23 July 2015

the noble savage: sauvage, 75006

The other evening I had the occasion to follow up on a surprising recommendation I'd received in March from Guardian wine columnist Fiona Beckett, who had turned up what sounded like a splendid wine bar in the least likely place of all: mere paces from luxury department store Le Bon Marché. This is deep, gerontocratic Paris, home to those Parisians whose wealth and social stability have largely spared them from meaningful interaction with the contemporary era, let alone any re-examination of their drinking habits.

I adore this neighborhood, naturally. But, save for the splendid Café Trama up the road, it's until now been very hard to find anything to drink there.

So newcomer natural-wine cave-à-manger Sauvage, when it opened in February on rue de Cherche-Midi, needed merely to exist to qualify as groundbreaking. Bare-bones, boxy, and cheerful, Sauvage resembles a small-town Scandinavian coffee shop. But owner Sebastien Leroy outdoes himself with a surprisingly uncompromising natural wine selection, and an improvisational menu that grasps beyond the usual cheese and charcuterie to include - at least on the night I visited - a bright and vivid lobster salad.

20 July 2015

n.d.p. in beaujolais: jean-paul thévenet, pizay

On a rainy morning in April, over some barrel samples of his and his son's old vine Morgon and Régnié (respectively), I mentioned to Jean-Paul Thévenet that I was planning a book project about the wines of Beaujolais. Like many winemakers I spoke to, he was encouraging, but not without certain qualifications.

"When we started making this type of wine, there were people who quite liked our wines, but who soon began telling us, this is good, and that’s not good, and it’s no good for us, to talk like that. There are people who work conventionally who work very well, and we ought to leave them the choice..."

Having worked for over three decades to encourage better viticultural and winemaking practices in his region, Thévenet is aware that progress is slow, where it occurs at all, and that the eager attention of a critic is likelier to inflame situations than improve them. Thévénet counsels patience.

"Little by little, the products are less noxious... There are a lot of people who begin to work a little more naturally. When we started to do this in 1985 - Marcel Lapierre a little before - we were often refused the appellation because [our wine] was marked atypical, not representative of the region. Meanwhile the old winegrowers told us that our wines were like the Morgon that was made fifty years ago."

09 July 2015

n.d.p. in beaujolais: jules métras, fleurie

Young Fleurie-based winemaker Jules Métras released his first wine under his own name this year, a Beaujolais-Villages sourced from two parcels, one in Lancié, the other in La Chappelle de Guinchay. The latter parcel was formerly owned by Jules Chauvet. Jules Métras vinifies the wine in his father's cellar, an anonymous-looking, un-insulated concrete structure perched amid the Fleurie climat of Grille-Midi.

He makes the wine in much the same way his father does. The fruit, harvested relatively late, is cooled down before gentle, long, cool carbonic fermentation with natural yeasts in lidded cement vat. "It took eight or nine days to start fermentation, which is pretty long. At the end of five days I was going crazy," he says. "But my dad says, 'Noooo, don't worry.' He's never worried."

We taste the wine in April, not long before bottling. The nose is deep, redolent of crushed berry, and faintly roasty, although only older barrels are used in elevage. Its black-current fruit possesses the suavity and dark florals that made his father's wine legendary. Jules Métras titled the cuvée "Bijou," a bit of local youth slang whose popularity Métras credits to his friend and fellow Beaujolais scion Kéké Descombes. "Everytime he plowed a parcel, he'd send some photos and say 'Wow, it's bijou!' Meaning it's clean, magnificent. Now when we drink great wine, it's bijou. When a pretty girl passes, she's bijou."

08 July 2015

jordan mackay's beaujolais misinformation

Jordan Mackay. Someone get this man a glass of Métras.

I write now and then for an NYC-based website called PUNCH, whose stated purpose is to explore the culture surrounding wine, spirits, and other alcoholic beverages. It's a publication of Ten Speed Press, itself a subsidiary of Random House. I hope the site and its parent companies will forgive me in advance for publicly taking issue with a deeply misinformative piece recently published in PUNCH by San Francisco Magazine wine writer Jordan Mackay.

Entitled "Beyond Carbonic: A New Era in Beaujolais," the piece alerts readers to an ostensibly new trend in Beaujolais winemaking, Burgundian fermentation with de-stemming and pigeage, i.e. not the region's traditional carbonic maceration. This is not, not even by the furthest stretch of the imagination, "a new era." Mackay inadvertently acknowledges as much in the piece itself, citing Chateau du Moulin-à-Vent (established: 1732) as among the practitioners. Jean-Paul Brun, the other key example Mackay cites in the piece, founded his domaine in 1979, and has long been imported to the US. The producers Mackay cites, it bears mentioning, are neither the region's leading lights, nor its youngest vanguard.

So, not news. Where Mackay goes harmfully off the rails is in ascribing all the faults of industrial Beaujolais Nouveau production circa-1980 to carbonic maceration. In one astonishingly wrongheaded paragraph, he manages to conflate the influence of Jules Chauvet with that of Georges Duboeuf.

02 July 2015

n.d.p. in beaujolais: laurence and rémi dufaitre, saint-étienne-des-ouillières

A common wine writing trope is to conclude that a wine resembles its maker in some way or another. Nowhere is this less applicable than in the wines of rising-star Beaujolais winemaker Rémi Dufaitre, whose production of Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly (among other wines) is distinguished by its elegance and finesse.

Rémi Dufaitre himself is more direct, an endearing trait, from certain angles. When I arrived at his domaine in Saint-Etienne-des-Ouillières, roughly where the Brouilly appellation meets Beaujolais-Villages, he lost no time asking me upfront about my blog traffic. When I introduced my bike trip companion N, a novelist, Rémi, without missing a beat, asked, "How many books did you sell?"

The no-bullshit approach, in this case, reflects the confidence of a young winemaker who enjoys broad support among his forebears in the region. Originally from Saint-Etienne-La-Varenne, Dufaitre has known since birth his friend and Brouilly neighbor Jean-Claude Lapalu. Influential Fleurie winemaker Jean-Louis Dutraive is Dufaitre's cousin. And while Dufaitre and his wife Laurence only began bottling their own wines in 2010, their work soon attracted the attention of Villié-Morgon legend Jean Foillard, who has said he considers Dufaitre among the best of the younger generation of Beaujolais winemakers. Who cares if he possesses the combative, ball-breaking temperament of a mob enforcer, when the wines are this good?