (cave)
38, rue Oberkampf
75011 PARIS
Metro: Oberkampf or Parmentier
Tel: 01 43 14 99 46

From what I understand the free-run version of "La Mule" is available only in magnum, and I'm not sure where.

Related Links:

Domaine du Pech at the Buvons Nature tasting, 75008
Jousset Chardonnay at Au Nouveau Nez, 75011
Mattieu Coste's 2005 Gamay "Biao" at Au Nouveau Nez, 75020
More Loire Gamay: François Ecot's "La Coulée Douce"

A blurb on Chahut et Prodiges and Leclerc @ Jenny&FrançoisSelections

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