22 January 2016
It's that time of year again. The Loire salons are approaching, and with them, the annual tempest of facile social media emissions recording an infinity of superficial encounters between historical wine cultures and contemporary social media. We're all guilty: journalists, sommeliers, retailers, importers, distributors, even a few winemakers.
Every gesture on social media is necessarily an advertisement for oneself. But there's good advertising and bad advertising. Bad self-promotion is wearisome and slowly turns us against the perpetrator. When we engage in it ourselves, it can turn us against the wine industry as a whole, which in dark moments can resemble a festering cesspit of forced enthusiasm and transactional endorsements.
In the interest of elevating the general discourse, I've assembled here a list of seven things to bear in mind before hitting "Share." You could call them the Seven Sins, but the list is assuredly incomplete. (Before anyone points it out, I'm no saint myself.)
19 January 2016
Almost everyone in Beaujolais has at least one nickname. To an outsider, it makes it difficult to follow conversations, because one has to remember all the variations on the ways people refer to any given local personage. (Furthermore one is sometimes unsure if one is entitled to employ all the nicknames.) Some nicknames are relatively straightforward: Morgon grand-master Jean Foillard, for example, is called, alternately, "Le P'tit Jean," a reference to his Napoleonic build, and "Jeff," a simple pronunciation of his initials.
Other nicknames are completely insane. Anthony Thévenet - no relation to Jean-Paul "Polpo" Thévenet, or any of the other more prominent local Thévenets - is an energetic, good-natured young natural winemaker who established his domaine in 2012, the same year he began working as a cellarhand for Foillard. I heard Thévenet's friend Romain Zordan refer to Thévenet as "Nioche," which, he later explained, derives originally from "Tête d'Hyène," or "Hyena's head," a comment on Thévenet's easy laughter and the sonics of his family name. "Tête d'Hyène" got abbreviated to "Hyène," which, in the programmatic Franco-slanguage Verlan, came out as "Nioche."
Easy to remember, right? Perhaps easier than the name Thévenet. At any rate, it's worth remembering Anthony Thévenet A.K.A. Nioche's name, because since 2013 he's been making some very promising Morgon's from his family's vines in the climat of Douby, and this year he's set to release his first vintage from the renowned Côte du Py.
15 January 2016
When Voltaire-area greengrocer Le Zingam first opened in April 2014, I gave it a wide berth, because it seemed like yet another overpriced organic-locavore bear-trap. A messenger bicycle forms part of the outdoor vegetable display, while the interior's rough-hewn furniture recalls Big Sur. Proprietors Sonny Lac and Lelio Stettin are two young guys from the neighborhood whose combined food and wine experience could be recorded on the back of a short receipt. (Lac used to work at folkloric neighborhood wine bistrot Mélac.)
I first visited Le Zingam simply because it was open Sunday. It was far less expensive than I anticipated. A year or so later, I realised, in something like astonishment, that Lac and Stettin's little shop has slowly taken over my entire diet. Its products have all become staples: its trios of slender saucisses, its tomme de chèvre and its Saint Nectaire, its Sicilian clementines, its yogurt pots, its onions, its turnips and leeks, its craft beers, its natural wines. For foodstuffs I no longer shop anywhere else, save for the occasional foray to Belleville for Asian and Middle-Eastern ingredients.
In their surprisingly astute product selection and their ironclad commitment to affordability, Lac and Stettin have done something that runs up against my most basic principles as a Parisian consumer: they've created a place that supersedes the weekly street markets. Le Zingam's products are better, and just as cheap, if not cheaper.
11 January 2016
|Claude Zordan and Romain Zordan|
The differences in the wines are to some extent a reflection of differences in age and temperament. Yann Bertrand is a better student of biodynamics. Romain Zordan gets more invitations on hunting trips. Beaujolais is all the richer for containing both approaches.
Bertrand's wines have seen rapid success with his embrace of the aforementioned farming methods and of rigorously-controlled, cool-carbonic maceration techniques. Romain Zordan, at 29 the elder of the two winemakers by a half-decade, has been slower to adopt the same practices, though he appreciates their impact and applies them in certain cases. He's a genial, salt-of-the-earth dude whose empathy with the wider Beaujolais wine community seems to moderate his work at the side of the domaine he farms with his father Claude. Yet the wines he's making are already formidable and, indeed, necessary to an understanding of the terroir of Grand Pré.
07 January 2016
It took me over a year to get around to visiting restaurateur Naoufel Zaïm's miniscule gourmet shop in the high nothingsphere of Jourdain. I arrived to find that Ô Divin Epicerie - indeed, Zaïm's business overall - has undergone a few shake-ups since it opened in summer 2014.
Contrary to prior reports, Ô Divin Epicerie is not a bar, one can't show up and drink. Its take-out sandwiches have scaled down in complexity since the departure of the former chef. The bad news - or, news to me, at least - is that Zaïm shut his excellent nearby restaurant Ô Divin, and now uses the space and its kitchen only for private parties upon demand.
Hot prepared dishes are no longer regularly available at Ô Divin Epicerie, but many will be soon - from a new space just down the road, where Zaïm and his new chef Paul Houet will shortly open Ô Divin Traiteur. The epicerie, installed in a former tripe shop, will remain just what it is today: a destination for well-sourced sandwiches, cheeses, occasional vegetables, a range of Houet's house-prepared meats, and the best natural wine selection in Belleville. The latter is really an embarrassment of riches, for a neighborhood deli.
04 January 2016
During pressing with Yvon and Jules Métras this September we were often joined around apéro hour by Jules' good friend Yann Bertrand, an extremely talented young Fleurie winemaker who lives a stone's throw away in Grand Pré. He often wore a vaguely pained expression when he arrived. 2015 in Beaujolais was a touch-and-go year for many winemakers, but Yann and his family suffered more than most.
"My grandfather died, we buried him, then the next day I heard that all my tanks had bret. Then my car broke down," he says, wincing. "I said to myself, 'Sometimes it’s best not even to think about it.'"
The Bertrand family shares cellar facilities with Yann's cousin and uncle, Romain Zordan and his father Claude, who make their own range of estimable natural Beaujolais under the name Château de Grand Pré. The story of the two winemaking families of the Château de Grand Pré is one I plan to explore in greater depth elsewhere. (Expect a post about the Zordans soon, too.) For now it seems worthwhile to discuss Yann Bertrand's work at at time when what many locals were calling his "beginner's luck" is being tested like never before.