Which my very delayed Eurostar train to Paris wasn’t doing, and I also didn’t buy the explanation that we had been diverted to an alternative route to France. Sorry, but when exactly did they dig a 2nd tunnel under the English Channel …
So, the first wines of 2005, led by the (infamous) Beaujolais Nouveau are here … and tasting surprisingly well, helped to a small extent by the additional sunshine in September, and thus negated the need for chaptalisation – the dubious practice of topping up an otherwise insipid and/or unbalanced wine with sugar. Traditionally the 3rd Thursday in November is the day when the first AOC wines of Beaujolais can be sold as ‘Nouveau’, sometimes called ‘Primeur’. The purpose of my long week-end in Paris was to shadow my friend David (also closet wine buff), for tutored tastings around the capital, and ultimately to be persuaded that this region is capable of producing serious wines. I suppose if success is to be measured in bottled purchases, then my laden rucksack on the return journey is witness to my conversion.
My adventure began at Caves Taillevent (an annex to the chic restaurant located on 199 rue du Fauboug Saint-Honoré) where we tasted a Beaujolais Nouveau by Jean-Charles Pivot, a reputable producer and brother of cultural TV personality Bernard Pivot. While the wine was nothing to write home about, we were otherwise amused when one of the staff hid David’s Lavinia (a competitor) bag from view of other customers! Dinner afterwards at the Bistro Quatre Saison across the road was surprisingly tasty – my marcassin (young wild boar) was juicy and tender as expected and carried the subtlest hint of gaminess that is such a welcoming flavour this time of year when the weather outside is chilling to the bone. When we reached Mélac’s some minutes after midnight, the revellers had already spewed out on to the street. Once again, the wine (a generic Henry Fessy) was barely noteworthy but we observed with some amusement the glass-littered pavement where others had not quite mastered the skill of balancing bottles and glasses on the top of the poubelles (bins) provided. We closed that evening’s celebrations at La Muse Vin, tasting a Touraine Nouveau (also made from the Gamay grape) which also did not leave a lasting impression. The music however was very boogie-able, and naturally we took advantage of the cheese selection included in the droit d’entrée.
Friday’s highlights included a late morning shop at the Popincourt Market in the 11e arrondissement to buy cheeses from the Beaujolais region to accompany David’s dégustation ensemble on Saturday evening, lunch at Casa Joe’s near Bastille (we ate cheap but agreeable pasta from cardboard cartons!) and finally a visit to the caviste Bossetti where we tasted our first Cru wines of Beaujolais – a Morgon, from the Domaine des Nugues. For me, this was the defining moment of transformation – just like a larva that has metamorphosised into something more refined and beautiful, the Cru wines of Beaujolais bear little or no resemblance to the generic B.N. despite sharing the same genetic code of the Gamay grape. David has written a very informative piece on the wines of Beaujolais, and I shall be seeking his permission to have it published here in the near future. Later that evening, we visited a péniche (sort of a floating gastronomic fair) hosted on one of the Maxim’s boats on the river Seine. Here, I discovered a sparkling chardonnay from the Domaine Dupeuble, simply labeled as mousseux because under the draconian appelation laws, it cannot be called Cremant de Beajolais because the latter is already an AOC. This wine allegedly beat Veuve Clicquot in a blind tasting, but with hindsight perhaps that’s not such a great achievement 😉
On Saturday, we headed for the Charonne Market for some last minute purchases and stopped over at Mélac’s for a delicious lunch. With our stomachs lined, we embarked on our public tastings for the afternoon, dropping first into Lavinia to perform the mis en bouteille (see photo) of another BN from Domaine Cambon with help from the very likable Jean-Claude Chanudet. Afterwards we revisited Bossetti where I made my greatest discovery of the week-end, and confirmed by the tasting at David’s apartment later that evening: La Roche, a Moulin-à-Vent (one of the 10 Crus of the region) from Château des Jacques by Louis Jadot, the négociant from Beaune. David describes the wines from Château des Jacques as the Romanée-Conti of Beaujolais, and I totally agree. At less than 20 Euro a bottle, this is an absolute steal and will give a Burgundy from a respectable producer costing three times the price, a good run for the money. Really. But it wasn’t until David swapped business cards that we realised we were in the presence of the very modest Baron Guillaume de Curières de Castelnau himself … in the flesh! And like the gregarious Monsieur Chanudet, he too was generous enough to invite us to visit his chateaux at our convenience.
With time, my passion for French wines has evolved beyond sensual appreciation into a deep respect for people like Jean-Claude and Baron Guillaume, whose understanding of terroir and patience to impart their knowledge of the black art of viticulture to Joe Public continue to egg on enthusiasts like David and me to delve into the secrets that lie beyond the label on the bottle. Because every bottle of wine has a story – not least of all, the humble Beaujolais.
Update: David has kindly allowed me to publish his write up on Beaujolais – you lucky people can now access it from here (in PDF format).