30 June 2011

not dead

Recent blog silence is due to a dastardly confluence of unavoidable misfortunes: the death of my laptop, and men's fashion week. I wasn't dressing in black for shows this week to look cool. I was mourning my laptop.

The kind* Geniuses** at the Apple store were thankfully able to sort it out for me. In some uncharacteristic fit of rational foresight at point of purchase two years ago I apparently subscribed to Apple Care. It took the duration of men's week for the Geniuses to fix, or seemingly replace most of, my laptop, meaning that very shortly I'll be back to my usual routine of nonstop wine yammering into the nothingsphere.

Below is me and my friend / colleague E, in mostly black:

20 June 2011

pro bistro: l'ébauchoir, 75012

It occurred to me the other evening, during my first visit to 12ème neighborhood bistro l'Ebauchoir with my visiting friends M and A, that upon entering we had effectively rendered it impossible to evaluate the restaurant's normal service standards, by ordering an ostentatiously excellent bottle of Champagne like it was nothing.

It was M's first night in Paris, where he'd been flown after winning a blind-tasting contest sponsored by Ruinart. He was celebrating. It was Anselme Selosse's "Version Originale" Blanc de Blancs, dégorgée 2009. I got over my micro-journalistic quandary pretty quickly.

And regardless - if the extenuating minor-league baller circumstances can be overlooked - I suspect that l'Ebauchoir's sterling service would have been just as sincere had we ordered a Loire pétillant. L'Ebauchoir is that rare thing in Paris: an efficient, well-run, philosophically-sound restaurant, replete with a sharp, expansive natural wine list.

16 June 2011

monk time: julien guillot at quedubon, 75019

Much of the natural wine I rave about on this blog is arguably the result of vignerons' efforts to recall  - under whatever banner, organic or natural or biodynamic - preindustrial viticultural traditions: practices whose logic was necessarily dictated less by market demand for a consistent recognizable product, than by local tastes, and the particularities of the regional environment. 

That wines made with these ideals in mind often show so exciting and fresh and new - that they occasion strange scaremongering newspaper articles in nations so close, at least geographically, as England - is testament not to their actual newness, but to how drastically the product we call wine has changed since it encountered the global marketplace. 

At 19ème natural wine bistro Quedubon's recent "Vivent les Vins" tasting, I was pretty enthralled by the bracing Mâcon wines of Julien Guillot of Domaine des Vignes du Maynes, whose oddity "Cuvée 910" bottling in particular seems to demonstrate the potential - both for quality, and for surprise - of the old ways. 

15 June 2011

jura bike trip: dinner chez bindernagel

Upon descending into Ludwig Bindernagel's nascent cave space at his chambre d'hôte in Poligny, we encountered - someone else's wines, and a small pile of cheese.

"Oh, let me get that," said my friend D, who'd resourcefully, if cheekily, placed the take-home groceries we'd purchased that morning in the cave without informing our hosts. Ludwig, ever genial, said nothing of it, and continued to show us around the cave. 

We didn't do any barrel tasting - if I remember correctly there was just a tiny lot of Pinot Noir stationed in Poligny, and the rest of his operation is based in Arlay, a nearby villlage that we were unfortunately unable to visit on this trip. Instead we poked around a bit, admiring the work he'd done in clearing the old cellar, and then returned to surface level, where Nathalie had prepared an enormous feast, accompanied - at last! - by a few of Ludwig's splendid wines.

14 June 2011

show us your bourgogne

The other day, as I was leaving the comically cramped rear dining area of beloved 2ème Auvergnat canteen Le Petit Vendôme, I noticed a bottle whose label had evidently charmed the owners enough to be put on permanent display.

The label appears to be a pictorial representation of the vineyard name, which translates roughly to "Show your bum."

13 June 2011

jura bike trip: macvin ice cream at le grand jardin, baume-les-messieurs

One thing I noted in the Jura was the relative abundance of artisanal ice creams I saw advertised in village after village there. It wasn't, like, the Ile St. Louis or anything, but it was noticeable. I expect it has something to do with the region's other chief industry,* the production of comté. Most villages are home to at least one fruitière, or cooperative cheesemaking operation, often linked with local winemaking cooperatives.

During our pit stop in Arbois on the first day we'd gotten ice cream from a stand whose brand I forget. The ice cream, too, was forgettable - like bad gelato, oversweetened, with far too much air in it. Nevertheless we decided to give Jura ice cream another try on our way back from Domaine Macle, when our attempts to go see the abbey at Baume-Les-Messieurs** were frustrated by a major repaving operation. On our way out of town we found ourselves admiring an older gentleman's vintage motorcycle on the terrace of a restaurant called Le Grand Jardin.

Initially we planned to just get apéros. But we'd just had some fairly weighty, consequential wines earlier than afternoon, before more sunbeaten uphill biking. Ice cream was more appealing, and - the clincher - they had some amusing regional flavors, such as Macvin.

10 June 2011

day brightener: domaine du picatier at quedubon, 75019

Paris' natural wine scene, like any subculture, can get a bit repetitive. I've been in town just two quick years, and already I find few new discoveries at a public tasting like the one held at 19ème bistro Quedubon the other Sunday, entitled "Vivant Les Vins!"  The wines themselves are familiar, if not from the similar line-up Quedubon proprietor Gilles Bernard hosted last year, then from other tastings and dinners around town since then. And the vignerons, cavistes, restaurant staff, and so forth who reliably appear at these things comprise a cast of a hundred or so, no more.

At times it can seem like all that's changed is the vintage. Which, in the case of the entry level wines of reliably good natural winemakers,* does not always imply a markedly new wine. Another slightly oxidative Chenin, eh? More bright Gamay, more Grolleau? No kidding.

It was heartening, then, to encounter at Quedubon that day the surprisingly solid, opinion-reversing red cuvées of Côte Roannaise estate Domaine du Picatier, which fall under the heading of Things I Thought I Knew But Did Not.

09 June 2011

jura bike trip: domaine macle, château-chalon

In Donald Barthelme's short story "The Glass Mountain," the narrator scales the face of a mountain, enduring bitter winds and the taunts and jibes of skeptical acquaintances below, only to be disillusioned upon attaining the summit, where the enchanted symbol he's been seeking turns into an "ordinary princess." The unspecified symbol, with its "layers of meaning," had been worth the narrator risking his life for, whereas a princess, quantified and familiar from fairy tales like the one that inspired "The Glass Mountain," can be discarded without remorse.

After our picnic among the vines below the village of Château-Chalon, we climbed a mountain to reach the cellars and tasting room of Domaine Macle, whose little-seen, essentially undistributed wines remain the enchanted symbol of the whole strange appellation.

08 June 2011

jura bike trip: picnic dans les vignes, château-chalon

Before our tasting at Domaine Macle in Château-Chalon we stopped for a picnic below the town.  Ludwig Bindernagel had told us the night before about a tiny parcel of land, less than 1ha, that he had purchased and was preparing to plant with Savagnin; near this parcel, he said, was an excellent spot for a picnic. The appropriate cluster of vineyards was marked with a handpainted wooden sign that said "Le Nid" ("The Nest"), visible from the road.

My friends and I identified Ludwig's new parcel as soon as we arrived - the earth was freshly turned and an infinity of stones awaited arduous removal. As far as we could see, however, there was no shade anywhere near it. Since we had just pushed our bikes halfway up the steep straw-narrow path in fierce sunlight and were about to collapse, we installed ourselves some ways away from Ludwig's parcel, on the outskirts of neighboring vineyard beneath a tree.

Although drinking at that point of exhaustion was more appealing in theory than in practice, we cracked open the bottle of 2008 Domaine des Cavarodes Vin de Pays de Franche-Comté and tucked into some comté and saucisson.

07 June 2011

jura bike trip: marmara kebab, poligny

Our dinner together being planned for the night after, we asked our vigneron host Ludwig Bindernagel if he had any suggestions for where to eat on a Sunday night in Poligny. His response was quick, cheerful, and unequivocal: Marmara Kebab, a Turkish kebab spot just around the corner. I got the impression he wasn't just suggesting the place because it was the only thing open on a Sunday night, either: he seemed to really appreciate the food and the hospitality, saying it was their regular neighborhood retreat after a day tending vines.

Hell, we were game. After a day of grueling uphill mountain-road biking, doner sounded fantastic.

06 June 2011

jura bike trip: chez bindernagel: les jardins sur glantine

While tooling around the Jura on our bikes, we stayed at a new chambre d'hôte in Poligny called Les Jardins Sur Glantine, run by vigneron Ludwig Bindernagel's wife Nathalie. Nothing marks the place from the outside, except a barrel during business hours signifying the availability of wine. So when we showed up the first evening at sunset, sweat-drenched and wobbly from fatigue, nothing prepared us for the gorgeous mise-en-scène that awaited us behind a dreamy white curtain at the end of the entrance corridor.

There's a view out over Nathalie's vegetable garden in the foreground; in the background are the dun rooftops of lower-lying houses. On a table in the expansive central courtyard sat a bottle of Ludwig's own crême de cassis, some sparkling wine, and some homemade elderflower syrup. After a quick tour of the chambre d'hôte's two suites and its outdoor kitchen facilities (for use during harvest time, when they lodge 25 good friends), we all shared a long apéro, and Ludwig and Nathalie told us a bit about the operation they've established.

03 June 2011

old school: les bacchantes, 75009

Not far from the concert venue l'Olympia in the central 9ème is a conspicuously classic-looking bistro-à-vin called Les Bacchantes, plastered with PUDLO Paris dining guide tags dated back to the early 2000's.* I passed by the other day and, noting a few natural / organic names on the wine list (Bernard Defaix, Domaine Combier, Philippe Pacalet) I resolved to return one day for lunch, thereby proving that, despite my often-overwhelming cynicism on this blog, I'm just as susceptible as anyone else to vain hopes of discovering overlooked gems in this raked-over city. It's because I'm an optimist.

The other day my friends R and N gamely agreed to pay the place a visit with me during our lunchbreak. They'll probably be more skeptical of my lunch suggestions in the future.

02 June 2011

jura bike trip: our overnoy oversight

There's nothing worse than an overplotted vacation. So in planning our recent jaunt through the Jura, we decided to err on the side of spontaneity, scheduling only one tasting with Domaine Macle in Château-Chalon

In retrospect, however, it was indeed an error not to have made a rendezvous at Maison Pierre Overnoy. I've had nothing but great experiences with their majestic, sulfur-free wines, on the few occasions I've tasted them. I hadn't realised we'd be cruising right by their operation in Pupillin on our first day, which until then we'd spent visiting some completely empty salt mines.*

01 June 2011

jura bike trip: a brocante in arbois

In Arbois, en route to Poligny, we encountered a big random brocante (flea market). Our friend E rejoiced, because she was finally able to buy a pair of shoes that fit. Until then, having decided to join the bike trip only the midnight before our Sunday departure, she'd been gamely duckfooting along in a throwaway pair of my old shoes, far too large for her.

I came close to purchasing a pair of old sunglasses, but decided against it because they made me look like a super villain: