Carrying on Regardless – Lyon

Joe Gilmour Evenings Out, Thoughts

“The Lyonnais: they like their food, they eat it, they talk about it all day long. They don’t care what you think about it. They don’t care if you like it, if you eat it, if you never even try it. They don’t care about you at all.” Bill Buford

The 2019 Michelin guide was published this week and for the city of Lyon, it was nothing to celebrate. A single new star for La Sommeliere, and two restaurants, Guy Lassaussarie and Pierre Orsi downgraded. Bummer. What to do? – Guy confessed his confusion and promised to redouble his efforts after quizzing the inspectors for their reasons. That should be a fun chat. Pierre was more sanguine, he would carry on regardless.

I’ve not eaten at either restaurant, or Paul Bocuse for that matter, but I think it does point to a sort of identity crises in a city that puts gastronomy front and centre of its self-image. We know the history, but where is Lyonnaise cuisine actually going?

London and New York it is not. As they go merrily and expensively picking their way through global influences, hauling in shipments of artisan produce wherever they can find them, draining France of its natural wines and adapting their menus to encompass the two trends in dining that seem to me to be the most striking, lighter options and vegetarian food, so the Lyonnaise mostly plough on with their quenelles de brochet, andouillette and so forth, sitting in cream, or my personal antifavourite, foam, with a galic shrug towards the new.

As for wine, well, in many places, the towering influences of Georges Duboef and Maison Guigal hold sway. There are honourable exceptions for sure, but not that many. Yet maybe the Lyonnaise like it this way. History runs deep here. After all, the heartland of France, a country that has gifted the world with a treasure chest like no other of wine and food, are perhaps operating on a level of gastronomic appreciation that I just cannot wrap my small brain around. It’s not just possible, its likely. Maybe the secret to life actually is cheap Cote de Rhone and tripe?

So, whilst I started writing this heading towards making some dining recommendations, I suddenly felt like I was drawn into a black hole of uncertainty. Feeling totally inadequate to the task of evaluating classic Lyonnaise cuisine versus International or French modernity, my small brain just  exploded with the enormity of the subject. Therefore, I thought I would pivot, and merely describe briefly some of the greatest wine lists in Lyon, after all, with a glass of Rayas in hand, well, you should be game for anything.

Café Terroirs 

One of my favourite spots, and as close to a local restaurant as my partner and I have at the moment. The wine list is a great blend of natural and classic stuff. They get good allocations from Dutraive, Labet, Bernard Moreau, DRC and plenty more. Cracking prices, a 2014 Grand Echezeaux from ‘The Domaine’ was a tad under 500 Euro, CF £1,500 or so in the UK. Pretty remorselessly young though if you’re tempted.

L’Ame de Soeur

Name after the Ogier Cote-Rotie cuvee – this fine restaurant has superb stocks of Ramonet at great prices and some rare Rhone from Allemand and others.

O Vin D’Anges 

The very serious, but utterly devoted Sebastien is a questor and always has a good eye around the next corner and the next domaine. As well as good stocks of wines like Dard and Ribo that he sources direct, he has great recommendations. Why not try something new? Forget about Instagram for a second – you’ll get something really good. Also, super simple, but incredibly good food.

MurAAto

After loading up at Cafe Terroirs, cross the Place des Jacobins towards MurAAto. Cutting edge wines in this newish wine shop / bar, including a bottle of Gentaz I’ve got my eye on in the bar. No word yet as to if AA stands for Alcoholics Anonymous – which now I think about it, would be quite a good name for a wine bar..

L’Ivresse

If you can survive standing up in Antic Wine, the omnipresent Lyonnaise institution of a shop whilst George barks various orders at you as you struggle to input various invoices and purchases orders into the single laptop in store, then you can graduate with hard-earned knowledge of Georges’ extensive contacts and incredible wine expertise. This is what Sylvie has managed and used that experience to help open L’Ivresse, a wine bar on Rue General Plessier. Excellent wine selection of over 500 listings, and basic, well-done food. Strong on the Loire with names like Sylvain Dittiere and Richard Leroy will represented.

En mets fais ce qu’il te plaît

Somewhat idiosyncratic place in the 7th but has a great, very natural list. Katsume Ischida worked with Robuchon, Chapel and Ducasse and he turns out some great French food. Lots of Pacalet, Selosse and naturally-aspired juice.

Burgundy Lounge

If you’re looking to drop some serious coin on Grand Cru Burgundy, enjoy a nice view over the Saone and dig a fine-dining vibe, this may be your place. Casual it is not, but perhaps worth ironing a shirt, if you know someone who wants to crack open some Coche-Dury. Give me a shout if you need someone to drink it with a late notice – I’m just around the corner.

Cafe Sillon

Would have made it and perhaps was the best restaurant in Lyon but now closed. RIP and hope to see you again although I think one of the owners has moved back to the Auvergne. Cheque please!

Joe GilmourCarrying on Regardless – Lyon

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Joe Gilmour

Domaine des Miroirs

Joe Gilmour Evenings Out, Producers

Most people are profoundly agnostic about the wines of Kenjiro Kagami. They have never heard of him. Of those who have, there is a small, but well publicised group of true believers.

Members of the church of Kenjiro drink everything they can find, upon which they make an offering to the gods of social media. Whether the wines really are the holy-grail of Jura, seems beside the point. If a Miroirs wine is felled and no-one can see the empty bottle, was it really drunk?

Is that too cynical though? Maybe just everyone loves the wines and wants to express it on social media. I’m not convinced. The smell of groupthink is too strong. It reminds me of queues outside Supreme. How do we really separate what we like, from what everyone else likes?

To add to the appeal or not of the hunt, depending on your preference, is the lack of a traditional supply / demand dynamic to accompany the market. Like Overnoy, it’s not that prices go up to settle the demand, rather that bottles are rationed by the gatekeepers who get tiny allocations. A typical scene might be that you see it on the list in a restaurant in France, and the owner will size you up before telling you that he won’t sell it to you. Awkward. Is it more exclusionary than not being able to drink a wine because you can’t afford it?

Anyway, because of the above, I hadn’t really formed to much of a strong opinion of the wines, save a couple of encounters in bars over the years. Fuck it, I thought, there are enough exciting young vignerons in Jura who I’d be happy to drink.

A few days ago, I walked up to La Croix Russe for a very small dinner with Kenjiro Kagami and Bruno Schueller, whom he worked for for many years to challenge my assumptions and try and overcome my anti social-media prejudices.

The Domaine started in 2011, before which Kenjiro had worked spells with Thierry Allemand and Bruno, both in their way pathfinders for avant-garde natural wines. They work on 3 hectares of vines in Grusse, about 10,000 bottles a year. The name ‘Miroirs’ itself is both a play on his name in Japanese and he believes an expression of the “Mirror” between himself, the wines and the terroir. It’s a fine concept.

We tried four wines, three before dinner. They had a bit more volume with the 2018 vintage, which I think they were pleased about after some recent short harvests. I asked Kenjiro who his main markets were, he told me he sends 30% to Japan, 30% stays in France, and the remaining 30% is split between all his other export markets.

2016 Domaine des Mirroirs Poulsard

This was beautifully light, very pure, very clean. A wine of elegance and a certain power without weight. Sometimes Poulsard can be more on the earthy, spicy side, like Puffenay, but this was much more on the Chambolle-style bright, cherry fruits.

2016 Domaine des Miroirs Les Saugettes Chardonnay

This was an oxidative style, aged in large foudre and concrete, I think. For me it wasn’t quite so enjoyable, the pure style of the domaine I think works better without the notes that come in with oxidation, as they somewhat drown out the delicacy of the style.

2017 Domaine des Miroirs Savignan

A very nice wine, and lovely Savignan, did it knock me sideways? No, although I’m all too aware of my coarseness. I suppose it depends what you evaluate it against.  With dinner, Kenjiro brought with him a Magnum of his first ever vintage, the 2011. a very rare chance to try and older vintage. #unicorn I guess.

2011 Domaine de Miroirs Les Saugettes Chardonnay

They were so keen to get funds into the estate, they actually made two releases of this cuvee. A first, bottled only in 75cls, then this – a very limited release, only bottled in magnums, that had an extra year of elevage. A really great wine, still showing abundant youth. I suspect that all of the wines from the estate will end up getting drunk way before they hit their peak of maturity if this bottle was anything to go by.

Just to make a few remarks following these wines. Kenjiro was incredibly warm and welcoming, his shyness and humility makes one appreciate the wines even more I think. It is tempting to personify the wines to the man, and the unique sensibility of the Japanese artisan, cf the film, “Jiro dreams of Sushi” that seems to be almost mystic in its appreciation of the finer sensory aspects. Whether this contributes to the aura of the wines is debatable, but certainly tasting with a Japanese vigneron can be a unique experience. Sometimes even verging on the religious.

He is doing terrific work, please forgive my cynicism, and deserves the acclaim of being one of the best producers in Jura. The market for his wines is just a bit bonkers, but there we are.

Joe GilmourDomaine des Miroirs

View from La Madone, Fleurie

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To the right of the town are the slopes where Dutraive’s Cuvee Champagne comes from, in the distance, you can see the town of Morgon to the right of Fleurie, and the hills of the Cotes de Py (although you’ll need the eyes of a hawk)

Joe GilmourView from La Madone, Fleurie

Gaga

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There we were. Standing in front of a lovingly hand-made photo board of Lady Gaga.

“But how can I get my wine to her?” he mused. I confessed I did not know. Send her a bottle? Perhaps she is drowning in samples from of idiosyncratic Rhone blends. She always seemed to me more of a Rose / Champagne gal.

It was two o clock in the afternoon, the bleached white glare of Santa-Maria had been dimmed by the rolled-down security grill outside the winery entrance. Like many small wineries in California, it was a glorified concrete lock-up, situated next to an assortment of car repair companies and here-today, gone-tomorrow businesses. Barrels were stacked towards the back and towards the front, a mattress lay on the floor next to a pile of clothes.

He offered me a glass of Jamesons. It was only two in the afternoon. I felt sick. I was glad there was a foot of sunlight coming from the bottom of the security gates, I wondered about the feasibility of rolling through it. I’d driven 4 hours down from LAX to see this producer whose wines we’d imported, kind of on a whim, after reading some reviews praising his “individual, non-interventionalist, weird, natural” style.

Weird and natural it sure was. When it was good it was excellent. Unfortunately, about half of the bottles had started refermenting in bottle and I was seeking some sort of refund.

So there we were. He showed me some of the wines. They were shocking. There was one wine that he proudly announced had been opened for 7 days and was delicious. How could anyone trust the judgement of a winemaker who showed a wine like this with pride. It was terrible. It was totally oxidised. He could make great wine, I’d tried it in the past. But this was not right.

As if things couldn’t get any weirder, he then proceeded to tell me about his past life.

“Don’t worry. I’ve done the research.” Research that proved that in a past life, he had been the winemaker at Domaine de la Romanee-Conti in the 1860s. That of course, explained why his email account was something like Romanneconti1856@yahoo.com. Of course.

This was a guy in some sort of crisis. He’d broken up with his wife and kids and was sleeping in the winery. Although he was so off the wall with left-field energy, this was not the way he wanted things to pan out, that was for sure. But yet in classic American spirit, he soldiered on, dug in, and I felt terrible at being another weight dragging him down to earth.

To his immense credit, he refunded us in full for the wine. I’m not sure I thanked him enough for that. It was a mark of real decency that we like to imagine is part of the membrane of the wine business.

I don’t know what he’s doing now, I idly looked him up a year or so after the visit and found out he’d lost his license to buy grapes.

Like his wine, he was weird and leftfield, probably not the winemaker at Romanee-Conti in the late 19th century but a good guy, and whatever he’s doing now, I hope he’s happy. His wine was too good for Lady Gaga anyway.

Joe GilmourGaga

Pas de Frimeur – Guy Breton

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Like my dad, Guy Breton used to deliver gas cannisters. An honourable job, no doubt, but one that is not going to sustain some for the long-haul.

So a decision was made around 1986. He was going to take over his grandfather’s family vines. He was going to make wine.

Like all the best decisions, the happy gods of good timing smiled, and he was led, tutored and poured wines by Jacques Neauport and Marcel Lapierre. The Pied-Pipers who led so many of this generation away from the sweetly whispered promises of industrial vinification.

He didn’t listen to them. He joined some like-minded winemakers who wanted to explore this way of making wine. With Marcel Lapierre, Jean Foillard, Jean-Paul Thevenet he had found friends and allies.

The gang worked hard on their wines. Jacques Neauport, a partisan and winemaking consultant to the group, known popularly as Bidasse, rather mischievously told a Le Figaro reporter that while the industrious gang were busy in their cellars, analyzing samples under and checking the development of their wines, the rest of Villie-Morgon was sitting on its collective arse watching game shows on television.

But, my god, I’m myself lying on a bed writing this now,  and realise it is somewhat easy to throw shade on a post-war generation of Beaujolais producers, addicted to herbicides, pesticides and artificial yeasts, but that was the way. It wasn’t as if everyone accepted the trade off between quality and industrial farming. They were told they could have it all. A zeitgeist that said through science lay perfection and perfectibility. Happiness for all.

Additionally, for the prices paid for Beaujolais, for many it was the only way to survive. Making great wines with natural viticulture is great, sure, but feeding your family is better.

Even with work in the vineyards perhaps taking twice as much time, volumes smaller, and vinification more risky, this group didn’t recoup significantly more for their wines. The economics weren’t brilliant and it must have taken years before they were secure in this way of working.

With Petit Max  though, the gang had found a kindred spirit, who you sense, more than any philosophy, just loved the way these wines tasted. Silky, light and so beautiful to drink you finish a bottle before you’ve pulled the cork. They were all winemakers for sure, but they were also drinking friends where the consumption at parties is measured not in bottles but hectolitres. Now, whilst the domaines of Foillard and Lapierre have increased to around 30 hectares, Guy’s has stayed small, only about 4 hectares in total.

I stopped briefly a few weeks ago to see how Guy was getting on with the 16s and 17s, and found him in great form.

After going through the current releases, which are all terrific in their respective styles, and revisiting the 15s a bit, which I think were a great success for him. He opened a blind bottle, which was clearly very old and I guessed towards 1990, but it was the 1989, one of his very first vintages. Judging from the blogosphere, it seems he’s opened a few bottles of this recently. I liked it very much and like all great old Beaujolais it had a very strong sense of Pinosite, but I think perhaps the reason he’s opening a few is he knows it’s probably on the downward path. This wine was bottled without any sulphur, a concept that is, I believe much more Neauportian than Chauvertian, who as a negoce was much more ambivalent about the use of sulphur.

As the morning progressed and I began gulping down Gamay like it was water, he talked about his admiration for the young vignerons, Thillardon and Cotton, his love of the new generation of Lyonnaise restaurants and the future of the region.

I think I can begin to get a sense of this pride at what he has created over the last twenty years. Not a boastful pride, but the quiet sense of satisfaction for the results that his hard work has generated. He is not a showman, not a show-off (Frimeur), and you sense that these are characteristics he greatly disdains. Primeur – Pas de Frimeur!

 

Joe GilmourPas de Frimeur – Guy Breton