28 January 2011

neil young & aligoté: derain's "allez goutons"


This past autumn I had a lot of fun describing various French Chardonnays in terms of David Lynch's cult television series Twin Peaks. But by now I've finished the series, and so much wine remains. The other night at Autour d'Un Verre I was dining with the team behind the hotly-tipped forthcoming Marais taco / cocktail bar La Candelaria, and one of them, my friend J, brilliantly suggested the career of Neil Young as a rich vein of descriptive imagery for the Aligoté we were drinking.

I had asked for just such a suggestion, of course. He didn't like, come out with it apropos of nothing. That would have been odd, although less so than normal, since the particular Aligoté in question, Domaine Derain's "Allez Goutons," was the kind of far-out glimmering simple beauty that just begs for a few minutes of searching description.


I've been pretty fascinated with Neil Young since childhood, when cassette tapes of After The Goldrush and Harvest Moon were in constant rotation in my mother's battered Volvo station wagon. Later in life I read James McDonough's superb biography of the man, memorably titled Shakey. And one particularly influential nugget from that book was the revelation that from a certain point in his career, right around the time his records began to sound really shaggy, Neil Young apparently classified all the music he heard as either Beatles music or Stones music.


What he meant was either a song was created within the ideology of the Beatles - studio-produced, melodically structured, evincing a belief in perfection - or within that of the Stones, meaning it sounded rangey, off-the-cuff, and unpredictable.* Young's records before this epiphany are very Beatles: Neil Young, After the Goldrush, Harvest. Later he began making strange haggard records like Tonight's The Night (in which album he goes so far as to cop the melody to a Stones song**, and acknowledges it in the song's lyrics).

Can you guess which sort of wines Neil Young would make, if Neil Young made wines? Probably they'd fit right in on Kevin Blackwell's bristling rugged natural list at Autour d'Un Verre. Extremely natural winemaking is very Stones; as an ethos, it contains a divisive appreciation for chance and circumstance; it is why the wines taste alternately inspired and sloppy, depending on the winemaker and the will of the furies.


Domaine Derain is an estate run by Catherine and Dominique Derain in St. Aubin. They began making wines in 1989 and have been biodynamic from the get-go. By now their range of white and red burgundies are fixtures in many great caves in Paris; for what they are, they are very affordable, which is to say that I cannot routinely afford them. In the traditional fashion, however, they make a very approachable Aligoté vin de soif called "Allez Goutons."

Even the non-francophones should get this pun, or understand there is a pun going on. The name just means "Go on, let's taste." I might here point out that, given Aligoté's reputation for tasting like almost nothing, there is some probably unintentional humor in this. Happily, "Allez Goutons" is a role model Aligoté: it neither seeks nor attains much depth; instead it presents a beautiful herbacious, slightly dirty key-lime and mineral refrain, and then leaves. It's hazy - the winemaking equivalent of a producer saying, "Oh, whatever, leave the feedback in the mix" - and low alcohol. Completely unserious, rhythmically simple, and stupidly catchy.


It also deserves some kind of award for label design.*** Art Deco lettering is something I will never get sick of.

* These aren't mutually exclusive categories, of course. They overlap. John Lennon was the most Stones of the Beatles. Their Satanic Majesties Request is the most Beatles of the Stones earlier records. Etc., etc.

** Not the first time he'd done that, however. Buffalo Springfield's "Mr. Soul" was famously a rewrite of "Satisfaction."

*** Do such awards exist? Google search results seem to imply they do, but that they are run by graphic designers. There ought to be one run by people who know wine slightly, if there isn't one already.

Related Links:

Some pretty cursory (particularly for this writer) tasting notes of Derain's 2007 range @ WineTerroirs
A kind of bemused, simplistic take on previous vintage (probably) of same wine @ MadAboutWine

Perversely drinking de Moor's Aligoté at Christmastime

A tasting of mostly southern French renegade wines at Autour d'Un Verre
Drinking with Fool's Gold and Grey Magazine at Autour d'Un Verre

The first arbitrary pairing series:

Twin Peaks & Chardonnay #1: Petit Chablis
Twin Peaks & Chardonnay #2: Saint-Véran
Twin Peaks & Chardonnay #3: Pouilly-Fuissé
Twin Peaks & Chardonnay #4: Mâcon-Chaintré
Twin Peaks & Chardonnay #5: Côtes du Jura
Twin Peaks & Chardonnay #6: Côte Roannaise
Twin Peaks & Chardonnay #7: Vin de Pays de Sainte Marie la Blanche
Twin Peaks & Chardonnay #8: Arbois
Twin Peaks & Chardonnay #9: Chablis

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