25 April 2012

n.d.p. in burgundy: yann durieux / recru des sens, villers-la-faye

When vignerons ask me about my blog, I tend to become Mitt Romney. "It's a blog about ... wine in Paris," I'll affirm, and the descriptor that goes in the elipsis depends entirely on my audience.

People are touchy about it. Since pretty much every vigneron considers what they are in the habit of doing to be 'natural,' I find that many choose to take the term as referring not to wine itself, but rather to vignerons who seem to attract a lot of attention using the term. This is paradoxically sort of anathema to the intent of the appellation system;* nor is it helpful that "natural wine," like any brand, invariably gets associated with its most visible or colourful proponents, who can themselves be anathema to more conservative personality types.

Anyway, I felt welcome enough hanging around with the Burguet brothers in Gevrey-Chambertin, Eric and Jean-Luc, to express my particular interest in low-sulfur, minimal-intervention wines, and Eric suggested my friend J and I go see a friend and former roommate called Yann Durieux, who had just begun making wine in the Hautes-Côtes de Nuits. Eric being the scrupulous Oscar of the Burguet Odd Couple winemaking team, he would only tell us that Durieux's wines were "très speciale," which I took to mean he thought Durieux was bonkers.

Part of this is probably just a reaction to the project of quality winemaking in the Hautes-Côtes, where, as good as the wines may get, absolutely no one expects impressive product. Not with village level Burgundy a few miles down the road. Even Domaine de la Romanée-Conti's Hautes-Côtes de Nuits blanc inspires little more than mild geek appreciation. Promoting natural wine in the Hautes-Côtes is, on the one hand, a way to create an identity for historically somwhat faceless terroir. On the other hand, it's an enormous challenge, given that the greater region has historically had no need for any certification beyond the AOC in order to sell.

Further complicating the idea of natural wine in Burgundy is the tradition of chaptalisation, which, as a conversational subject, is comparable to Mitt Romney's tax returns. Even if one asks, one usually won't be told. It's a maximally interventional process, and quite widespread, depending on the vintage.

As usual, my interest in Yann Durieux was directly proportionate to the apparent quixotism of his project. J and I sputtered on over to gray Villers-La-Faye and waited a few minutes in a tiny parking lot until both Durieux and his then-quite-pregnant wife came up the road to greet us.

We learned that before setting up his own winemaking operation in 2010, Durieux worked seven years for Julien Guillot, of whose slender, biodynamic, innovatively traditional Mâcon's I'm quite a fan. (This is also the same Julien Guillot known to dress up as a monk for promotional videos.) Durieux's vineyards now total 3ha around Villers-La-Faye, of Pinot Noir, Aligoté, and Chardonnay. He also purchases a small amount of Pinot Noir, all of it certified organic. In his own vineyards, he practices what can fairly be termed psychotically low yields: 25HL / ha.

It was at this point in the conversation that J's jaw dropped and he asked at what price, by the by, did Durieux plan to sell the Aligoté we'd begun tasting, a Bourgogne Aligoté called "Love et Pif" from 2010. We did the math and realised it would come in just above 20€ at a cave in Paris, which, for Aligoté, typically a runty little white many customers cook with, is a little optimistic.

My own jaw dropped for a different reason. Outside of Alice et Olivier De Moor's tiny late-harvest "Reversibilité," Durieux's "Love and Pif" is perhaps the greatest Aligoté I've ever tasted. Ripe, lightly effervescent, mineral, oystery, white floral on the nose... It was a revelation akin to hearing a song by The Chills for the first time. One finds it surprisingly lush and dynamic, for a genre known to be tinny and austere (Aligoté / New Zealand indie rock).

"Love and Pif," it also bears mentioning, is the first wine Durieux has bottled. In Villers-La-Faye that day we tasted also his Hautes-Côtes de Nuits Chardonnay, and three cuvées of Hautes-Côtes de Nuits Pinot Noir, all from barrel. Some were showing a little reduced, but nothing serious, and it's to be expected at that point in the winemaking process. All were pretty stunning, sharing a cranberryish crunchiness and a complexity I'd compare to lighter styles of Barbaresco. (A fun fact: some were aging in old barrels of Burguet Gevrey-Chambertin "Mes Favorites.") None were chaptalised. Durieux practices whole-cluster pressing, and doesn't rack during élevage.

The catch, of course, is that Durieux, at least last time we spoke about it, was planning to ask what I'll describe as Pacalet-like prices for his red wines. Josh and I wished him luck on that, but not before we each bought a bottle of "Love and Pif" to take with us. In the car we hypothesized that Durieux might be best advised to raise yields just a tad; the wines would gain greater acclaim if they were half the price, even if they were half as heavenly. (Still pretty heavenly.)

Months have now passed since that visit. I adore Durieux's wines, and have introduced him to a few likely buyers in Paris. Yet I'd probably still agree with Eric Burguet, whatever it was he meant.

* Which could perhaps be summarised as loosely assuming that where = how, or that where dictates how to a great degree. 

Yann Durieux / Recru Des Sens
2 rue du Château
Tel: 03 80 62 50 64

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