24 February 2012

n.d.p. in burgundy: le bar à vins, gevrey-chambertin

I like towns small enough for things not to have names. The Post Office, the train station, the wine bar. Probably not great for your Google Search results, but without any local competition, who cares?

When we settled upon lunch at Le Bar à Vins, my friend J and I were still greyfaced and wasted from the previous night at Beaune's Bar du Square, our condition compounded somewhat by the two tastings of magnificent tightly-allocated wines we'd already endured enjoyed that morning. When traveling in wine towns I usually feel pressure to Make Every Meal Count, but at that point we both felt it would be a success merely to hold food down. Additionally we'd remarked that Le Bar à Vins was pouring Thomas Pico's (Domaine Pattes Loup) soaringly great Chablis by the glass. What was such a wonderful not-quite-local wine doing at a nameless bar à vins? Could it be indicative of a greater culinary sophistication than we would have otherwise supposed, given the bar's general pokiness and grandmotherly décor?

21 February 2012

n.d.p. in burgundy: domaine gros frère et soeur, vosne-romanée

Driving away from the monkishly spare cellars of Domaine Denis Bachelet, I joked to J that for M. Bachelet to raise neither his production nor his prices despite years of acclaim and overwhelming demand seemed to indicate a lack of imagination. "He's got all he needs," said J. "What would you spend the money on?"

First thing, I said, is I'd go everywhere via helicopter. To hell with traffic. If you can afford to be a prince of the earth, why waste time? 

We were to remember this conversation about thirty minutes later, while tasting Richebourg with Bernard Gros at the rather more elaborate cellars of Domaine Gros Frères et Soeur in Vosne- Romanée. The tasting room looks like it was lifted straight from a David Lynch set, magenta lighting, piano, and all. Then in the course of some topical repartée about the Greek crisis, M. Gros mentioned that while he could not accept payment in drachmas, he was happy to accept payment in dollars - because he used the latter currency to pay for helicopter fuel. 

16 February 2012

n.d.p. in burgundy: domaine denis bachelet, gevrey-chambertin

Professional readers might note that, as I write up my experiences tasting around Burgundy, I tend to tread uncharacteristically gingerly when dealing with the wines themselves. This is because I haven't tasted enough. I've never bought Burgundy professionally, nor have I had much opportunity to taste the region's wines very deeply or broadly. Wine criticism, like any criticism, is the act of placing subjective reactions within a context of more-or-less objective information, and it's what I feel to be a lack of the latter that keeps me a bit British and even-handed and unjudgmental about the wines I tasted on this trip.*

For instance, at Domaine Denis Bachelet, the 3.8ha cult Gevrey-Chambertin estate whose Charmes-Chambertin is among the most sought-after and revered bottles of the appellation, what perspective could I possibly bring to the wines, having never tasted them before? They're masterful, magisterial, and no, we could not, at that time, purchase any.**

I was happy just to be there. Even if I could do little more than mutely confirm the greatness of Denis Bachelet's zen-like production.

14 February 2012

n.d.p. in burgundy: bar du square, beaune

Visits to picturesque winemaking regions often give rise to certain bland repetitive fantasies of actually living in said regions. In my case these visions usually dissipate in the duration of a train ride back to Paris. At this stage in life I can admit to being unable to sustain myself without certain urban comforts, such as bars, anonymity, girls, etc. Any attempt to pretend otherwise and embrace small-town life would invariably end in pitchforks and torches and hitchhiking back.

If I still entertain ideas about residing in Beaune someday, it's largely due to a very memorable nightcap my friend J and I shared with winemaker Axelle Machard de Gramont and her friend E at Bar du Square, an unassuming bar du coin that early last year came under the proprietorship of the lively and well-connected Romain Escoffier, son of the owners of nearby bistro-legend Ma Cuisine. Perhaps semi-inadvertently, he's created the most sophisticated bar concept I've ever encountered, an establishment that would be the toast of Paris or New York or London, were wine supply channels ever to change to allow its successful replication in those cities. 

The concept is simple: a killer, bargain-filled Burgundy list, without a restaurant attached. Instead, there's an electric guitar lashed to the bar taps, and the Kinks on the stereo. 

09 February 2012

b minus: agapé bis, 75017

When I was introduced to restaurateur Laurent Lapaire at Le Grand 8 a few months ago, I confessed that while I'd heard a great deal about them, I'd yet to visit any of his restaurants - not the 17ème's Agapé, not its "bistro" sibling Agapé Bis, not Agapé Substance, his tiny nigh-unbookable haute-gastro kitchen on rue Mazarine. I asked him which I ought to hit first. He suggested trying them in ascending order of price and refinement: first the Bis, then Agapé, Substance last.

To be fair, it's natural for restaurateurs to consider their restaurants as parents would their children. He was probably taking care to provide equal attention, and making allowances for differences of personality. But, taking his advice at face value, some colleagues and I took two taxis out west to the 17ème after showrooms one night this past fashion week, planning to check out the tasting menu at Agapé Bis.

Let's say that if any of us ever make it to the other two restaurants, the bar is set pretty low.

06 February 2012

n.d.p. in the loire: 2012 - la renaissance des AOCs, la dive bouteille, le salon les pénitantes

While they're fresh in mind, I thought I might as well post some impressions of three natural wine tastings I attended in the Loire the weekend before last. This is to break from my habit of posting things six months after they occur, when everyone has forgotten each others names and it becomes curious to see pictures of friends sporting t-shirts and tans, as though it were still summertime. 

Like last year, I traveled with my friend J and his wife C. This year we were accompanied by our good friend D, another non-wine-professional who, in addition to being a capable photographer and worthy iPad Scrabble opponent, also provided a sunny foil for C's patient boredom during the Renaissance des Appellations (Angers), La Dive Bouteille (Brézé), and, new this year, Le Salon Les Pénitantes (Angers).

My main takeaways: an interview with Catherine Breton (to be published elsewhere), a reaffirmed obsession with Chinon Blanc (another post), and a perceived uptick in the quantity and quality of Jura-style oxidative cuvées, from the likes of Ludovic Bonnelle, Michel Augé, Julien Courtois, and Dominique Derain

01 February 2012

n.d.p. in burgundy: ma cuisine, beaune

As we walked to the restaurant, J explained that it was a sheer fluke to have landed table at Ma Cuisine in Beaune at such short notice. The place is usually booked solid and owners Fabienne and Pierre Escoffier are tactically very lax at responding to the phone, because they operate with the certainty that any unbooked tables will no doubt be filled by passing winemakers in the course of the evening. We had only gotten our reservation, he mused, because it was a national holiday, and most people probably assumed the place would be closed.

Tant mieux,* as the natives say here, often when profiting from the ignorance or negligence of others. That the meal at Ma Cuisine was my very first in Burgundy, land of plenty, was, I think, entirely incidental to how totally sumptuous and fulfilling I found it. With its heartbreakingly long wine list, its brisk service, its richly satisfying menu, Ma Cuisine succeeds by any standard. Only later was I to understand that the restaurant's success stands out yet further in Beaune, where curiously enough there are not many good restaurants.