What a shitty few weeks this is turning into, with no prospect of immediate improvement. This is the first of a few posts of odd bottles I’m drinking. Taking the opportunity to raid the cellar, flatten the curve of ennui, self-isolate some good bottles and boost the mood.
1999 Latour-Martillac Blanc
In my opinion, the spectrum of quality in Sauvignon Blanc is more compressed than for other varieties. At the top you may have say Vatan, Haut-Brion Blanc and at the bottom you may have various Sauvignon Blancs of dismal aspiration and industrial quantity. But in between, the difference between say, Francoise Cotat, Didier Dagueneau, this wine and Laville Haut-Brion is not that large.
This 1999 is drinking sensationally. The colour is bright yellow, almost luminous, the nose full of sharp apples, energy, fresh minty oak and excellent structure. It is fading a little on the finish, but it’s done its job superbly. Tough sell these days as the market for White Bordeaux is sadly not that huge. Why is this? I was thinking of Dagueneau when I had this, whose wines range from thrilling to deeply average. A very overrated producer now but one whose wines sell inexplicably like loo-roll in a health scare.
2018 St-Joseph Lou Taissou
This is a wine of great quality, but on the first night it was too young and showing mostly exuberant fruit – on the second night it had much more savoury character, white pepper and Northern Rhone brio – a quite luxurious wine. From younger vines, so perhaps lacking some of the intensity that one might get elsewhere, but devastatingly stylish.
My early adventures in mixing my two favourite beverages,
milk and apple juice didn’t go too well. Time has been a patient teacher
though, and I’m getting better. Without the prying and suspicious eyes of other
wine professionals, I’ve been practicing in the kitchen. Mixing wines.
Selosse Champagne too expensive for a Monday night? try 1
part Fino sherry to 2 parts NV Champagne. Want to keep hold of your 1996
Leflaive’s* for a special occasion, try a decent young Maconnais with a quarter
of old Jura Chardonnay. Sacriligious maybe. Idiotic possibly, but an
interesting experiment when you have many wines open of various things.
I think it’s easier to blend white wines then red, particularly
as a way of marrying aged complexity with vitality.
I haven’t limited the experience to cheap wines either, I
remember blending some different vintages of Vega Sicilia and finding the sum
of the parts greater than any of the components.
It seems it’s a passion shared by fellow wine lover and lost soul Rudi Kuneriwan. Wanted and found by the FBI for one of the largest wine counterfeiting operations of modern times. Me, I think he just liked to blend old wines. He just took it too far. Quite a bit too far. I have a certain sympathy with the view of the Gray Report who says:
“Who would you rather spend an evening with: the forger Rudy
Kurniawan, or the people who bought fake wine from him? Kurniawan, an Indonesian
national with a great palate, would be so much more interesting. I can’t think
of a worse way to spend three hours than beside some guy who calls himself
“the Punisher” because he has more prestigious bottles in his cellar
than I do.”.
Although anyone who calls himself the ‘punisher’ may well be a good laugh and Rudy does come across as a one-dimensional wine-nerd whose idea of chat consists of responding to whatever wine you describe with a superior one that he just drunk.
Some of his recipes went along the following lines: 1945
Mouton – 50% 1988 Cos d’Estournel, good elegant but quite understated wine –
so, soup it up: 25% Chateau Palmer, 25% Californian Cabernet. Sounds quite nice.
Could it pass as 1945 Mouton? I doubt it.
Additionally – I would also rather drink
unadulterated versions of the first 2 wines, than that melange. There is something
to be said for the original after all. Part of the attraction of mixing two
wines is that you can try them separately first –
If not, in a strange sort of way, philosophically, you’re
not actually mixing wines anyway.
Driving up the winding hill towards Secheras, encouragement for past cyclists rolls beneath you. Allez Contador, Courage!!
In Secheras, a one-horse town, Jeff Malsert is piecing his estate together. Like attacking a hors-classe ascent, it is a physical and mental feat of some tactical dimension. Shrewdness and tactics are important, as is sheer bloody-mindedness.
After saying goodbye to his mate dropping of some manure: “Totally full of shit” he details the work in converting an old barn into his winery. The sheep pen will one day be a small office when he gets round to clearing out the droppings and fortifying the collapsed roof.
After vinifying his first vintage at a friends winery, he has moved here and is slowly laying the foundations as cash allows. Of friends, he has a few, having run the local wine bar for years. It was these friends who provided the influence, and the support for the new venture. In terms of specifics, he says he particularly respects the vineyard work of the Gonons and the vinification style of Herve Souhat and Dard and Ribo’s wines. What he seeks is the energy of the natural style, allied to the stability and ageworthy-ness of a more traditional style. This, to me seems to be the sort of post-modern philosophy of many producers whose wines I really enjoy drinking.
In his cellar, is an assortment of maturation vessels, amphorae, demi-muid and Kveri. He recently returned from a trip to Georgia and is clearly enthusiastic about the qualities that clay can impart in terms of oxygen ingress and lees circulation.
It’s probably ones imagination but there is a cool, mineral sort of quality that seems to be imparted to the wines, like you’re resting your cheek against the cooling clay walls of the vessel.
This year as well as the St-Joseph Reds, Sabbots, Lou Tassou and a Blanc, there is a tiny production Viognier and a really exciting Gamay, a la Francois Dumas / Souhat. All made in quantities that are at maximum 2,400 bottles.
Whilst it was slow work in the early days for pioneering Dard & Ribo, you sense things will move quicker for Jeff. His wines are really excellent and roaringly succeeds in his aim of marrying energy with structure and stability. Something only a handful of Northern Rhone producers can do. He’ll have that office up in no time at all. Hopefully he won’t be spending any time in it.
To be honest, when I buy wine from anyone, I’m not usually particularly interested to know what’s going on in their private life. I can certainly take or leave Neal Martins music recommendations or musings about KFC.
But, for better or worse, when you have a kid, all kind of considerations of what other people might be thinking go out of the window. So, voila;
This is only really to explain, service for the last 4 months and perhaps the next few might be a bit patchy, so please accept my humblest apologies, as my focus is shifted a bit outside the company. Wine should be a human shaped business. Lots of time to sell stuff, not much time to be with a newborn.
The wines of Dutraive are some of the most sought-after in Beaujolais. They have managed to escape terminal-velocity and now orbit in the same scarcity / price trajectory that Yvon Metras inhabits.
Having spent the day with solid high-achiever Guy Breton, I was drawn to buy a bottle of Dutraive’s 2018 Fleurie Cuvee Champagne to try and make some sort of evaluation. I’ve talked to good numbers of his fans, a sommelier in Lyon who worked harvest with Jean-Louis, who rates his wines as the best of all.
When you try and buy a wine like Dutriave from his wine-list in Cafe Terroirs he says: C’est Complique. Getting wines from Dutraive is, naturalement, Complique. Why it is complique, is not always tres clair. Probably the usual, not much wine, fragmented distribution, so everyone has 6 – 60 bottles, they are reluctant to sell, but they are too morally conscientious to put the price up. Donc, c’est complique.
We started the day with Guy Breton, P’tit Max, who continues to look a poster-boy for a sup of Gamay each day. He suggested a drop in my sons milk. Un Bebe Bourgignon, he said in praise of little Williams bonnie weight and stature. His 2018s were typically superb, a healthy vintage, full of joie de vivre, and from the brisk numbers of visitors during our visit, doing a bonnie trade. The 2015 Morgon VV that he pulled out for comparison was most interesting, a real Grand Vin, full and expressive. I think he is very proud of this wine in a very challenging season, and one that runs against his usual style of svelte, expressive wines that are not carrying any excess fat.
As usual, I feel his Regnie is the standout outside the Morgons. When I asked why he doesn’t put the price up, he said he felt the appellation of Regnie was not particularly well known, then made some joke at my expense that the table found very amusing, and not understanding it myself, at risk of looking like a total boob, thought I might hedge my bets by joining in their laughter. Him: My English client is an idiot! Me: Ha ha ha,
Before getting back to the appartment, we happened upon the wine shop “Le Troisieme Fleuve”. This 3rd Fleuve of the title refers to the river of Beaujolais that flows into Lyon alongside the Saone and Rhone.
The 2018 Cuvee Champagne was drunk out of my son’s plastic milk top. My rental apartment had only one wine glass, which gentleman that I am, gave to my partner. Nevertheless, some thoughts about Dutraive based on this bottle and others in the past.
They can flaunt with faultiness. This bottle was on the edge, the other one I drank recently was I think flawed, a 2014 Fleurie Grand Coeur.
The colour is not clear, they are very transparently put in bottle.
There is great complexity and definition, with high acidity. Which makes me think they are picked earlier then a producers like Breton, Foillard, Lapierre, Thevenet, who perhaps strive for more in the way of expressive fruit.
This sense of minerality / acidity / extract that comes from less ripe fruit is a meta-theme of very trendy wines with a certain segment of the population, of which I might be one.
I put the wine in the fridge and have just finished the other half enjoying France has talent (See Punk Accordian player below — 3 yes’s BTW) and the mousiness was really quite marked on the second evening.
Verdict: In the words of Bill Nanson, rebuy – no! Not for me. I do applaud in one sense, producers like this, Metras, and Desjourney who are reframing Beaujolais in different directions. But for my very closeted personal drinking, it is not a direction I particularly want to go unless someone else is paying. I do like the wines, but got a bloody kid to look after, after all.. C’est complique.
Legendary old-timer Raymond Trollat would sometimes off-handedly remark that one vintage or another was ‘a wine for a wedding’, something gulpable, always elegant, his wines for many embody the platonic ideal of St-Joseph.
Little did those guys glugging down bottles of Trollats wine at local weddings in the 1980s know that it would be selling for 1000s of dollars per bottle twenty years later.
The Gonon’s, who inherited many of his old vines, make more structured, and really, I think, better wines than he ever made. But, better is to miss the point, they were what they were. Honest reflections, without artifice, of the St-Joseph terroir where worked he his vines. Whilst he never sold a bottle for more then 15 Euros in his life, and he remains humbly compensated for his work, his wines can sell for quite stupefying amounts of money. You wonder what he makes of it. You might hope he has a sense of humour. As much as I appreciate and are willing to pay for the work of the older generation of Rhone vignoble, maybe we are starting to lose a bit of perspective here.
Let’s not fetishize a vignerons work after they retire, let’s celebrate their work while they’re still around. Let’s support vignerons doing great work, instead of mindlessly buying the same celebrated names. So, what should we buy then? Answer, this! Even as a disciple of the Northern Rhone, this was a relatively new name for me until a caviste in Lyon insisted I try it in a flurry of enthusiasm and comparisons to the great old, long departed names of the Rhone valley.
If you look up from Trollat’s house, you can see the vines and small farmyard of the Desbos family up the valley. If you look even closer, you can see the chickens, goats and perhaps Rameses, Philippe’s horse. The work they do there is I think every bit as worthy as that of Monsieur Trollat, and their wines are what they are, authentic expressions of St-Joseph made in small quantities, in the most traditional of styles. No more, no less.
Phillipe Desbos of Domaine de Gouye is part of the ‘confidential wine culture’ as John Livingstone-Learmonth puts it, and although he spent some timing working with Jean-Luc Colombo, their outlooks couldn’t really be much different. Ambling in bare feet amongst the chickens, he is grounded in a stable outlook and philosophical pragmatism about the process of winemaking and business in general. One of the advantages of running a domaine of his size is there is never pressure to sell wine. There is always more demand than supply.
The domaine gets its name from the lieux-dit it sits in above St-Jean de Muzols. Gouye is seperated by a small ravine from the Pichonnier and Aubert plots that Trollat used to farm. Philippe has 3 hectares here planted between 1955 and 1975. Due to its height, the grapes can maintain freshness even in hot years like 2003. Whole bunches are utilised, and the vinification is done in a mix of concrete and wood. Pressing is completed in an old 1868 press and the wine is aged in foudre for between 9 and 24 months. About 7,000 bottles are produced, a majority of which is St-Joseph rouge but there is a little VDP Gabouilon from a small syrah plot on the plateau. There are three versions of St Joseph, a vielles vignes rouge, a 24 mois cuvee, which is aged for a longer time in foudre, and a rare white wine. The family farm manually and use almost no herbicides as they plow by horse, a gentler practice that is also still very efficient for these hill-side vines.
A quite wonderful clip from TF1 showing man and beast in action.
Joe Gilmour-Gouye, Trollat and the Madness of Crowds