23 May 2016
"It's not very charming, as a terroir," says young Fleurie vigneron Justin Dutraive, as we tramp down a muddy path to the 8000m of Beaujolais vines he began leasing in 2015. "But it was a good terroir to start: all flat, very mechanizable, with low rent. And no one wanted to take it, so it was going to be uprooted otherwise."
Dutraive isn't being modest. The parcel from which he produced his first wine in 2015 hugs the Duboeuf-dominated village of Maison Blanche so closely it practically constitutes urban farming. To the south is a copse of trees and a stream; to the east, train tracks; to the west, a cornfield. To the north is the Hotel Les Maritonnes. "In the summer, when you're on the tractor, you stare at the pool," jokes Dutraive.
From this unlikely patch of what is known locally as "corn terroir," Dutraive produced a powerful Beaujolais tout-court as well as a pétillant-naturel. The parcel's poor drainage and proximity to the stream paid off in 2015's scorching dry-spell: he brought in a solid 42HL/ha. Less bountiful, but no less notable, was the micro-parcel of Fleurie "Chapelle des Bois" he also vinified that year. Just two barrels were produced, a small but very successful addition to his family's renowned range of wines from the cru.
12 May 2016
Entering southern Beaujolais winemaker Julien Merle's cellar in Legny, I noted the low wooden ceilings above the cement vats and asked if he'd ever had issues with brettonamyces developing in tank. (Bret - the wild yeast often responsible for horsey aromas in wine - has been known to inhabit wood, sometimes causing entire cellars to be razed and reconstructed.) Merle shook his head.
"I think finally the bret is more of a worry for the vineyards higher up in Beaujolais, because the plants are very low," he explained. "We have the plants much higher, it’s cordon trained."
Cordon-training in the crus of Beaujolais is relatively rare - almost all vines are in traditional gobelet training, closer to the earth, where bret is said to reside. Few great vignerons in the crus cordon-train their vines, considering it anathema to quality-minded viticulture. If it's a cliché that many winemakers insist 'there are no rules' governing the production of great wine, it's because of seeming contradictions like this: in viticulture as in vinification, things go topsy-turvy as one travels between regions, or as here, between sub-regions of the same region. In Legny, on the faultline between the granite of north of Beaujolais and the clay-limestone of the south, Julien Merle is making stunningly pure and sturdy wines of the sort that renew my confidence that Beaujolais is worth a book-length study. And he does it by adapting the insights of natural-wine pioneers to the north to his own unique circumstances in the south.
02 May 2016
Few industries are as plagued with inefficiencies as that of Italian specialty shops in Paris. Prices are often rapacious. And queues are often interminable, due to the hellish combination of a) widespread French unfamiliarity with even the most basic Italian foodstuffs, and b) the tendency of Italian purveyors of foodstuffs to natter on endlessly with each under-informed client. Many shops further restrict their clientele by offering opening hours that prioritise siestas. On the occasions I actually enter an Italian specialty shop in Paris, I usually exit soon after, irritated and empty-handed.
Strolling away, mentally revising whatever dinner menu I had in mind, I find myself looking forward to the semi-apocalyptic event that will occur among Italian specialty stores in Paris in 2018, when upscale Italian supermarket juggernaut Eataly is slated to open. Eataly is not cheap, of course, but in my experience the chain's quality standards are high; its product selection is immense; and on principles of economic scale alone it should be able to undercut just about everyone. This is the only instance I can think of - besides Uber and, to some extent, Amazon - where I actually support the idea of a multinational chain disrupting a heterogenous community of small purveyors. The small purveyors of Italian foodstuffs in Paris need to work faster, sell more, and stop overcharging. Never again, I hope, will I pay 7€ for a small jar of chili flakes. (This actually happened at a shop on rue Saint Maur.)
Anyway, on Judgment Day of Italian Specialty Shops in Paris, Charonne-area épicerie Drogheria Italiana will be spared annihilation. The chili flakes are more reasonable, and, far more importantly, the épicerie serves, at just six window-facing counter seats, the city's most addictive* pizza.