Sunday, November 09, 2008

A Night in Macon

The town of Pouilly Fuissé

I left Avignon for Macon, in southern Burgundy, with a heavy heart and a somewhat heavier head (more like a pounding head to be honest). My winemaker, Didier Tripoz, of Domaine Cathérine et Didier Tripoz, picked me up at the tiny train station. I represent their monopole wine, the Clos des Tournons, a walled enclave of old vines (between 30 and 65 years of age). This makes for a lovely, unoaked and full-flavored yet light on its feet Chardonnay that is just making its appearance in the US.

The moment I saw the vine-covered hillsides, I knew I was home: Burgundy! Even though I was an hour south of Beaune, the regional capital, it felt like I was back where I belonged. The vines’ leaves were turning yellowish with the changing of the seasons, making for a beautiful undulating golden carpet. Absolutely glorious.

A rocky spur overlooking vineyards

We dropped my stuff off at the crappy hotel I was staying in (never, ever, ever, stay in a Balladins motel, it’s downright scary: the bathroom was a solid piece of plastic, so I could take a shower while taking care of business while brushing my teeth – a nightmare of efficiency taken to the extreme), then proceeded to head right into the vineyards. Didier drove us through a beautiful vista of steeply rolling hills covered in those golden leaves, with rocky outcroppings popping up at odd intervals, all lined by centuries-, if not often millennia-old, stone walls. God I love this part of the world. There really is something magical about this region, something timeless that just really stirs the soul.

Didier challenges me to a race up the hill

We visited a new plot that Didier had just bought in the Pouilly Fuissé appelation, angled so steeply that going up was a chore but coming down was an adventure. I swear, this thing must have been at a 45° slope! There, we were joined by his assistant winemaker David, who had helped out with this year’s harvest. After stints in New Zealand and several other wineries, David has settled in as Didier’s helper going forward. He’s really ambitious and eager to increase the quality of the wines, which is always a good thing.

Looking up the slope

Looking down the slope

Lost in a sea of Chardonnay

After driving around the perimeter of the Clos des Tournons , we came to the winery, which is basically an addition to the house’s garage. We began tasting the 2008s from tanks, and I was thrilled to see that this year's Clos des Tournons would be another success, with beautiful fruit backed up by almost stinging acidity and a lovely, rich mouthfeel. We also tasted the Pouilly Fuissé, which holds much promise as well. We made our way through all the wines, from Chardonnay to Pinot Noir as well as Gamay (the grape used in Beaujolais but used here to make red Macon, very rare). Quite nice if I may say so myself.

Didier pours from the tank

After the winery visit, we retreated to the tasting room, where some 2007s were opened for my perusal. I was pleased to see that Didier hasn’t lost his touch, his wines were just as beautiful as I recalled. Then, as his wife Cathérine announced that dinner would be ready soon, he poured me something else, something intriguing, something quite surprising. “This is for our aperitif,” he explained.

Now, I’m a sucker for Champagne, I just love the stuff. I am not a fan of Crémants or other bubbly wines, in general. So I was wary about this.

The wine he was pouring looked like Champagne, a golden liquid with surprisingly tiny, elegant bubbles, it smelled like a Blanc de Blancs, on the palate it was richer, with bracing acidity, yet it wasn’t Champagne: it was his Crémant de Bourgogne. I almost fell off my chair. This was stunning. This was amazing. This was unbelievably delicious.

Using the traditional Méthode Champenoise, Didier makes a sparkling wine from Chardonnay without adding back the liqueur d’expedition, or the base wine plus sugar that most sparkling makers add back to make the wine richer and balance its high acidity. In this case, he doesn’t add it back because, being further south than Champagne, his grapes achieve a higher level of ripeness: in other words, they don’t need the sugar, some of theirs survives the first fermentation.

The result is unbelievable, at least for a Crémant. This is something I’ll be happy to show to my clients very soon.

Dinner was a long, leisurely affair with Didier, Cathérine, their son and David. We laughed a lot and chatted about the upcoming elections (I swear the French were more obsessed with it than we were). Finally, I retired to my crappy motel and tried, unsuccessfully, to fall asleep.

I had an early morning TGV to catch: I was heading to Paris. Yay!

Next: A week in Paris.

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