16 February 2011

with a little help from derain: julien altaber at la dive bouteille

In any given packed, cavernous, pitch dark wine tasting, it's often difficult to differentiate vignerons whose wines are creating a real buzzworthy stir from those who simply have a ton of friends and admirers. Acclaimed biodynamic Burgundy vignerons Catherine et Dominique Derain certainly fall into the latter camp, probably the former also. I unfortunately missed the opportunity to taste through their current vintages this year at the Renaissance des AOCs in Angers and La Dive Bouteille, because at both tastings there was such a surging throng around their stand that to wait it out for the sake of a few sips of St. Aubin would have meant about forty minutes of waiting shoulder-to-shoulder for pours, during which time I could have tasted, and did instead taste, a bajillion other interesting wines.*

For instance: the surprisingly masterful Bourgogne AOC wines of Julien Altaber, a protogé of the Derains, who after working for them for years has recently begun making his own wines, using their facilities in St. Aubin. When J and I approached, he was standing looking kind of marooned near an entrance to the catacombs, by a barrel upon which stood the three wines he's bottled to date: a 2009 Bourgogne Blanc, and two Bourgogne Rouges, from 2008 and 2007 respectively.

All three were superb, which, of course, accounts for the buzz that had led us to taste his otherwise completely unassuming wines in the first place. (An importer friend from New York had tipped us off.)

From what I understand the wines all derive from fruit sourced from just outside the St. Aubin appellation, which is itself known as a bargain among Burgundy appellations, typified by high-toned, acid whites and raspy, sinuous reds. Probably due to the cold that I mention in every post about this tasting, and its muting effect on everything but reds especially, Altaber's 2009 Bourgogne Blanc left the strongest impression of the three wines we tasted.

Just perfect shimmering clarity, wire-tight acidity, and an avalanche of mineral: everything I could ever want from young basic white Burgundy. The reds, what I was able to perceive of them, were similarly crisp and chiseled, with assertive citrus and raspberry notes.

All in all, a killer starting line-up. It reminded me of listening to the Strokes' first album - you knew the songs were good, really great actually, so good, in fact, that you suspected they could only have come from some kids who had serious access in the first place.

Which of course, as with the Altaber / Derain connection, turned out to be the case. The songs remain awesome, anyway, even a decade on. I have a feeling these wines, and whatever Altaber follows them with, will reveal a similar timelessness.

* I like the Derain wines I've tasted. This was a purely practical decision. Since their wines are available at just about every cave I frequent in Paris, I figured I could defer the pleasure to another time.

Related Links:

Loire Road Trip, pt. I: Domaine Guiberteau
Loire Road Trip, pt. II: Clos Rougeard
Loire Road Trip, pt. III: Café de la Promenade
Loire Road Trip, pt. IV: Renaissance des AOCs
Loire Road Trip, pt. V: Bistrot de la Place, Saumur
Loire Road Trip, pt. VI: La Dive Bouteille
Loire Road Trip, pt. VII: Quedubon Homecoming

Neil Young & Aligoté: Derain's "Allez Goutons"

A brief mention of Altaber's wines by user PhilR @ Pipette.Canalblog (in French)
Another brief mention of Altaber's wines @ LeBlogd'Olif (French too)
A really wonderfully informative article on the wines of St. Aubin by Stephen Brook @ Decanter

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