29 December 2015

a new age: la cave de belleville, 75019

Gentrification in Paris seems to happen with the handbrake on. There ought to be a different word for it, one with less negative connotations. Our sympathy for displaced bodegas and barber shops derives largely from the catastrophic swiftness with which their rents get jacked or their clients disappear. Whereas in Paris' handful of perpetually mid-gentrification neighborhoods - Belleville, Ménilmontant, Montreuil, Charonne, Pigalle, and so on - fate takes its time. If one lives and works and searches for decent coffee in these neighborhoods, change can seem damnably imperceptible.

The pork-bun menagerie of Belleville showed new colours last year, however, with the opening of an ambitious wine shop and wine bar,* La Cave de Belleville. The project of three friends from the neighborhood, François Braouezec, Aline Geller, and Thomas Perlmutter - a pharmacist, a gallerist, and a sound engineer, respectively - Le Cave de Belleville is an enthusiastic, accessible enterprise, offering an épicerie counter, a blitheringly large wine selection, and light apéro snacks every day of the week.

I pass by the storefront often. I almost entered once in summertime but was put off by the heat, a disaster for a caviste.** I finally visited for an apéro this December. Almost everything was bad, but I would still return, and would encourage others to do the same. Good wines is in stock, and amid the overall mediocrity sparkles real promise.

16 December 2015

n.d.p. in beaujolais: domaine thillardon, chénas

Paul-Henri Thillardon in the vines he rents from Château Les Boccards.
Contemporary Beaujolais is rife with opportunity - overlooked terroirs, abandoned vines, appellations ripe for rehabilitation. But few young vignerons have committed to such ambitious challenges as Paul-Henri and Charles Thillardon, who have positioned themselves as the future of Beaujolais' smallest, sleepiest cru, Chénas.

After graduating with a BTS viti-oeno from the Lycée Bel-Air, Paul-Henri says his initial, outmoded goal was to make all ten crus. Much has changed since he founded the domaine in 2008. "We even used select yeast, our first year," he says. "Because I didn't know how to make natural wine, I'd never seen it in my life, and I'd never drunk it."

Then in 2009 he met Fleurie winemaker Jean-Louis Dutraive, a lynchpin of the Fleurie natural winemaking scene who himself had just attained organic certification for his own domaine. "He was the most open," says Paul-Henri, citing Dutraive as introducing him to the aesthetics of natural Beaujolais. "From there I met Julie Balagny, and everyone else." Gradually, as his domaine has grown to its present 12ha, Paul-Henri's winemaking has aligned with those of his mentors. 2015 is the first year he's aimed for long, cool semi-carbonic macerations, refrigerating the harvest for the first time, and vinifying entirely whole-cluster.

01 December 2015

n.d.p. in beaujolais: sylvain chanudet, fleurie

The most famous man in Beaujolais is not who you might think. His wines remain under-acknowledged on the market, but in terms of sheer physical presence in the region - in vineyards, at other domaines, at the cafés of Villié-Morgon and Fleurie - no one compares with
Domaine de Prion's Sylvain Chanudet: his tousled iron hair, NBA frame, and impish grin could be a trademark for the region.

His ubiquity is partly attributable to his side business, a nursery in nearby Drancy that supplies many of the region's natural winemakers (among many others) with massal selection vine grafts. It is literally his business to know other winemakers and remain aware of their vineyard conditions.*

But Chanudet, like his friend Jean-Louis Dutraive, also clearly relishes the Beaujolais community. Very few know it better. From the purebred terroir of his own high, steep parcels, Chanudet creates muscular, unfiltered wines that often belie the cliché of his cru's femininity. Recent years have seen a refinement of his style, one that I expect to accelerate since the domaine, formerly run jointly, was separated between him and his brother Christian in 2014. But among Sylvain Chanudet's eccentricities is a devil-may-care attitude towards his commercial calendar. He releases the wines when he feels they're finished, not before. When I visited after harvest this year, he'd just bottled the 2012's and 2013's.