It happens. The thing that fueled the fire of inspiration in January is mysteriously gone in March; a daily battle is waged between winter and spring, with winter still sadly the more frequent victor. Ennui and melancholy take over and one alternates between lying in bed wallowing, trying to stay warm, and drowning the sadness with senseless cups of coffee and glasses of wine with friends. Where did they go, those afternoons spent diligently attempting to transform aromas, textures, and flavors into words? Suddenly it all seems meaningless. Existential crisis. Yet crisis that thankfully abates with the next trip to France and the promise of adventure on the horizon.
This isn’t to say that I haven’t drunk some fun wines recently, but there’s no thematic unity. Because there are so many massive trade shows in late February and early March, tasting wine becomes a chore, and then there’s the obligation to drop by various boozy functions to greet out-of-town vignerons. Somewhere a reader is groaning: “cry me a river (or, as my dad would have said: “tears as big as horse turds…”), but in all earnestness, this is a job with its thrills and hardships just like any other.
One particularly bleak morning a few weeks ago (is there a darker time than the last two weeks of February?), the entire lineup of Pascal Doquet Champagnes miraculously turned up at Chambers Street like a cluster of spring crocuses. I’ve had a number of excellent experiences with these wines over the past few years, both with recent disgorgements of older vintages (1995, 1996, 2002, 2004), and with newer releases of non-vintage bottlings. I will save the fine details for future posting because I’ll be visiting Monsieur Doquet in a month and will be able to furnish more information. Doquet makes wine in the Côte des Blancs: Vertus, Mesnil, Oger, Mont Aime, and the style is broad, chalky, toasty, and varying in balance depending on the cuvée. While I liked Doquet’s old vine 2002 Mesnil, I preferred the 1995, from a cooler vintage and with blocked malolactic fermentation. In general, these wines attract me in slightly cooler years. 2004 Vertus, for example, was stunning at our tasting, with savory flavors, chunky and cheesy with a firm and lingering spine of chalk and acid. It was even better when I reopened the bottle that night. I was also mightily impressed by Doquet’s basic non-vintage Blanc de Blancs, which showed a fine laciness, delicacy, and chalky filagree. As with humans, one doesn’t demand of young Champagne the complexity, the soulful depth of an older vintage, one looks for easy attractiveness and smiles. One asks it to be made well and delicious.
Not long after this tasting, I began to correspond with Monsieur Doquet, who surprised me with his friendliness and eagerness to banter. As a general rule when it comes to email (if they use email…), vignerons are all business. Countless times I’ve opened correspondence with casual American small talk (“I read the most recent review of your wines in Le Rouge et Le Blanc; congratulations on the great write-up!”), and been met with terse “what day and time would you like to come taste with us?” Pascal Doquet peppered his first email to me with several emoticons (je n’ai jamais encontré un vigneron qui les utiliser), was full of praise of the selection at Chambers Street Wines, and complimented my French, which is a constant work in progress and far from good. Needless to say I’m very much looking forward to my visit, and in the meantime, I enjoy a grin of pleasure glancing at the bottles of Doquet on the shelf.
A few days after our Doquet pick-me-up, I decided that the best way to combat emotional ennui and insanely cold weather was to throw myself into my work, which in this case meant drinking a vast lake of wine from the Savoie. I began with Dupasquier, a Domaine just shy of ten hectares in Jongieux. When Guilhaume Gerard of Selection Massale moved to New York a few years ago, I tasted these wines and absolutely swooned for the Pinot Noir; this time it was the 2010 Gamay that got me, which is not to disparage the Roussette or the Mondeuse; both are outstanding as well. What is most arresting about these wines is their ripeness. I gather it’s because the grapes are grown on or around Marestel (“Mah-reh-tel” no “s”), which is an incredibly steep, south-facing vineyard that benefits from daytime warmth and nighttime cool. The wines age in old barrel and are released fairly late, which undoubtedly also contributes to their warm textures and seamlessness. For me, Dupasquier’s Gamay offered the perfect marriage of herbal, Alpine flavors, and ripe, sweet, tangy red fruit. I convinced a friend to take one home; he reported back that he found the wine “sociable,” and I imagined I knew what he meant: sweet enough to spend an afternoon with, but soulful and interesting enough that he didn’t get bored. Just when the wine’s brambly, leafy, herbal nose and succulent front palate begin to wane, there’s a backbone of bloody, sanguine minerality.
I loved every sip, and I especially enjoyed knowing the difference between “recolte à la main” and “cueille à la main.” It’s the little things in life.
On Wednesday of last week our Belluard allocation arrived and my personal celebration of the Savoie (in this case the Haute-Savoie) continued with the arresting Gringets of this fabulous Domaine by Chamonix-Mont Blanc. This time (only our second purchase of Belluard outside of the non-vintage Ayse), we received Altesse “Grandes Jorasses” from the estate’s half hectare parcel. I tasted my bottle with a number of other humans ranging from Guilhaume to the kind folks at Terroir TriBeCa, and over the course of the afternoon and evening as the bottle circulated, it became so absolutely lush and sexy that it drowned out everything else in competition for my attention. (And it was exceptional with fried chicken.) Words may fail me here. The aromas of Altesse are exotic and range from white peaches and cream to mango to white flowers such as narcissus and gardenia to pale, wildflower honey. Belluard’s offers this spectrum of feminine aromas with weight, succulence, and a ripe, honeyed sensation on the palate that’s not unlike Loire Valley Chenin Blanc. And then there’s the fresh current of mineral running through to the finish. This is likely disclosing more than you, dear reader, wish to know, but there’s a category of wines to be drunk in bed (implication: with someone else), and this is certainly at the top of the list. (And it was exceptional with fried chicken.)
In despair at the lack of Jura red wine available, I picked up some stray cases and bottles from Rosenthal Wine Merchant, including some 2012 Gahier Trousseau “La Vigne du Louis.” I didn’t have low expectations, but I didn’t have high ones either. The last time I tasted through a lineup from Michel Gahier, I liked about half the wines. In 2011 I went to visit Gahier and was extremely impressed by him; he’s understated, thoughtful, kind, and talented. It’s easy to forget because Neal Rosenthal imports his stuff in New York that Gahier’s a natural winemaker. He has less than seven hectares of vines in Montigny-lès-Arsures (the best terroir for Trousseau), which he says is the most he can work by himself and without chemicals. He began to bottle under his own name in the ’90s, though his family has been making wine in the area for generations. When Gahier first came to the market, he was billed as a sort of Puffeney protégé, but I think in fact while he and Puffeney are friends (and neighbors — Montigny is tiny), they didn’t actually work together, and the styles are really different. The “Bérangères” vineyard, whence Puffeney’s Trousseau, is adjacent to “Les Grands Vergers,” whence one of Gahier’s Trousseaus. I was delighted to find, however, in drinking “La Vigne du Louis,” a wine with which I wasn’t previously familiar, a very pale color, an ethereal delicacy, and a light carbonic spritz on the palate that one wouldn’t find in either “Bérangères” of “Grands Vergers.” With lots of wild strawberry and sour fruit on the nose, the wine opened up to reveal a delicious soily-ness and grapes-smashed-on-rock character that I loved. After an hour, the tannins and limestony minerality on the finish became one, bringing the wine together and giving it ineffable Jurassic tang. Perhaps a bit to particular to be “sociable,” for me who has acquired the taste after a number of years of quaffing these oddball wines, it was a lovely companion two evenings in a row. Really, can one ask more?
Today spring seems to be winning the war. It’s not warm, but the light is changing; the sun’s setting later, and the air isn’t quite so biting. We’ll wear shorts again, and drink Rosé on the deck, smile and laugh. Writer’s block won’t last forever, only until the next wave of inspiration.