25 July 2011

beaujolais bike trip: isabelle et bruno perraud, vauxrenard

Sometime during the cheese course of our hit-or-miss pit stop in Juliénas, my friend C expressed confidence in the ride ahead, but added the qualifier that, since it was her first wine country bike trip, we ought to "avoid the big hills."

I then proceeded to frustrate the heck out of her by taking us on numerous accidental long-cuts over the vineyards southwest of the town, near Emeringes. We were on our way to the tiny hamlet of Vauxrenard - not really a common destination in Beaujolais, I gather, but the home of natural vignerons Isabelle et Bruno Perraud of Domaine des Côtes de la Molière, and, as we later found out while tasting through their 2010's in a fairly exhausted state, one of the highest elevations in the region.

For some reason - having not looked at any maps* beforehand - I'd expected the Beaujolais region to be flatter. That idea must have been borne of residual impressions from pre-wine nerd days, when to think of Beaujolais conjured images of idiot-simple Duboeuf bottlings crowding supermarket shelves - their plenitude implying some great, easily-harvested swath of land, like Nebraska. Like the wines themselves, the land's not like that at all. While lacking the strenuous, majestic ascents we found in the Jura recently, the topography in northern Beaujolais, where we biked, more than made up for them in the form of an infinity of smaller, more abrupt hills.

And then one strenuous, majestic bitch of an ascent up to the church at Vauxrenard, where Isabelle and Bruno welcomed us with a pitcher of water at a table in front of the tiny marché bio attached to their house. We dried off and caught our breath, and after thanking them I hazarded aloud that they probably didn't receive many visitors all the way up here. Bruno later informed me the average elevation in Beaujolais is between 300 and 400m; Vauxrenard, population 300, perches at just under 500m.

But, in addition to generally loving their bold, sans souffre wines, I was curious to visit the Perrauds in Vauxrenard because I'd become acquainted via the web with Isabelle, who is one of very few vignerons who keeps her own regularly-updated blog. Isabelle thoughtfully remembered that I'd tasted through most of their 2009 bottlings when we'd met at a recent "blogger-vigneron" tasting in Paris; so on the program that afternoon in Vauxrenard was the Perrauds' 2010 line-up.

My first reaction, upon viewing the Perrauds' own bottles among the select range of natural and organic wines available at their marché bio, had been to ask since when were they making an Aligoté? It's new this year, it turns out.

To use my new favorite french term, it's perfectible, or perfectible (same in English, just less sonically pleasing), which is indeed to say that right now it's not a perfect Aligoté. At 8€ at the domaine, I can't complain (nor was I paying), but the wine's rich fruit and leesiness were unfortunately undercut by infirm structure and slight oxidation, despite it having been bottled with a spritz of CO2 as preservative. In the course of tasting the wine I learned that the fruit for the wine, and for all the Perrauds' whites, is bought from a daughter of the winemaker at renowned natural Mâconnais estate Domaine Valette; this must certainly account for some of the quality of their other cuvées, and for my optimism about the future of this one.

More on form was their 2010 St. Véran, brilliantly youthful, succulent, marked by notes of citrus and pear. It was also notably cleaner than I remembered,** without losing a shimmery, kinetic quality that I associate with the Perrauds whites, including a Pouilly-Fuissé that we didn't taste that day. Where the accepted Mâcon masterpieces of the aforementioned Domaine Valette tend to taste more focused and precise, the Domaine des Côtes de la Molière whites lose nothing in comparison, in the same way that sense of motion can contribute to the appeal of a good photo.

We also tasted two reds from 2010, a Moulin-à-Vent and a Fleurie, made from grown and purchased fruit, respectively.

Both struck me as a great leap forward from the somewhat opaque 2009's I'd tasted several months ago. Surprisingly enough their 2010 Fleurie was the harder, more intense of the two, belying the name and reputation of the cru, and the fact that this wine possessed only 11% alcohol. J preferred it, finding its atypicity interesting. In another of our habitual disagreements, I found it a bit dour and stemmy, especially in comparison with the Moulin-à-Vent, which was livelier than the previous vintage, and possessed of an enticing side-palate acidity. The Moulin-à-Vent derives from two separate plots, one of which is aged in steel, the other in barrel; the Fleurie is all steel.

We chatted a while after the tasting, all of us returning to the St. Véran, which went marvelously with a sharp nugget of goat's cheese made in the village. Between us we were unable to think of a good restaurant for Monday lunch the next day between Villié-Morgon and Mâcon, so we bought more of this excellent cheese and some saucisson for the road.

No idea where that grey bar at the bottom of this photo comes from. A glitch of some sort.

The Perraud's marché bio used to be a restaurant, run by Bruno's mother; now it serves as showcase for regional organic products, and the natural and / or organic wines of the Perraud's and their peers. I asked why they insisted on organic products in the shop, when we all agreed that the term was insufficient for ensuring a quality standard in wine. Isabelle seemed to view the 'organic' label as a coherent starting point, around which she and Bruno might succeed in the difficult task of rallying other local producers to adopt more natural practices.

There remained only about a half-hour's ride to Villié-Morgon, so when it came time to move on, I jokingly asked the Perrauds whether there were any other must-see local attractions in Vauxrenard. They suggested the cheesemaker, responsible for the goat cheese we'd just eaten. This seemed relatively interesting, until we learned the cheese was made yet further up the hill.

Next time, we figured.

* I leave this to my friend J, C's husband, who is more practical than both of us combined.

** I'd given a bottle of the 2009 to my landlady and her husband once, in thanks for continually letting me pay rent late, and they had bashfully admitted to finding it a bit mushroomy. I don't think the 2010 would provoke the same reaction.

Le Bourg
69820 Vauxrenard
Tel: 0033 4 74 69 92 32

Related Links:

Beaujolais Bike Trip: Le Coq à Juliénas, Juliénas
Beaujolais Bike Trip: Beaujolais Communiqué

Isabelle Perraud at the Vignerons-Bloggeurs tasting at l'Hedoniste, 75002
Twin Peaks & Chardonnay: Domaine des Côtes de la Molière St. Véran 2009

The Jura Bike Trip: May 2011

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