28 July 2011

beaujolais bike trip: le relais des caveaux, villié-morgon

On Sunday afternoon we coasted into the town of Villié-Morgon, the heart of the natural Beaujolais scene. The operation of the late great Marcel Lapierre is based here, as are those of many of the famed winemakers that followed Lapierre: Georges Descombes, Jean Foillard, Guy Breton, Jean-Paul Thévenet, etc.

We were scheduled to meet natural vigneron Karim Vionnet, who wasn't picking up his phone when we arrived. The town was as placid and inscrutable as any country town on a Sunday, and we did a few donuts around the roundabout by the church before deciding to just lock up the bikes and hit the bar Karim had mentioned frequenting, Le Relais des Caveaux

Which is of course where we found him, grinning with a demi in hand, explaining that his broken phone could receive but not make calls at the moment. 

26 July 2011

if only: le marsangy, 75011

For several months my friend J had been intermittently proposing we get dinner at Le Marsangy, a dingy unassuming burrow of a bistro midway between our respective apartments, near metro Parmentier in the 11ème. "Really not bad," he'd say, "and a good wine list," before we inevitably decided to go elsewhere for dinner.

We finally got there the other Monday evening, with his wife C and the Native Companion, and discovered he'd been half-right. It made for an interesting meal, because while I consider it settled that I won't bother visiting restaurants that get only the food right, neglecting wine, I had until that evening no definite knowledge of the lower boundary of cuisine I'd stomach for the sake of a good wine list. 

Call it the swill threshold versus the crud threshold.

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.

21 July 2011

domaine les mille vignes at spring boutique, 75001

I'll admit to having had a kind of skeptical interest in attending a recent tasting with winemaker Valérie Guérin of Domaine Les Milles Vignes at my friend Josh's cave in the 1ère, Spring Boutique. Like many wine geek friends, Josh and I tend to gently rag on each other's tastes now and then. I accuse him of liking everything too sleek: silky tannins, quiet acid, polite persistence. He rightly accuses me of drinking mostly oxidative unprofessional farmer wines.

We had differed on Domaine Les Milles Vignes' 2007 Vin de Pays de l'Aube Rosé. At 28€ retail, it's up there with the Château Simones and Domaine Tempiers of the world, in terms of baller rosé. Josh was all bee's knees about it. After sharing a bottle with some friends the week before, I was more ambivalent. I appreciated its waxen dark cherryness, its length, and the fact that it was still proudly drinkable after 4 years - but found it a bit unnuanced, particularly for the price. 

A second tasting didn't persuade me otherwise. The tasting with Mme. Guérin was nevertheless quite worthwhile, for the impressive back vintages of Fitou that appeared towards the end of the tasting, and for introducing me to Guérin's superb Muscat de Rivesaltes, the best of its type I can remember encountering.

20 July 2011

going to miss you: jean-marie berrux's 2009 "le petit têtu"

The remorse one feels upon hearing that a favored bottle is out of stock at the caviste, probably never to return, is, when one gets lucky, matched by a corresponding delight upon discovering same bottle still in stock at a different caviste. So it went with Jean-Marie Berrux's "Le Petit Têtu" 2009, a Bourgogne blanc I first picked up on the recommendation of the Cyril* at the Verre Volé cave on rue Oberkampf.

Cyril is not prone to voicing breathless praise of things.** Nevertheless when I inquired about this bottle, his usual stoney-faced tone changed to one of frank admiration as he explained that it was the project of one half of St. Aubin-based natural Burgundy négociant duo Sarnin-Berrux; that it was derived from vines just outside the Puligny-Montrachet appellation; and that it was the last bottle he had in stock, partly because he'd bought and drank so much of it himself.

That was all the convincing I needed. I drank it the next evening with my good friend E, who was shortly to depart for China. Duly stunned by the wine, I let her continue pontificating on some righteous point of philosophical disagreement (our usual routine) while, with a blog post in mind, I took a photo of the bottle, and her, ruefully reflecting on the passing of the vintage.

19 July 2011

beaujolais bike trip: le coq à juliénas, juliénas

Note on the text: due to an infuriating error, in which I deleted from my iPhone the photos that were to accompany this text before having put them on my computer, the pictorial content of this post is laughably pathetic. I considered not even posting this episode of the Beaujolais Bike Trip, but decided, in the end, to let the text just stand (mostly) alone. 

I find myself, on these bike trips, unable to shake the naive faith that at each meal in a village of oenological interest I will discover a treasure trove of local delights and unforetold curiosities, on the plates and in the glasses. That this almost never happens does nothing to prevent me from seeking such an experience everywhere I go. To wit: when my friends J, C, and I stopped for Sunday lunch beneath murky skies in the eponymous village of the esteemed Beaujolais cru Juliénas, we found ourselves hesitating between two restaurants in the main square, debating whether the short wait at one was worth enduring to avoid the higher prices and slightly pretentious-looking menu of the other.

The restaurants' names are Le Coq à Juliénas and Chez La Rose, respectively. We found out later they share ownership, along with an attached grannyish hotel. Our decision to wait for a table at Le Coq turned out to be an ambiguous one, for while the cuisine was honest and decent, the wines were null, and the only server, a contemptuous middle-aged bruiser with a buzz cut and an ex-con demeanor, ensured that the restaurant's name remained uncomfortably apropos regardless of whether chicken was on the menu.

18 July 2011

greece invades china: q-tea, 75009

My friend D visits us each men's fashion week from Athens, where he has an excellent high fashion boutique in the Kolonaki area. (Just a stone's throw from the riots, in fact. His shop has so far been spared any looting, possibly by dint of its not having any windows.) After his visit this past January, we got to talking about Greek wine, and he kindly insisted on bringing over some bottles of my choosing in June.

The problem is, I know almost zilch about Greek wine. The only place besides Greece, to my knowledge, where one can taste it in educational quantities is, of course, New York. I wound up just emailing D some PDF wine lists of reputable NYC places and telling him I remembered reading nice things about Assyrtiko.*

D, in typical fashion, showed up with a generous sack of interesting bottles, most of which we cracked open after showrooms one night over a B.Y.O.B. dinner at 9ème Chinese gem Q-Tea,** thereby creating another incidental politically-odd pairing.

15 July 2011

everyone wins: septime, 75011

I came upon Septime the old-fashioned way: by happening to stroll past one day, and noticing, in addition to the ambitious décor of the restaurant, a flyer advertising a public natural wine tasting, replete with some excellent names. (Cornelissen, Pfifferling, etc.)  I wasn't able to make it to the tasting in the end, but I remembered the address when my friend / colleague D visited during men's fashion week, and she and I engaged in our quarterly trawl through Paris' culinary vanguard.*

Early reactions to Septime have run the gamut from impressed to enraptured. Chef Bertrand Grébaut has serious Michelin-star credentials, having worked in the kitchen at l'Arpège before running the kitchen at Agapé, when latter restaurant earned its star. ParisByMouth reports also that he received a 10,000€ grant from Evian-Badoit to open Septime, which budget, to judge by the cosy-industrial, Monocle-ready looks of the place, probably covered the cost of about seven light fixtures.

I don't mean to patronize. The place is indeed very enjoyably outfitted, with a nice wingspan around each table, and evident attention paid to lighting, ease of movement, etc. - the usual humane comforts that Paris restaurants, and natural wine spots in particular, have traditionally withheld as a method of torturing guests. And this mercy on Septime's part is, I think, just the most visible aspect of a wider change represented by Septime and restaurants like it: the maturation of the natural wine meal, mostly for the better.

13 July 2011

beaujolais communiqué

This time the blog silence is wine-related. My friends J, C, and I have been tooling around Beaujolais on bicycles for the past few days. Above is the sleepy village of Fleurie at midday.

We tasted with natural Mâcon / Beaujolais vignerons Isabelle et Bruno Perraud in what turned out to be one of the highest elevation villages of the region, Vauxrenard. Then we coasted down to stay in a chambre d'hôte run by Agnès et Jean Foillard in Villié-Morgon. Jean wasn't around; instead our guide in that town was natural vigneron and all-round hilarious fellow Karim Vionnet. The next day we toured Vionnet's new facilities in Morgon, and then, after a wonderful long lazy lunch together, several parcels of his Beaujolais-Villages vines near Lancié. Monday evening was spent in Mâcon, wondering what to do on a Monday evening in Mâcon. (Nothing.)

Now upon return to Paris, with all this material to rake over, I've realized my laptop is again broken, or wasn't fixed properly the first time by Apple's team of geniuses. In any event I should be back to the usual shcedule of breakneck scribbling by next week.

Related Links:

Jura Bike Trip - May 2011

08 July 2011

UNESCO Champagne

My architect friend C's role, on the occasional wine region sojourns we take together with her husband J, typically consists of directing our attention to this or that UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was marvelously fitting, then, that on C's recent birthday a friend of hers from UNESCO brought a bottle of the IGO's in-house Champagne.

So that's where all that inter-governmental funding is going!*

07 July 2011

unzipped: domaine le mazel's cuvée charbonnieres

This makes the second time I've posted about the laser-accurate wine counsel of my friend Nadine at Au Nouveau Nez in the 11ème. Granted, this is partly because with characteristic lack of tact I often urge last-minute dinner invites to vist her cave, conveniently situated right beside my apartment. So at any given time I've tasted 90% of what she has in stock. But beyond this, she's got a great palate for underdog wines, as evidenced by the bottle of Domaine le Mazel "Cuvée Charbonnières" that my friend E showed up with recently, having told Nadine she was looking for something to go with some sardines I was fixing.

06 July 2011

greco skepticism: a fritto misto dinner

Embarrassingly enough, from my recent trip to Rome with the Native Companion I brought back no Roman wine. Nothing from Lazio at all. My baggage limit and my overdraft limit obliged me to narrow my swag down to just three bottles, all purchased from Restaurant Roscioli on the Via dei Giubbonari. The one I was most curious about is the subject of this post: a 2005 Villa Diamante Greco di Tufo.

I have always been completely indifferent to Greco, that's why. This despite tales I've heard from various SF and NYC wine folk of their being blown away by it, in some form or other. An import co. rep who I've no reason to trust* used to insist that he'd tasting a ten year old Greco that had been like manna. On another occasion the wine writer David Lynch** visited the restaurant where I was wine director in LA, shortly after I took the post, and after glancing at my shiny revamped wine list he chose a Benito Ferrara Greco I loathed, a holdover from the previous list.

There was nothing wrong with the Ferrara Greco, actually, except that by the time it reached California it was usually the tail end of the vintage, and oxidation issues were becoming apparent. (In my experience Greco withstands oxidation about as well as a halved avocado.) Maybe D. Lynch was more accustomed to tasting it in NYC or Italy?*** I don't know. If he was disappointed by it, he didn't mention it; nor did I. But it was on the basis of these rumors and intimations of Greco being actually worthwhile that, years later, I brought home from Rome a bottle of cult biodynamic Campanian estate Villa Diamante's version, and cracked it open over a dinner of fritto misto with my friends J, E, C, and D, thinking: maybe this will explain everything.

05 July 2011

a question of faith: vivant, 75010

The resplendent antique green tilework lining the walls of vin nature entrepreneur Pierre Jancou's new restaurant Vivant seems to have become a kind of Rorschach test for early reviewers. Mentions of the tiling - either disparaging, as when François-Régis Gaudry of L'Express presumed it was 'stolen' from another space gently mocked its artfully banged-up state, or awestruck, as in many blog reviews - seem uncannily reflective of writers' attitudes towards the controversial subjects of natural wine, restaurateurism as creative enterprise, and, of course, Pierre Jancou himself.

How do I feel about the tilework? It's splendid, and original to the space, a former bird shop. I see no other reason to take this salient element of Vivant's simple décor as anything other than a good design choice, unless, never having quite understood natural wines or enlightened restaurateurism, one gleans satisfaction from implying that both are no more than superficial poses. Gaudry's thievery comment scorn is a particularly obvious example; more insidious, if you ask me, are restaurant reviews that almost reflexively describe the clientele of a feted new restaurant as 'bobo,' as even the positive reviews of Vivant have done.

Use of the 'B' word, an identifying feature of hack writing, is basically a sham populist appeal for writers who seek to cosy up to unsophisticated readers. What's worse, in its implication that guests come to a given establishment merely to assuage their own consumerist guilt, the word contains a sad contempt for the very idea that a restaurant might attract a varied, cosmopolitan crowd by dint of its actually being an intelligent, tasteful, ideologically-sound place. Those exist! And Vivant, despite a few earnest missteps, is one of them.

04 July 2011

bon courage: frenchie wine bar opening, 75002

At the opening party of 2ème bistro Frenchie's bar à vin spinoff on the night of La Fête de la Musique Insupportable, a wine industry friend and I amused ourselves by placing mock bets on how long it will be before the intended informal no-res bar becomes a small, slightly expensive restaurant with a difficult booking policy. (In other words, another Frenchie.)

Were it to happen, it would be through no particular fault or avarice of the excellent Frenchie team. It's just a familiar pattern in the Paris restaurant scene, nicely illustrated by 1èr restaurant Spring's short-lived Buvette bar à vin, which has now been more profitably repurposed as another dining room for the unflaggingly popular restaurant. Quality places in Paris shoot for informal and wind up sporting tastevins, for a number of reasons.

01 July 2011

first introductions: café de la nouvelle mairie, 75005

For about a year I was in a cross-town relationship with my friend F. In addition to teaching me much of the French I know, I credit her also with getting me into the habit of biking everywhere, without which form of transportation our relationship would probably have been obviated or abbreviated by the hassle of getting to the 5ème from my neighborhood. In less informed days I used to consider the whole quartier kind of a natural wine write-off, and would complain loudly about the sickening moron tourism afflicting rue Mouffetard* whenever we hung out in her 'hood.

Lately, to my continuing bittersweet pleasure, I seem to routinely discover more and more to like about the 5ème. First it was Restaurant Christophe and Les Pipos - a magnificent meat destination and a boisterous bistro à vin nature, respectively - and then earlier this spring I finally got around to visiting Café de la Nouvelle Mairie, a lovely terraced natural wine café just east of metro Luxembourg.

When I stopped by recently, it was to meet my fellow LA transplant T and her rotating cast of colorful friends, most of whom were unfamiliar to me at the time. F dropped by as well, since I was in the neighborhood, and she was there to witness what was perhaps my most catastrophically inappropriate wine choice in my recent memory.