18 January 2012

n.d.p. in burgundy: domaine bertrand machard de gramont, curtil-vergy

My friend J's stated plan, this past October, had been to staff a replacement at his cave in Paris and cruise down to Burgundy for three days of marathon solo tasting. All business, no sightseeing, no fancy meals, just serious professional tasting.

Then at the very last minute he must have been worried about getting bored, because he invited me along.

As luck would have it, I was able to take off work. It became a Bro-gundy road trip: we ate Pringles and listened to the recent Real Estate album on repeat in the car and had a nice bro picnic of sandwiches on a cliff in the Hautes-Côtes de Nuits before our first appointment. Then we went to meet a friend of J's, Axelle Machard de Gramont,* winemaker at Domaine Bertrand Machard de Gramont, a Nuits-Saint-Georges estate that was, for me, a wonderfully atypical introduction to tasting in Burgundy.

16 January 2012

all the right ingredients: jeu de quilles, 75014

Imagine you must throw a party. You invite your most amusing friends into a room with a balcony after sundown and open numerous bottles of sparkling wine. There is a band. Performance art. DJs. Clowns, sword-swallowers, and a man who walks around on his hands. But to your consternation, no one speaks to each other for the duration of the event.

Great party, they say, on their way out the door. Keep me in the loop for the next one.

I feel this way about certain natural wine restaurants. Like the friends in the above scenario, I sincerely appreciate the effort that has gone into getting all the right ingredients in place. Desnoyer meats, natural wines, manifestly fresh fish, etc. At Jeu de Quilles, a suberbly charming market-menu place in the 14ème, these elements are supported by that other, nigh-on unattainable Paris luxury, great hospitality. All that I felt was lacking, after a recent by-no-means-unenjoyable meal there, was a unifying vision: a reason all these good things have been gathered together.

13 January 2012

les vendanges 2011: jura: ludwig bindernagel, poligny

In defense of what may appear to be my extreme lateness in posting on my experience harvesting in the Jura this past September, I'll just say I don't give a hoot. My impression is that up-to-the-minute harvest reports are only really useful to high-end retailers who must make large purchase commitments daringly early in order to avoid losing out to, say, the burgeoning uncritical bootleg-happy Chinese market. Almost none of these large early buys are being made in the Jura, I expect.

In any case, I wasn't there for long, and certainly can't give a coherent cross-section of the vintage. What I got was just a snapshot of how one small-scale vigneron, in this case my friend Ludwig Bindernagel, manages harvest. He manages harvest with serious magnanimous grace, it turns out, making time for picnics and numerous educational asides for first-timers like myself, even while understaffed.  

09 January 2012

n.d.p. in piemonte: cantina dei produttori di nebbiolo di carema

A.K.A. The other Carema, the one not made by Luigi Ferrando.

My friends and I were passing one more night in Switzerland on our way back to Paris. So on the road north from Monforte through Carema country we thought it might make for an interesting pit stop to visit the Cantina dei Produttori di Nebbiolo di Carema, whose wines none of us had tried. They have a U.S. importer - Doug Polaner - but neither my friend J nor I could recall having ever seen the wines for sale there.

Luigi Ferrando's sterling reputation as a producer of quality high-altitude Nebbiolo is partially defined in opposition to his neighbors involved in this cooperativo, so our expectations weren't exactly sky-high. Also, there was a huge lumpy novelty bottle outside of the tasting room, making the place look like some kind of Alpine saloon.

06 January 2012

n.d.p. in piemonte: alessandro e gian natale fantino, monforte d'alba

On our last night in Monforte, my friends and I revisited Case della Saracca, with the aim of drinking something we hadn't had much of during our stay: mature Barolo.* A late-nineties vertical by Alessandro e Gian Natale Fantino stood out on the bar's list as unmissable bargains, and we recognised the name because every day for the past week we'd been walking by their cellars, which are located right next to the Da Felicin apartments in the old city of Monforte.

If we hadn't yet visited them, it was because the name Fantino is like the Smith of Monforte, making it difficult for first time visitors like ourselves to keep straight which Fantini produce quality wine, and which produce light fluff for cafe consumption. Alessandro e Gian Natale, we learned, fall into the former category.  Alessando Fantino worked ten years for the legendary Bartolo Mascarello, before founding his own organic estate with brother Gian Natale in the early 90's.

The 1999 Barolo "Vigne dei Dardi" we drank at Case della Saracca was in the end so vivid and racy that J and I were inspired to try for an inexcusably last-minute visit before we checked out the next morning. ("Are you free in ten minutes? Yes, ten!") To our delight, winemaker Alessandro Fantino was available to give us a tour. We assured J's wife C and the Native Companion it would be a quick tour, no tasting, since that is what Fantino offered us in Italian over the phone. We probably should have known better, as it happened. C and the NC fell asleep in their hammocks by the packed convertible, and J and I tasted the Fantino range straight through to the Barolo Chinato.

04 January 2012

n.d.p. in piemonte: osteria dell'unione, treiso, then bruno giacosa, neive

After tasting the extremely ethereal Barbarescos of Cascina delle Rose with estate owner Giovanna Rizzioli, we followed her recommendation for lunch in nearby Treiso to Osteria dell'Unione, where we had a meal as perfectly enjoyable as any other we'd had in the region.

Let's be honest, though. I can only describe vitello tonnato so many times on this blog, as in here, and here, and, come to think of it, I had one here also, though I declined to mention it. The most distinctive things about the meal at Osteria dell'Unione were my friend J's nicely piquante rabbit, and the fact that the plate of cured meats he'd ordered as a starter came with what appeared to be, and actually was, a tiny omelet. (Genius!)

If I post about the experience now, it's primarily as a segue to air some thoughts on one of the meal's less interesting elements, the 2006 Spumante Brut by Bruno Giacosa. Shortly after the meal we were to visit that winemaker's winery in Neive, where my trusty iPhone camera was to totally fail me,* meaning I lost out on some useful pics of the premises and of the very intelligent, very young new winemaker Francesco, who would've been in 1st grade when I was in 3rd grade, that is how young he is. Giacosa's reds are self-evidently magnificent, from the elegant Dolcetto on up to the cru Barbaresci; I won't burden them with more praise here. I'm more curious about why the Giacosa estate goes to such efforts year after year to produce and promote what is, after all, a merely okay sparkling wine.

02 January 2012

welsh wine: ancre hill estates

Another year, more struggling. I didn't mean for the blog to come to a crashing halt in December. There were the usual holiday excuses; then in my alternate life working for a fashion company we opened a new shop in Paris. But I find it helpful to be reminded now and then that time spent drinking and writing about it is dear, moreso even than the wines under discussion...

Over the holidays I spent a few days in London and a few days in Wales. This means that once I get through a backlog of observations on Piemonte (still!), Burgundy, and Barcelona, readers can expect my customary spiteful quasi-Marxist critique of all UK wine culture. Actually I will have some nice things to say about one or two London discoveries, chief among them Raef Hodgson and 40 Maltby St. / Gergovie Imports.  

Quite predictably, there were rather less drinking options on the Welsh leg of my trip. My friends and their families and I were holed away in an adorable cabin in Snowdonia, unable to leave or see the sun due to constant freezing rain from all directions and the associated risk of pneumonia. We kept the fires lit; charades prompts grew increasingly obscene. Wines of discernible aesthetic interest ran out after the first night. I did, however, salvage a few impressions of one noteworthy wine, though I'll admit my interest was more cultural than aesthetic: a 2008 Welsh Sparkling Wine from Ancre Hill Estates, a family run domaine of 9 acres or so in Monmouth.