Aside from reminding me vaguely of a Talib Kweli album from the late nineties that I listened to over and over for about a month, this is a concept I’ve been thinking about in wine. I visualize it as a sort of mothership of deliciousness, a giant zeppelin with wines tapping into it at various frequencies (or not at all). It overarches all of our palates and unites us in collective, subconscious, gut-level knowledge of what tastes good. Does that make sense?
We tend to speak about taste as highly subjective, but informed by objective greatness (DRC, Selosse, Overnoy Vin Jaune?). We put lots of emphasis on the individual: tearing apart the wine, chambering it in the mouth’s holding cell, spitting it out after an interrogation of its assets and flaws. But I’m starting to believe that delicious wine is primal-y appealing, and in fact eludes this type of interrogation. I wrote a post a few months ago in which I encouraged wine pros to go back to answering the basic question: “do I like this,” which I feel can be more valuable than intense scrutiny and analysis.
One of the positive side effects of schnooking is that you get to taste the same few bottles of wine through out the day alongside different palates. I like to open my sample bottles in the morning to see how they’re showing and whether they need air; I like to formulate my own opinion before tasting with other humans. When something is showing well, I enjoy a little inner smile imagining how various buyers will receive it; if something is not showing well I leave it behind (because, frankly, there’s no point carrying a bottle around all day that has no hope of ever connecting to the mothership); if something is on the fence, deliberating whether to clam up or become more open over the course of the day, I look forward to following its progress.
I’ve observed that if I’ve got a really delicious bottle open, every person who tastes, likes it, which leads me to think that deliciousness isn’t as subjective as we sometimes construe. (My sense is that “on the fence” bottles call up deep subjectivity, but that delicious bottles tap into a greater objectivity: chocolate, sex, 18 month Comte … sure, occasionally someone will say they don’t like chocolate, but they’re lying.)
I’ve been out twice now with Bruno Debize 2011 Beaujolais Cambertiers, and watched every single taster descend into a moment of non-carbonic maceration, dark, brambly, granitic Gamay revery. When a wine stands out, a particular glaze comes over the eye of the taster, analysis fades to the background as the drinker is momentary transported to the mothership via the wine. You’re still with me?
I began to think about Universal Delicious while in Arbois. My Aussie flat-mate’s first glass of Jura white wine was 2011 Buronfosse Savagnin L’Hôpital. (I don’t have a picture of this bottle.) With no preparation for the style whatsoever, she dove straight into the wine with gusto and pleasure. With no background for the oxidative flavors of naturally made, virtually sulfur free, high-acid Savagnin, she loved the wine, its balance of rich, lactic flavors and succulent, mouth-watering green apple and quince. For a few hours, or however long it took us to drain the bottle, there was vocal and high-frequency connection to the mothership.
When I started this post I didn’t intent to speak about 1) the mothership 2) Debize Cambertiers, or 3) Buronfosse L’Hôpital. The original plan was to site several examples of deliciousness from the past couple of weeks, and leave it at that. I’ve been sacrificing my liver to this new portfolio of wines, so Selection Massale is certainly represented here. But there are also pleasant surprises that have nothing to do with (#?) schnook life.
My former boss David Lillie had been trying to get these wines to New York for about 1.5 years. As those of us who have struggled with Jura growers know, there’s generally a gestation period of about a year and a half before wine arrives on our shores. It’s a great mystery why it takes these guys so long … but happily it’s almost always worth the wait. At any rate, David tasted these at a trade show in Colmar and loved them. While waiting for them, we spoke about P de B weekly, and I became very excited to try the wines. At long last, while I was in Europe, they turned up! I grabbed the Trousseau first, and one by one the topped up and sous voile white wines, and Vin Jaune. A number of my former customers and friends asked my opinion, which is that all were excellent.
Pont de Breux is a four hectare Domaine in Salins-les-Bains, which is a few kilometers from Arbois, and known for its salty, poor, Kimmeridgean soil. Historically Salins was a salt-mining town, and it’s known for the high quality of its Trousseau. Jean-Charles Maire of P de B has the same unfortunate last name as Henri Maire, the biggest négociant in the region. Jean-Charles is no relation, and P de B is minuscule, off the radar even by Jura standards. I asked Stéphane Tissot how he felt about P de B, and he said he wasn’t crazy about the style. Then again Stef’s a bit of a modernist in some ways, and Jean-Charles Maire’s wines are about as traditional as they come. Good thing we have room for both!
I drank Pont de Breux’s Trousseu with my friend Evan, who solves my tech problems as I bribe him with Jura wine and Champagne. (It’s a beautiful relationship.) At the onset the bottle was a bit tightly coiled and reductive, but the reduction departed almost immediately to reveal delicate, dark-fruited, floral and aromatic, crunchy, limestone-y Trousseau that was quintessentially Jurassic (and I should mention a fabulous deal at $21.99). A few weeks later, I found myself in Evan’s digs again (this time bribing him with Loirette), and he brought up Pont de Breux’s Trousseau. “You know, Sophie, after you left, I drank the last little bit in the bottle, and that is a Serious Wine!” He was right. It’s a wine that toys with delicacy and substantiality in a gorgeous way. I’m thrilled for David that the wines made it to New York safe, sound, and communicating with the mothership.
I’ll spare the line about how I don’t drink Bordeaux. I’ve actually drunk a number of them over the past few months, and while it’s not my favorite kind of wine, being generally a little too “red” for my taste, I’m happy to say I’m more open to Bordeaux at this moment than I’ve been in years. I took out the Selection Massale Haut-Médoc because I needed something classic and high quality to taste with my friend Raj who buys the wine at restaurant Daniel. (For some reason Pet Nat just didn’t seem like the thing to show Raj.) Without food, after having pounded some green apple tictacs, and on an unfavorable day according to the biodynamic calendar, this bottle was outstanding. I’ll refer here to what Cory said in a mailer about Jaugueyron:
“Michel Theron isn’t a chateau owner, nor does he employ a cellar master and vineyard manager to actually make the wine, as most Chateau owners do. He isn’t even from Bordeaux, having been transplanted from the Languedoc years before. He owns a small house tucked away in the forest outside Margaux and makes wine in his big garage. He isn’t however a new naturalist, he doesn’t believe in zero sulfur or cold carbonic maceration to tame the wines. He is, as I learned tasting with him and driving through the vineyards, a great believer in the old style of Bordeaux. Ageworthy, restrained, terroir driven neither the terroir obliterating modernism that has come to sadly typify the region, nor the wild naturalism that seeks immediacy and fruit in the bottle. Just old school bordeaux.”
It’s worth going back and reading the mailer, which is heartfelt, informative, and funny. Anyway, after meeting with Raj, I took the wine home to find Susannah (friend, roommate, and Italian wine buyer at Flatiron) finishing a late dinner with another friend Theo (formerly of Milk and Honey, now the cocktail coordinator of all the New York airports). In its sixth hour open, the wine was in its element, showing graphite and a bit of barnyard, gravelly depth like the voice of singer/songwriter Mark Lanegan, firm yet well-inegrapted tannins on the finish, and a core of intense, ballsy dark fruit. Never ones to mince words and thus in polar opposition to yours truly, Raj and Susannah made identical utterances in response to this wine: “That’s delicious.” Did more need to be said? I’m not sure, we left it at that …
Be forewarned, I’ll be getting cheesy. In my mind, this is always Puffeney’s top wine, but my first few sips of this bottle gave me pause. It showed the sweet, cherry cordial aromas that have marked some of The Pope’s recent releases. All the minerality and firmness and balance were there, but that hint of cherry cordial was off-putting. This is a wine that has historically been right up next to the mothership, but in this case I wasn’t sure. As I sipped my glass, however, I remembered a number of things: the fact that Puffeney harvests later than everyone else. He waits for the last days of fall sun to ripen his grapes. By extension I remembered running into Benoït and Valérie Lahaye at Hirsinger in downtown Arbois. They were there to pick with Puffeney because 2014 was his last harvest; it was a gesture of fondness and respect for this man whose wines have won the hearts of so many. I remembered going to the Jura for the first time years ago, with Clarke, leaning out of the car window in Montigny to ask a woman my grandmother’s age “Pardon madame; je cherche la maison de Jacques Puffeney … ” I remembered picking in the Bérangères vineyard, which is behind Stef’s winery, on a little side road. It’s a beautiful spot, a steep sun-drenched slope that is perfect for this dark, wild grape with its bizarre Iberian origin. Most American Jura purists will tell you they prefer Poulsard, but Trousseau attains very high heights in the hands of Jacques Puffeney; there’s no denying it. All these thoughts crowded in as I was drinking, and at the end of the glass I loved the wine as one loves a classic, well-wrought thing soon to be no more.
When the glass was empty, I indulged in a last memory of wandering up a hill late at night in the midst of our raucous end of harvest party, standing on the edge of the Bérangères vineyard looking up at the stars, reveling in the absolute silence of the place, the thought looping cracked-vinyl-style “Sophie, when you get back to New York, when you get back to your life, you’ll think of this time, and it’ll seem so distant and magical, you’ll hardly believe it happened … ”