All too often, French labels are stuffy. However, when it comes to good vin de table wines, puns and word play abound. Consider these from the Loire:
This is a tasty yet tannic (thanks six-month maceration!) gamay from Emile Heredia of Domaine de Montrieux in the Coteaux du Vendômois. It’s labeled simply “G.” With a spot over it. He told me, “The anglais say it doesn’t exist–but they haven’t looked for it!” Read more…
Beaujolais is in the air today–and not just because it is being dropped on an unsuspecting world via airfreight. It is Beaujolais nouveau day, a marketing contrivance that seems to have less impact every year.
But it’s a good springboard for talking about the spectacular 2009s from the region’s smaller appellations, known as “crus.” I was initially skeptical, but have tasted through several and found them excellent indeed! The warm growing season resulted in richer wines but the best producers were able to keep the alcohol in check; if you haven’t been a fan of the style in previous vintages, the 09s could have what it takes to bring you around to the pleasures of Beaujolais. Here are a few notable ones, deserving of a spot on your table, Thanksgiving and beyond.
Clos de la Roilette: Alain Coudert produced two stunning wines from his Fleurie vineyard. The regular cuvée has a gorgeous nose followed by delicious balance of fruit, freshness, and intensity that will convince many a Beaujolais skeptic. I bought a magnum of this wine for the biggest impact at my Thanksgiving table. The “cuvée tardive,” visible from across the aisle thanks to the new neck label, is a superb wine to tuck away for a few years in the deepest, darkest spot in your cellar. It’s more dense, structured and closed now than the regular bottling but will doubtlessly evolve into a a real stunner.
Marcel Lapierre: The first bottle of 2009 Lapierre Morgon seemed a bit high in alcohol to me and I wondered if there was a shift at the estate in that direction. But why would they mess with success? The second bottle I had was riper than the 06s and 07s, but still had the alluring aromatics, delicate structure and the lively snap of acidity that has been the house calling card for many a vintage. Although Marcel Lapierre died earlier this year, I’ll save my remaining bottles of this wine to toast him in future years.
Pierre Chermette: Pierre-Marie Chermette always produces reliable wines from the Beaujolais on up to his crus; the 09s are particularly stunning. For immediate pleasure, try the Beaujolais; for later delight, tuck away bottles of his Fleurie, which exhibits a lot of complexity on the nose and the palate, yet is tightly wound today.
Jean-Paul Brun, Terres Dorées: Although not a cru, the Terres d’Orées, “L’Ancien” 2009 Beaujolais is a terrific value, ready to drink either on a weeknight, weekend, Thanksgiving or not.
Carignan. When Bacchus was handing out the mellifluous names of grape varieties in French–Cabernet, Chardonnay, and Merlot roll easily of the anglophone tongue–he had apparently run out by the time he got to Carignan. In America it is often called carignane when planted, if at all, on domestic soil. But even in the Languedoc, in the south of France where the grape proliferates, reasonable people like Jancis Robinson have dumped on the grape for tasting like battery acid (or something).
By contrast, Becky Wasserman told me she considers Carignan to be “the Pinot Noir of the south,” especially given its high natural acidity. Wasserman, an exporter of French wine, includes one Carignan in her portfolio and it is a value, particularly now as the weather turns chilly. The family-run St. Jean de la Gineste, in the Corbieres appellation, cultivates some old vines of Carignan, ferments the grapes in a neutral, concrete vessel, and blends in 15 percent grenache. I purchased the resulting 2007 wine at New York Vintners for about $14 and found this true taste of Carignan to be worthy of respect. Dark in the glass, the un-pinot-like 14% alcohol makes it a bigger wine but the rustic grape tannin is unadorned by oak and then there’s the good acidity. Now if only I could rustle up some cassoulet…
Marcel Lapierre’s wines have brought me much pleasure. When I bring out one of his wines, with the beautiful script label and red wax capsule, my wife is always instantly happy. They are the rarest of wines, serious and structured, ready to drink now or later, with a few years age on them. They are made from organic (and horse-tilled) vineyards with minimal intervention in the cellar, including sulfur. But what really makes them rare is that they are also affordable: I bought a case of his Morgon 2009s for $19.95 a bottle. (find this wine)
So it is small wonder on this basis alone that he attracted a wide following among winemakers–beyond Beaujolais and even beyond France–as well as consumers. Add to this his infectious bonhomie as Tim Atkin described him in Saveur: “Lapierre is just Lapierre, a big, hulking, witty chunk of humanity with enough enthusiasm and joie de vivre for half-a-dozen men.”
Yesterday, sad news came from Morgon that Lapierre had died too young, at the age of 60 from melanoma. His son Mathieu has been active in the cellar for a number of vintages and will, presumably, carry on the tradition of crafting these supremely pleasurable wines.
If you guessed Burgundy, you’re right! The Bourgogne Montre-Cul (or Montrecul or en Montre-Cul) vineyard/appellation lies at the north end of the Cotes de Nuits, near Marsannay. According to legend, the slopes were so steep that when the women pickers bent over to pick the grapes, they gave everyone below a bit more of a view than just the hills. While this may sound like Hugh Hefner’s vineyard playland, the women were likely of somewhat sturdier stock than those you’d find at the Playboy Mansion. (Montre Cul really does sound like it’s something out of the French equivalent to John Cleese’s Hungarian phrasebook. Diner: “Je voudrais un Montre Cul.” Sommelier: SLAP.)
I learned of this appellation while tasting Sylvain (“The Sylvainator”) Pataille’s tasty 2007 red wine from the region. There are not many acres of vineyard left in the tiny region, which has largely been engulfed by Dijon. As you can see to the right, his label is a little less artistic than other depictions.
SIPPED: spiked juice
The good folks at Gizmodo sacrificed their own palates by turning Welch’s grape juice into, well, fermented grape juice using a product called Spike Your Juice. Just don’t let the WSWA know that underage might be able to get ahold of this for cheaper than wine.
SIPPED: wine book for kids
An illustrated book for children that details the life of the vine and wine’s history back to Roman times will be appearing soon–in France. It’ll keep them away from the fermented Welch’s, no doubt! (But then again, when you have self-serve wine tanks, why would you ever need to ferment Welch’s?)
SPIT: shopping for wine with kids
A Tesco in the UK refused to sell a dad a bottle of wine with his groceries. Why? Because he was with his eight-year-old daughter and she didn’t have valid ID. [Mirror.co.uk]
SIPPED: Bordeaux & Asia 1
After having his wine mentioned in a Drops of the Gods spin-off comic, a small Bordeaux vintner has withdrawn his wine from the market in the hope of preventing speculation and escalating prices. He’s now screening buyers and still offering the wine at €18. How long before there’s a secondary market for Château le Puy? [Guardian]
SIPPED: Bordeaux & Asia 2
A sequel to the popular Chinese TV show, “Cherish Our Love Forever,” is now shooting on location in Bordeaux. Inquiring minds wonder if it will do for Bordeaux in China what Sideways did for pinot noir here? [AFP]
SPIT: Bordeaux & Asia 3
The Economist has a short piece on wine in Hong Kong. They cite prices for Château Lafite Rothschild, the market leader, have roughly doubled in the past six months; “Sniff its bouquet,” they write “and the wine boom has hints of tulip mania.”
Marcel Lapierre, the vigneron of Beaujolais, is a grandpappy of minimal intervention, “natural” wine. And Thierry Puzelat in the Loire is a leading, young naturalista. In fact, Puzelat has credited the beauty of Lapierre’s wines as the inspiration for choosing the path to making such wines.
Each of them made a reasonably priced gamay in the acclaimed 2009 vintage; I bought each for about $12 at Astor Wines and then tasted them head to head. Turning to the master first, Read more…
Bring your own resealable bottles, Poland Spring containers, jerrycans, whatever. Or you can get one at the store. Select your grade (red, white, or rosé). Pump. Print receipt.
Astrid Terzian introduced this concept that hearkens back to a bygone era when wine would arrive in Paris shops in tonneaux and consumers would bring their own flagons to fill. But today, Terzian says, she started this scheme in fall 2008 to fill a niche, tapping into two key themes, environmental awareness and the economy. (She actually wanted to buy a wine property and run a B&B but it was too expensive. So she turned to what she says she knew how to do: sales.) The elimination of packaging mass means that the wine can be shipped much more efficiently from a cost and carbon perspective.
The cost-savings are passed on to the consumer in the form of low prices of 1.45 euros/liter (about $2/liter). She installed her first machine in June 2009 at the Cora supermarket in Dunkirk and now has them installed in eight supermarkets in France. The wines vary; one is a 2009 from the Rhone, technically a vin de pays méditerranée.
As to customer reaction, Terzian says customers are taken aback at first, but then warm up to the idea, especially after a taste. They come back often, she says.
Asked via email which is her favorite container to bring to fill, she says she uses a five-liter jug since it is “neither too big nor too small–and it’s typically French.”
UPDATE: I neglected to mention in the post that I think this, regulations permitting, will come to the US within a year. I told that to someone in the wine trade today. And he replied that he is already working on it!
UPDATE 2: My only question about the pump wine (aka Chateau La Pompe) is if it comes to New Jersey and Oregon, will they require full serve as they do for gas?!