26 June 2013

the angevin clan, pt. 2: cédric garreau / gar'o'vins, chanzeaux

The evening before our visits with newly-installed Anjou vigneron Cédric Garreau and the rest of the Angevin clan back in January, my friends J, M, and I found ourselves at Angers natural wine bar Le Cercle Rouge, sharing a nightcap with some US importers with whom J and M were discussing working. It was during the time of La Dive Bouteille, La Renaissance des Appellations, and the various satellite tastings, and we'd assumed we'd run into a few vignerons and fellow industry folk at La Cercle Rouge that night. But we'd evidently missed a memo, because the place was quiet as the grave. If I concentrated, I imagined I could actually hear echoes from the wild bacchanal in the surrounding hills where all the vignerons and the more clued-in buyers were probably spraying each other with pétillant naturel and doing impressions of Americans.

If we nevertheless stayed at Le Cercle Rouge for the duration of two bottles, it was because the wine we were drinking - Cédric Garreau's 2011 "Le Lulu Berlue" - achieved the almost impossible : it was marvelously palatable to five weary palates that had endured a sequence of professional tastings earlier in the day. (Ordinarily such circumstances are the only moments in life where one craves Kronenberg.)

The "Lulu Berlue" is an odd duck, a sparkling carbonic-maceration Cabernet Sauvignon, mouth-rinsing, pure, and black-fruited, sort of like fine Loire Lambrusco. It hit the spot. The next day when we visited Garreau's tiny shed of a cellar in Chanzeaux we were able to confirm that all his red wines - all three - share the same soulful purity of fruit that made the "Le Lulu Berlue" so entrancing. They're wines that feel fundamentally healthful, and they herald a new voice in Angevin winemaking, one whose maturity of expression is surprising given its only Garreau's second vintage.

24 June 2013

the angevin clan, pt. 1: mai and kenji hodgson / vins hodgson, rablay-sur-layon

From L: Kenji Hodgson, Cedric Garreau, M, Mai Sato, Nicolas Bertin, J. Taken in Bertin's vineyards.

After departing from La Dive Bouteille this past January, my friends J, M, and I went to visit a few newly-installed Angevin vignerons. We'd planned to make separate appointments with three domaines - Mai & Kenji Hodgson, Cedric Garreau / Gar'O'Vin, and Bertin-Delatte - but upon learning that their proprietors are all good friends and collaborators, it was decided we'd all taste together at each cellar and then have lunch. 

For J, M, and I, tasting at the three domaines that morning was revelatory. It might have just been an on-palate day.* But after just about every taste, we were having "On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer" moments, looking at each other, like Cortez's sailors, "with a wild surmise." 

All of these vignerons are onto something. All are members of a collective of organic Angevin vignerons who organise tastings together, loan each other equipment, and generally support one another in the daunting task of making and selling quality wine from Anjou, a famously schizophrenic region, nigh-on uncategorizeable, home to everything from industrial Cab Franc rosé to ageless Quarts de Chaume. The collective officially call themselves "The En Joue Connection," which has facetious gangster-ish implications that I will relegate to a footnote.* I can't speak for the entire collective, because I haven't tasted all the wines. But with regards to Bertin-Delatte, Vins Hodgson, and Gar'O'Vins, I thought it might be more helpful to think of what they're presently achieving in Anjou in terms of some other poets, namely the Wu-Tang Clan.  

17 June 2013

n.d.p. in florence: 5 e cinque

Florence is the only place I've ever been pickpocketed. As a friend and I snacked on one of the support columns of the Ponte Santa Trinita one evening a decade ago, some genial-seeming locals came up and spoke incomprehensibly about football maneuvers before demonstrating same at close quarters and robbing me in the process. It was all the money I had and I wound up busking the rest of that month.

As a result of this experience, I now walk down busy Florentine streets with my hands firmly placed over my back pockets, looking like some sort of constipated building inspector. Most nerve-racking for me is the famed Ponte Vecchio, a Hieronymus Boschian scene of beckoning trinket-hawkers, trilling gypsy beggars, and glass-eyed cargo-shorted tourists in visors and sweat-colored polos. The jangle of novelty key chains can be heard for miles. While revisiting the city last spring I hurried past it all in characteristic paranoiac style and waited for my friends some blocks ahead.

Imagine my surprise to discover, just a skip away from the Ponte Vecchio, the clean white storefront of 5 e Cinque, a modest, health-conscious, and well-appointed natural wine bar, the city's only one, as far as I know.

04 June 2013

n.d.p. in florence: enoteca fuori porta

It's a travel truism that the more friends one travels with, the less one sees. Monuments, museums, and moments of local colour rush past one's eyes, as though one were seeing them through a bus window... Meanwhile one seems to spend hours waiting for one another to finish up in the sodden restrooms of unremarkable cafés full of vending machines.

And when one does at last arrive a destination, the destination itself becomes the subject of debate. Should we not try some other bar ? one's friends ask. One where one of us can get a cocktail, and another can have beer, and another can have wine? None of us are ever satisfied, one's friends admit, before laughing maniacally and cartwheeling off into the Florentine night to harass strangers.

My personal destination, since arriving in Florence for a friend's wedding last spring, had been Fuori Porta, a wine bar tucked in the hills above the via di San Niccolo that a native acquaintance had recommended. I've discussed previously the extent to which the term 'wine bar' is open to interpretation, but as a rule of thumb I've found the concept is more native to Italy, where people take espresso standing, than in Paris, where beverages in general are mostly used as exuses to occupy terrace seating. And indeed, when after much cajoling I did succeed in luring my friends away to Fuori Porta to continue drinking after the wedding dinner, we weren't disappointed. It's one of those rare places where a serious wine list coexists with a free-wheeling atmosphere, where seven or eight tanked young men in rumpled suits can enjoy an impromptu mini-vertical of Castell' In Villa Chianti.