Mere days after my return to the freelance hustle, I took a trip three hundred and eighty miles north to Montreal. The occasion was to celebrate the upcoming nuptials of my friend Chantal Martineau – a Quebecois writer living in New York City. Chantal put together a gut-busting 3-day itinerary centered on eating and drinking.
A few hours after four hungry women pulled up to her mother’s house in Pointe-St-Charles, we took in our first meal. It was at Joe Beef. I know, I know, everyone is talking about Joe Beef these days. Trust me, it’s worth the hype. I had purchased the Joe Beef cookbook as a Christmas gift for my boyfriend after leafing through it’s pages at Chantal’s place. Filled with humor, local background, and crazy gimmicks that seem born out of stoner creativity, Joe Beef had me salivating. The restaurant’s menu is seafood and meat-heavy, the kitchen doesn’t shy away from pure unabashed fat, and the wine list has some gems. We ended up drinking a fairly powerful, super-focused old-vines (planted in 1929) Aligote 2010 produced by Francois Mikulski that was somewhat reminiscent of De Moor’s Aligote.
We finished with the Pepiere Cuvee Granit, a nervy and structured red that was perfect with our meaty main dishes. The joy of drinking Marc Olivier in Montreal can only be described as a little like spying a long lost relative in a room full of strangers. Comforting.
Le Trois Petite Bochons is possibly the best bar a vin naturel I’ve experienced outside of Paris. Perusing the list is a natural wine fanatic’s fantasy and the food was pretty exceptional. We started off with a champagne-method sparkling wine from the Loire – La Tour Grise 2001 Saumur Brut Non-Dose.
Left on the lees for a long time, the wine offered tons of yeast autolysis, and while dry, it was round and fairly rich. After the rich bubbly, a high-acid white was in order. We followed with a wine that was one of the most memorable of the week: a Boxler 2010 Sylvaner.
Man, Boxler wines are good. These wines show such pronounced acidity, mineral and complexity. There was too much to get excited about on that list. It simply means I have to go back again…
If you want a better overview of wine bars in the city, here is Ms. Martineau’s piece recently published in Food Republic.
There is a lot to love about London but trying to find a good bottle of wine at retail is enough to make you throw your hands in the air with despair and yell “bloody hell” to the gloomy skies. Purchasing wine in the UK usually means one of three things: the mass-appeal supermarket, the generic Off License, or an independent merchant that focuses on classic yet generally boring or pricey wines. If you’re trying to find a range of small-production, minimally-messed with vino, good luck. From here you’re better off taking the Chunnel, or you can go to the recently opened 259 Hackney Road.
On a recent drizzly and blustering day I clocked up miles on my Oyster card in search of something good to drink for the occasion of dinner with some of my best and oldest friends in London. Alex White, from Brawn, had tipped me off. I’d met the delightfully enthusiastic Alex when he came into Chambers Street Wines last month to check out our selection. I handed him a bottle of Ducroux 2011 Prologue – a CSW import, and arguably the best bargain natural wine I’ve had. After he raved about Ducroux on Twitter I knew I could trust him to steer me in the right direction.
The natural wine world is shrinking. Florian Tonello, part-owner of 259 Hackney Road, used to work at Terroir in San Francisco, plus he’s mates with Guilhaume Gerard and Jose Pastor. The shop sells a small selection of French wines, enough to make you drool. There were wines I knew from NYC (Laherte Frères, Puffeney, Chamonard, the P.U.R. wines brought in by Selection Massale) and many that I was unfamiliar with. Florian, along with his partner Milena, introduced me to the range of La Franche beers from a miniscule brewery in the village of La Ferte in the Jura, the Raphaël Monnier (Ratapoil) wines also from the Jura, and J. Quastana from the Touraine. I also decided to pick up a bottle of Chammonard 2010 Morgon simply because it is a deeply satisfying and classy wine. The lager from Jura (La Franche makes a range of different beers, read this piece here) delivered a light froth and bright, yet ever so slightly bitter taste, the Ratapoil Poulsard was pure vin de soif, while the J. Quastana L’insurgé (Gamay) was earthy and light, though it’s au naturel spritz would have benefitted from decanting.
259 has a stylish aesthetic that is representative of its owners (Milena studied at art school) but it is the content and Florian and Milena’s bad-ass attitude that gives this wine shop substance. For the intrepid real-wine geek, when in London, journey to 259 Hackney Road and while you’re there please pick up the Lenoir ’89 Chinon for me!
There’s another wine importer in town, and they’ll cut a dash in your wine fridge. Joining companies like LDM, Jose Pastor Selections, Jenny & Francois, and Mosel Wine Merchants – just a few of the tireless importers in search of real wine – comes Selection Massale, run by Cory Cartright and Guilhaume Gerard. Cartright is known for his natural wine slanted blog, Saignee and for 31 and 32 Days of Natural Wine (a guest-appearance blog featuring contributions from heavyweights such as Joe Dressner and Eric Texier). Gerard used to work at Terroir in San Francisco; he’s got good taste in music and he causes havoc on social media.
German Riesling guru, Lyle Fass, had purchased a bunch of their wines last fall and in Lyle’s generous fashion, he invited the CSW crew to taste. The most memorable moments of the evening had to be the taste of a certain southern Burgundy (more on that later), and as the night progressed to the sounds of Diplo’s remixes of Baile Funk, Lyle ridiculed long skin contact white wines coming out of Italy, “Italian white wine is so bad they had to make that shit orange.” Classic Lyle.
A few weeks later, on a chilly afternoon in December, Guilhaume Gerard came into Chambers Street and littered our sales desk with opened bottles of wine. We gathered around to taste. The Macon wines of Céline and Laurent Tripoz popped up again, and my initial feelings were echoed. Their wines were incredible, some of the best (next to Julien Guillot) I’ve tasted. The 2009 Macon-Loché was crazy mineral (think more red soil minerals than chalky) and the acidity was razor sharp.
Most folks buy Macon or Pouilly-Fuisse Chardonnays because they want something fairly simple, innocuous even, but why not give them a wine that’ll blow their mind? Must a wine always speak of “typicity?” This wine seems to tell us more about plot, Tripoz’ biodynamic farming and laissez-faire winemaking, but if you want a wine that won’t stump you at a blind tasting Cyril Alonso’s P-U-R wines from Beaujolais (also available from SM) make beautiful wines that taste like Gamay all the way. Thanks Guilhaume and Cory.
There are wines that are connected to certain eras. In the early days (the late nineties) of my time at Astor Wines, the bottles that captured attention were the Dagueneaus, Tempiers, CVNEs, Beaucastels, Rayas’ and the DRCs (when it was actually affordable).
It was a time that preceded the natural-wine wave when sound wine drinkers looked to tradition, terroir and typicity. To this day I try to recall the way I related to wine then. It was before blogs, Wine Therapy, Wine Disorder, Twitter and Ten Bells. It’s like trying to imagine life before the internet.
Jim and I worked at Astor together in 1998. It was where we met. We consumed champagne almost every weekend and constantly purchased wines from Burgundy (his love) and the Rhône (my then love). A lot of these bottles have sat collecting dust in his basement studio on Tenth Street in the East Village.
The small and odd collection of wine we’d amassed has grown to have significance for me – pointing to the life I had with Jim for twelve years. The last year was full or turmoil and change but we’re making it through as good friends. Division of goods has been easy and our little cellar was no question. We will still drink our beloved bottles together, and share them with the willing, but we wondered, had the wines been destroyed in temperatures that were not ideal?
We decided to find out by opening two Rhônes on Monday night: Ch. Rayas’ second label Pignan 1996 Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Ch. Fonsalette ’95 Côtes-du-Rhône. Jim hosted dinner, cooked his special burgers (freshly ground beef rump from Ottomanelli) and we shared the bottles with Jon Wallace and John Rankin from Chambers Street Wines.
Both wines showed beautifully and surprised us a little. The ’96 Pignan seemed more evolved than the Fonsalette. 1996 was Jacques Raynaud’s final vintage, before his death in 1997. (He had no offspring and the estate has since been taken over by his nephew. I’ve no idea what the wines are like these days, though I am curious). The fruit was still fairly ripe, the tannins were almost sweet, the wine smelled of violets and old wood (I hear Rayas CdP was typically fermented in tank and raised in foudres but not sure about the élevage for the second label).
What also made Rayas stand apart from other CdP producers was his focus on Grenache. Out of all the varieties permitted by the appellation, his choice was all Grenache, a grape that can produce wines that are cloying in their youth but this was a stunning wine.
The Fonsalette ‘95 was all blood and Marmite (sort of like a beef bouillon cube), tar and iodine, darker and deeper. It reminded me of why I loved the Rhône (North and South) so much and that I shouldn’t have defected entirely (Eric Texier aside) to the Loire of late. For today’s sign o the times, maybe I’ll snag a bottle of Gonon St. Joseph from CSW, and open it in fifteen years.
It was a wretched 90+ temperature degree-day with Russian-bath-level humidity when I headed to LDM’s short n’ sweet tasting last week. I needed to find out what the hell the Foti wines were all about. Lee – the coolest chick in the wine biz – revealed it to be one of the best wines she’s tasted thus far in 2010.
The line-up consisted of about 30-something bottles, mostly old favorites (Puzelat, Chaussard, Montescondo and more) with a few new producers to the portfolio thrown in.
I got to taste Coquelet’s wines from Beaujolais for the first time. Damien Coquelet is Georges Descombes stepson. The Beaujolais Villages ’09 sells for a mere $14.99 at Chambers Street Wines. It was bright, clean, showed really good acidity and stood up to the heat, despite its delicate nature. Then came the Chiroubles ’09, giving more complexity and lead on the palate. Loved it. And not a bad price either at $172 frontline.
There were two wines that weren’t on the tasting list, from the Roussillon. Cheesy labels, but hey don’t judge a wine by its cover. Bruno Duchêne is located in Banyuls-sur-Mer in French Catalonia, Roussillon. La Luna 2009 is a VdP de la Côte Vermeille, made from Grenache and Carignan. It had an earthy nose, red fruits and a sort of gentle, breezy personality, a little like its beachside label depicts. I liked it. A lot. The same producer’s Puchene Collioure Pascolie (mostly Grenache 50+ year old vines) on the other hand is darker, deeper and shows this gorgeous note of violet with an overall gamey-ness about it. Give it to me in the fall for my next pot-roast please. In the meantime, Ten Bells are getting in some magnums of La Luna “and some of his crazy cuvee “L’Anodine” 09.” Whoever (Fifi?) writes the Facebook posts has me curious.
So the Foti wines. Wow-wee. Bianco “Vinujancu” 2008 tastes like a hardcore dry Riesling with a bunch of other stuff. And that is exactly what it is (a blend of Carricante, Riesling, Minella and Grecanico) but it’s also got this mineral, mineral, mineral that really reminds me of why I love Gulfi’s Carricante a lot. It is all, one presumes, in the volcanic soils of Mt. Etna in Sicily. The Rosso was pretty amazing but, ouch, the price [$440 frontline] but it was all the things I love: high acid, bright fruit, pretty, racy and nervy.
Finally, not new, but first time I tried it was the Champs Libres St Péray Brut NV (that is actually made from 2005-harvested Marsanne). Funky-monkey and a little rancio. And I have to mention the Puzelat Pétillant Naturel because the price is right ($160) and it’s a musty, herbaceous, textured, farm-like wine. I’d rather not be stuck in the city right now but be chilling in the country, drinking this stuff.
Oh the bottles I’ve had of this wine, the memories associated with it…the search for gratification from Astor Wines in the East Village to Slope Cellars in Brooklyn. I recall when all accounts ran out because small-production vino offers very, very finite numbers. Like the end of a summer fling, I was broken hearted. The third arm of the methode ancestrale trinity, along with Rene Mosse Moussamousette (and that too ran out late last year) and Renardat-Fâche Cerdon du Bugey, had gone but now it’s back.
Spied in the ice bucket at the recent Savio Soares tasting, I was thrilled to see it’s slender, graceful neck peeking out among a handful of sparkling wine bottles. I took in my first sip for 2010 and marveled at its prettiness and pure grape-y sweetness.
Soares said he’s gotten more in this year but it wasn’t easy. Apparently, everyone wants this wine, including Japan.
I had retreated from the blogosphere. I am now rested, returned and inspired to write accounts of noshing and imbibing. I’m late in reporting on so much: J&F tasting in March, David Bowler tasting in April, the more recent Louis/Dressner tasting and my own personal encounters of deliciousness.
I shall work my way backwards and begin with a lovely little sparkling red gamay acquired from Wine Therapy on Elizabeth Street. I’d spied Emile Heredia’s Boisson Rouge at wine bars in Paris so I was excited to see the pet nat here. From what I gather not much of it makes it to the US. Maybe Wine Therapy got it all, and he only had 5 bottles left of the stuff when I went in. Make that four now.
It’s another cap-closure, witty-labeled, VdT, unfiltered wine. The sparkling is from a second fermentation in the bottle. Jean-Baptiste (the owner) thinks it might be the methode ancestrale. It fizzes up a gorgous pink froth when poured, has a grapey-sweetness to it, is moderate in alcohol (12%) and is a vin de soif all the way. Just as well because last night’s 80+ degrees called for it.
And this wine has more sediment than I’ve ever seen in a bubbly (think vintage port levels).
It’s Natural Wine Week! Winemakers, better described as farmers, from Jenny & Francois’ portfolio are descending upon New York City. Stay tuned for any new loves and lusts (and old flames) I might bump into during the kick off party tomorrow night, leading to a tasting at the Astor Center on Saturday, portfolio tasting Monday and various retail tastings and ticketed dinners around town all week long.
Stop the press: I have a part-time job and it entails getting dressed, stepping out the house and interacting. The year 2009 was not a good vintage for wine writing and so at the turn of a new decade I decided to plunge into the workforce. As luck would have it stylish all-Spanish wine shop, Tinto Fino, was looking to hire a new face, connected to hands that could tap out an engaging sentence or two. Currently on trial period, I can be found manning the shop and writing on my ancient iBook.
In less than a week at Tinto Fino I’ve tasted three Mencia wines. I was weary of the Mencia trend that emerged a few years ago and had tasted several over extracted versions but the three I sipped on most recently were pure pleasure.
Jose Palacios Petalos from Bierzo is a rich wine that is plenty gorgeous and redolent of morello cherries with a faint underlying taste of minerals. A cherry-like tang could also be found in the leaner structured Benaza Mencia (Monterrei D.O.) and finally the Guimaro from Ribera Sacra, which offered generous fruit and that hint of mineral again. There you have it: same grape, three different terrunos and I get to say mencia! with a pseudo Spanish accent.
Supped at my stepson and future daughter-in-law’s recently. There were too many good wines on the table to taste with mozarella di bufala and hanger steak: Alice de Moor’s Tirage de Printemps A Ligoter (Aligoté at its best and available by the glass at Ten Bells), Axel Prufer Le Temps des Cerises (a très naturel Grenache from Languedoc, that’ll knock you off your chair – and appeal to all who lust after Dard et Ribo’s Printemps), Christian Venier le Clos de Carteries ’08 (a Cab Sauv. and Gamay blend (all gritty mineral, nicely tannic and a kiss of wild strawberries).
For aperitif, Hervé Villemand “Bulles” from Cheverny was a cutie and sits in the category of quirky bubbly (where I place Mosse’s Moussamousettes, Brun’s FRV, Bonard’s sparkling Poulsard and Andrea Calek’s Blonde Pétillant). Bulles is a gamay, pineau d’aunis and pinot noir mix – a Dressner import with a hot pink label that’s equal parts punk and chic.
Le Temps des Cerises has been a bit of a natural wine whore of late (google it and see what I mean) but it was my first taste. I was hard pressed to guess its Languedoc origins. Guilhaume Gerard, formerly of Terroir in San Francisico, once described the Dashe Cellars Zinfandel as a “see through” wine during an interview I had with him for an assignment, meaning it wasn’t over extracted, dark, inky or hot, as is so typical of Cali Zins. Le Temps des Cerises reminded me of his idiosyncratic expression. In my glass I swirled a see-thru red wine, which was funky, herbaceous and spritzy too. I love, love, love it, even if almost everyone else does too.