30 December 2010

office carousing at le bal café, 75018

A brief word on my workplace's excellent office Xmas party, for which I must thank our fearless Président-Directeur-Général, who had specifically requested that Anselme, wine director of Le Bal Café, serve only natural wines at the event. Previously I'd had no idea the PDG even drank, or took any joy whatsoever in things not directly related to work.*

Anselme's list, happily, contains a very adequate proportion of natural wines.** So we all sipped Domaine Plageoles' agreeable buckwheat-honey-toned bubbler Mauzac Nature, and François Chidaine's precise, silvery Touraine Sauvignon all night. It marked the first time I'd ever been to a non-restaurant-industry office party where honest wine was served.

29 December 2010

not encountering selosse at: caves augé, 75008

You may remember that I had notably failed to meet legendary Champagne vigneron Anselme Selosse at Spring's "Promesse du Vin" tasting a few weeks back, because he was late and I felt awkward waiting around. Well, the other day while I was Christmas shopping at Spring Boutique, my friend Josh (the wine director there) happened to mention there would be another Champagne tasting at the landmark 8ème wine shop Caves Augé the next day, and Selosse was slated to attend.

Pictured above is the barrel where he and his wines ought to have been. 

As my patient, unflappable friend S and I tasted through a lot of other great grower Champagnes in the miserable torrential frozen slush that afternoon, I overheard a Caves Augé employee explaining to someone that Selosse was, in fact, bloqué dans la neige, which is French for "couldn't be bothered to show up in this sickening weather." 

28 December 2010

gustatory archaeology: 19th century cognac at julhès paris

I must begin this post by thanking my friend S, then visiting from New York, for gamely joining me for what turned out to be a breakfast of hard liquor at Julhès Paris' recent Cognac / Armagnac tasting. What's more, she did it all in good faith, without any convincing, since frankly I'd have few ideas about how to convince anyone to drink Cognac or Armagnac in the first place, let alone for breakfast.

It's just an uphill battle. Good Armagnac is fascinating and delightful but prohibitively expensive, ditto good Cognac, which latter spirit presents the added difficulty of being encountered almost never, having been crowded out of the market by the bad versions. Neither industry has had any marketing epiphanies over the past century that might have created a more engaged everyday clientele for the spirits, with the result that both continue to radiate an unfortunate aura of decrepitude and / or decadence. You have slick unsophisticated commercial Cognacs swigged by rappers who ought to know better, and then you have an obscure sliver of an artisanal industry, including the Grosperrin Cognacs S and I tasted that day, usually enjoyed by the thimbleful at fine restaurants on anniversaries. Neither of these market segments are really enough to sustain the kind of abiding dialog around a subject that leads to greater public understanding of, and therefore mental investment in, said subject. (E.g. wine criticism.)

That business diatribe notwithstanding, S and I tasted some pretty sensational things that day, including a Cognac Grand Champagne distilled in 1820, bottled some hundred years later, just after WWI. (!)

27 December 2010

cool house: le dauphin, 75011

Le Chateaubriand chef Iñaki Aizpitarte opened a wine bar next to his famed 11ème restaurant earlier this month. I'll say straight away that, so far, I really dig the place. To arrive at that conclusion, however, took several visits and a measure of puzzled reflection, time that I spent working out whether Le Dauphin's charms were indeed genuine, or whether I found them charming only because in Paris until now I've been totally starved for a wine bar that shows even a wink of ambition.*

It is mildly regrettable that said ambition is at present more perceptible in the divisive, lurchingly overdone Rem Koolhaas & Clement Blanchet interior (all swooping mirrors and confrontational white marble, even the ceilings) than in the wine list, which is sort of a Natural Wine for Dummies primer of present-day classics - Foillard, Villemade, Descombes, Rateau, etc.

23 December 2010

sacred monsters of champagne: julhès paris, 75010

G quizzing the Krug rep, who sported a leather biker jacket under his blazer. He said it was due to the cold. 

Some disconnected observations from the "Montres Sacrès du Champagne"* tasting Nicolas Julhès hosted the other weekend at Julhès Paris, his wine-and-foodstuffs wonderland near Strasbourg St. Denis:

1. Krug tastes quite a bit like fish roe.

I mean this in a beamingly positive sense; this is a wine that's pretty universally impossible to hate on. But it's fishy, with a dewy light corporeality to it, something translucent and ever-so-slightly saline. I say "fish roe" and not "caviar" first because the flavor itself is definitely closer to something from Yo! Sushi, and second because it's just too boorishly facile to come out with a line like "Champagne tastes like caviar." It's like saying "Wow, this alligator skin feels like cashmere."

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.**

21 December 2010

domaine du pech: buvons nature tasting, espace beaujon, 75008

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.

20 December 2010

alright (for paris): la mer de chine, 75013

On the separate recommendations of both Cyrils from the Verre Volé restaurant and cave, respectively, I went with some friends to check out an unassuming Chinese place in the 13ème the other Sunday called La Mer de Chine.

I ought to mention immediately, just to get it out of the way, that I was hopelessly unable to resist referring to the place as Le Merde de Chine, even before we sat down and some but not all of the dishes justified the scatological wordplay.

19 December 2010

poulsard & my first soufflé (possibly last)

We used aged mimolette instead of the more conventional gruyere, in semi-successful efforts to impart a pleasant orange color to the finished soufflé. I think it needed more cheese, but the (recently ex-) Native Companion doesn't take me seriously when I propose adding more cheese, because I am American.

Anyway largely due to her direction and helpful pointers the thing successfully inflated in a very satisfying and soufflé-like manner. We paired it with a miraculously great 2008 Poulsard by Jura vigneron Ludwig Bindernagel, of Les Chais de Vieux Bourg.

17 December 2010

j smells: spring buvette, 75001

My friends C and J (both ex-Experimental Cocktail Club) were celebrating some progress on their hotly-tipped forthcoming cocktail / taco venture. I was celebrating selling a short story and a wine article in the same day. By the time we all mosied over to Spring Buvette to get some food in us, I was already tipsy, and they had been celebrating a little longer than I had.*

Which is the only way I can explain the following photo series, in which J can be seen actively nosing everything we ordered, and some things we did not order. (Thanks, Daniel et Sofian!)

16 December 2010

proper pre-gaming: au nouveau nez, 75020

Wait, you say.  Didn't he already post about Au Nouveau Nez a few months ago? It sounded like a nice tiny cave à grignoter.*

This is the other location. There are key differences. Foremost among them the other night was the proximity of this location to a 20ème concert venue, La Flêche d'Or, where my friend H and I were planning to see Brooklyn dream-pop band Twin Sister later that evening. La Flêche d'Or doesn't sell tickets in advance, and since Twin Sister are one of just a few contemporary groups that genuinely interest me, I had been somewhat anxious about arriving early enough to get tickets.

That proved unwarranted, since in the end the place was half-empty. But it did give H and I a fine excuse to check out l'autre Nez, where we caught up about his eBook company over a relatively recent - 2005 - bottle of Matthieu Coste's brilliant biodynamic Côteaux Giennois Gamay, "Biao."

15 December 2010

joyous naked pagans: natural wine tasting at autour d'un verre, 75009

After making the rounds at Spring's "Une Promesse du Vin" tasting recently, I popped over to meet my friends D and C at Autour d'Un Verre's significantly more informal natural wine tasting in the 9ème.

The differences in atmosphere and philosophy between the two restaurants and their tastings could not be more pronounced. Both places prize fine winemaking and both are very enjoyable. But where Spring very astutely emphasizes the fineness - as in comprehensive luxury, right down to the Aesop soap in the toilets - the scene at Autour d'Un Verre seemed to celebrate rather the winemaking, the physical act itself, with all the attendant sweatshirts, red stains, and mud-encrusted boots.

It's also just the difference between very established vignerons - those at Spring that day, accustomed to high profile wine events in NYC, London, San Francisco, and so on - and the up-and-coming ones, like the ragtag gang of bearded farmer-savants who manned the tables at the Autour d'Un Verre tasting, many of whose delicate unsulfured wines see limited distribution even in France. Some of the wines of this latter category of vignerons are true mystical natural wonders, with a joyous naked pagan quality to them. Others just taste amateurish and unhygienic - 'look what I found in this barrel' wines.

I tasted both that day at Autour d'Un Verre, but for the sake of diplomacy I'll focus on the naked pagans.

14 December 2010

revelations: une promesse du vin tasting at spring restaurant, 75001

Wherein this author reveals he is not hardcore enough about this whole wine schtick to wait around for Anselme Selosse to show up. Yes, the Selosse, he of the otherworldly Champagnes from Avize. He arrived late to the tasting my friend Josh at Spring organized in honor of wine writer George Bardawil's book "Une Promesse du Vin," and I'd already moseyed on to the day's next tasting.

I'd like to say I left because after tasting through the stellar line-up Josh had assembled that day - the wines of vignerons who were on time, including masters like Claude Papin, André Ostertag, and Christine Campadieu of Domaine La Tour Vieille - I'd had my fill of heavenly wines for the day.

But really it was just me being in a hurry. To hell with it, I thought, I'll just have to get rich and purchase some Selosse for my own private consumption one day. I was planning to do that anyway.

13 December 2010

know thy caviste: françois ecot's "la coulée douce"

No connoisseur is safe from his friends' best intentions. It's why when I throw dinner parties these days I try to include, in the emailed invitations, maps to particular caves that I know won't sell trash to my guests. It's a bit cheeky, but it's also just a logical extension of the answer I give when people ask me how to begin learning about wine: frequent a good cave.

A good caviste will stock nothing but honest wines, wines that truly have something to teach you about a region, a winemaking culture, a particular winemaker. A great caviste will also learn your individual tastes and use that as a basis for his or her recommendations.

My friend Nadine from Au Nouveau Nez actually excels beyond the standards of the latter category, as she proved the other night, when the Native Companion passed by on the way to my place for dinner. "It's for Aaron," said the NC, at which point Nadine promptly sold her a reasonably-priced wine I'd never heard of that nevertheless matched my tastes to an almost parodic degree. I felt, for once, enjoyably predictable and easy-to-read.

10 December 2010

cold brains & jousset montlouis: quedubon, 75019

We were fourteen-strong celebrating the birthday of my friend L the other night, who was passing through Paris on tour with his afro-indie band. I'd booked us into Quedubon in the 19ème partly because it was the only natural wine destination that I knew would have the physical space to seat such a large party. Also because Gilles, the owner, is a really heroically fun guy, all booming voice and room-commanding presence.

But it turned out to be an inspired choice mostly for their excellent magnum selection. They have something like 20-30 bottles available in magnum, as I remember it, many of them excellent values. We got through five in total, the highlight being an irresistibly priced (48eu!) bottle of 2007 Montlouis-Sur-Loire by Lise et Bertrand Jousset called "Singulier."

09 December 2010

comic timing: twin peaks & arbois

One of the great frustrations of Twin Peaks' second season is that, despite sinking ratings and tangled, flailing plotlines leading to nowhere, the show still attracted significant guest talent. Two years before his X-Files breakthrough, David Duchovny shows up as a cross-dressing FBI Agent. And Diane Keaton as guest director on Episode 22 did her darnedest to find genuine wit and warmth in the rambling, silly, overwritten script she was handed. The episodes in general remain watchable partly due to the continued goodwill of the well-intentioned guest stars, most of whom gamely behave as though the show isn't peeling to bits around them.

The Native Companion and I shared a 2005 Arbois Chardonnay by renowned Jura winemaker Jacques Puffeney the other night with Season 2, and it was another case of unfortunate timing, just in the other direction. Where Keaton, Duchovny, et al* arrived too late to the Twin Peaks party, the NC and I possibly cracked this one open a few years too early.

08 December 2010

savoie-faire pt. 2: savoie reds at la cave de l'insolite, 75011

Adrien Berlioz of Domaine du Cellier des Cray and Frédéric Giachino of Domaine Giachino.

It's possible to turn up the occasional vin de Savoie in the more forward-thinking restaurants and wine shops in the states, where somms and wine geeks are often looking for the next keen blistering white to ratchet up the acid. (Hence the relative geek cache of Vermentino, Pecorino, Aligoté, etc.) Whereas in my experience, rich Savoyard reds, based primarily on the Mondeuse grape, remain on a whole other level of obscurity.

I tasted through quite a few at the Vin de Savoie tasting at La Cave de l'Insolite last month, and while I can't lie and say they screamed COMMERCIAL OPPORTUNITY*, they were on the whole much more aligned with contemporary wine tastes that I'd expected.** 

07 December 2010

the OTHER trou normande

Traditionally, a trou normande (or "Norman hole"*) is a small glass of Calvados taken between courses in order to help aid digestion and encourage total besottedness throughout a meal in Normandy. This seems reasonable to me. The weather up there is kind of English when it's not summer, and unless you hunt or farm trout or harvest apples, I'm not sure what else there is to do besides quietly resent your tablemates and crave hard liquor.

06 December 2010

savoie-faire, pt 1: domaine belluard at cave de l'insolite, 75011

Michel, owner of La Cave de l'Insolite, who organised the tasting.

As I complained in an earlier post, on one Monday early this past November there were something like eight or nine very good wine tastings happening all around Paris. On the day of, this presented obvious logistical problems that prevented any one oenophile from getting through all of them. (Torrential rain did not help.) Now in the aftermath I find I'm still wading through a surfeit of blog material, much of which seems valuable and worth communicating, slowly fading into irrelevance with the unstinting passage of time...

Anyway, I thought I'd say a few words about the Vin de Savoie tasting held that day at La Cave de l'Insolite, before, like, the next vintages are released. And conceivably a few of you out there in Readerland will be passing some winter vacation on ski trips in Savoy, in which case a survey of the best or more scrupulous wine producers could prove very useful indeed.*

05 December 2010

ping ping ping: champagne and high fashion

I'm continually harping on about the basic interconnectedness of most aesthetic fields - wine, music, fashion, art, literature, etc. But I should stress that this tendency of mine should not imply a de facto endorsement of opportunistic cross-industry cash-in nonsense like the above "collaboration" between fashion house Viktor & Rolf and Champagne house Piper-Heidsieck, which I saw at a Champagne tasting a few weeks ago.

For one thing, the premise of the parties' involvement is miserably facile. Fashion and wine are both, at their very worst, luxury industries. A necessarily simplistic idea of luxury is all these two brands have in common.

For another thing, the glasses themselves are monstrously ugly and impractical. I stood and watched that day as the hapless Piper-Heidsieck representative attempted to take them out of their specially-built case and in doing so broke three at their stems. Ping, ping, ping.

03 December 2010

some sweetheart deal: au bon coin, 75018

Let me begin by relating a certain suspicion I have.

Have you ever wondered about all the interchangeably anonymous loser cafés hunched on even the most desolate, least-trafficked Parisian streetcorners? For every thronged Le Progrès or La Perle, there must be another thousand sad unseen cafés, replete with formica counters, tables the size of euro-coins, and surgically bright lighting that serves only to highlight a conspicuous and enduring lack of patrons. How do these joints afford their rents, which, if residential real estate is anything to go by, must be stratospheric?

I'm have no hard information on the subject, but I assume there's some combination of government subsidies and death-grip rent-control at play.* Au Bon Coin, a gem of a café on a quiet corner on the low-key side of Montmartre**, is emphatically not a loser establishment, but something tells me they either own their building, or have not seen rent increases since sometime around the end of the second guerre mondiale. The prices on their tasty, simple menu, and on their emminently quaffable, never-updated wine list all evince a kind of unhurried attitude towards making money or staying afloat. Many of the bottles are around 16eu.

02 December 2010

thanksgiving in paris: three magnums & la dinde

It's a curious sign of expat-titude that you forget about Thanksgiving. All ten of us who managed to meet up - seven Americans in total - happily managed to whip it together with all of two days' notice this year. It helped that, in what was perhaps a telling display of priorities, Josh from Spring had already ordered la dinde from a fellow at the market, even before remembering to invite anyone.

It's was also a great joy to do Thanksgiving with a few fellow wine geeks for once, rather than, you know, actual family.*

01 December 2010

bordeaux below the radar: l'homme cheval at quedubon, 75019

At the close of the other night's rocking, many-magnum'd dinner at Quedubon with LA afro-indie band Fool's Gold, Gilles, who owns the restaurant, strode over and said he had someone to introduce me to. It turned out to be Dominique Léandre-Cheval, a natural Bordeaux vigneron whose playfully-branded Côtes de Blaye wines I recognized from great natural wine shops all over town.

(The wines are ascribed simultanously to Dominique Léandre Cheval, to Château Le Queyroux, to "DLC" - a pun on the famed Burgundy estate - and to L'Homme Cheval, the French for "centaur," which jeu de mots Dominique explains is in fact the etymological root of his family name.)

He happened to have three of his estate's wines open and available to taste, one of which I suspect won him the beginnings of an enthusiastic cult audience in Los Angeles.