Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Week in the South of France


Yeah, there are worse places to be in early summer. Sometimes, despite all the difficulties, there are some nice aspects to this job. I spent a week travelling back and forth between the Languedoc and the Rhone, visiting my current and potential wineries.


I started off at La Bouscade, my Minervois producer that is making some great, juicy, but not over-the-top wines right outside of Carcassonne. Between visiting the vineyards and tasting the wines, I helped replace the tire on a tractor in the middle of a field.


I had time to take some pictures of the vines under the bright, warm sun, tiny berries just starting to appear as the summer started.


It was such a pleasure to see David, his lovely wife Jo, their kids, and taste their wines. We had a fantastic time catching up and visiting, their wines are really something special and are doing really well in NYC, I am happy to say.


Next I headed East to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the ancient capital of the Avignon Papacy and heart of the Rhone's wine-producing region. This hilly land is overseen by the ruins of the castle, towering over the town itself and the rocky vineyards around it.


In Chateauneuf, I joined some travelling friends from the US for a lovely lunch at Domaine Pegau, the reputed Chateauneuf producer. There, Laurence Feraud, the winemaker, took us for a tour and tasting before opening her heart, cellar and kitchen to us.


When we came to the house, we were greeted by a lovely table. Here, we shared in Laurence's generosity with a delicious meal and good friends.


Oh, and of course, some quite nice wines.


We also had a chance to visit other domaines, including Bosquet des Papes, the classic Chateauneuf winery. To say the 2007s are good, well, that's an understatement of massive proportions.


We also stopped in at a favorite of mine, Pierre Usseglio. Again, we tried the 2007s, and were rewarded with beautiful, fresh fruit and vivid acidity. 2007 is indeed a wonderful vintage, from what I've tasted in the Rhone so far.


Vieille Julienne was another stop, and here the 2007s were also fantastic, with some differences in style and price of course. But still, WOW.


I ended my visit to the Rhone with one of the best, if not THE best, meals of my entire trip to Europe. Dinner at Gerard Alonso was really good, with pristine ingredients, a beautiful setting, great wines (2005 Allemand Cornas les Chaillots - yum!), and good friends. The chesse tray alone is worth the visit!


The next day, I hopped on a train and headed South, to the border with Spain. The train was clean, air-conditionned (wow!) and on-time, a real pleasure to take between cities. How come we don't have anything like this here in the US???? For about 28 Euros, I could travel for hundreds of kilometers in a comfortable environment. It is ridiculous and shameful to think that the leader of the Free World can't make a train system that works well.

It was such a pleasure to find myself back in the wine-producing areas of France. The weather was great, the food was delicious, and of course the wines profound. Best of all, it's always a thrill to find oneself among people who are passionate about what they do. And, I am thrilled to say that the 2007s are just gorgeous, real beauties to taste and drink.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A Day in Saint Chinian

Where? Look at the map. If it looks like the middle of nowhere, then you've got the right idea.

During my stay in Europe, I had a chance to pop over the border and visit my Saint Chinian producer, Clos Bagatelle. There, I was greeted by Luc and Christine, the brother and sister winemaking team that I profiled a while back. They are making wines that reflect their terroir's gifts while maintaining a lovely elegant style that differs drastically from most St Chinians.


Luc is the vineyard manager, and while I was there he drove me through the torturous roads that wind their way through the local hills to show me his Saint Jean de Minervois plot. This vineyard is planted to Muscat, and makes a very particular dessert wine. While it actually only received its AOC qualification in 1949, the area has been making wines since the Romans were sauntering about.


As you can see from the pictures, it's a very stony soil at the top of a hill that overlooks the region. The wind was a constant howling companion, washing over the crest of the hill and rustling the vines. After about an hour of this, I began to believe the local legends that say it can drive someone mad.

More interestingly, however, was the way the vines were planted. They were all staked individually, and grew to no more than 1 meter in height. Big deal, right? No, because these tiny vines have to be plucked by hand. As difficult as hand-harvesting is, this must be back-breaking!

We also drove to some of Clos Bagatelle's other parcels, planted to traditional varieties like Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache and Carignan. All are beautifully maintained to ensure the highest quality grapes. Which is where Christine's skills come into play...


Christine is the winemaker for Clos Bagatelle. She coaxes beautiful flavors and aromas by doing a post-fermentation blend, and can spend many days trying to figure out the perfect assemblage. She is looking for freshness but also a certain transparency of the region's terroir. Many of her neighbors make wines that are somewhat over-blown and even cooked due to the heat. Not Clos Bagatelle.


Thanks to Luc's skills in the vineyard, the grapes are never abused, and once they're in Christine's capable hands the results are there for everyone to taste. And boy did I taste! Going through their entire portfolio made me smile. This domaine is a winner and is one to watch. Their wines are fantastic, though of course I am just mildly biased...
PS: More pictures are available on the Vinotas Selections' Facebook Fan Page.

Monday, June 08, 2009



And now, for something completely different... (and by that I mean no food or wine in this post... I know, shocking!)


Need I say more? The very name evokes a weirdly different and quite unique way of looking at the world. The man was a legend in his own time and in his own mind, a Surrealist who embraced the ideas of the movement and took them to an extreme. His works make you look at the things with new eyes, making new interpretations of what we consider reality.


While in Figueres, in north-eastern Spain, I had a chance to stop by the Dalí Museum, and it was like stepping into a warped, twisted, somewhat disturbing version of reality. Actually, there were some lovely things to see, but also some rather strange experiences, and a few downright frightening ones as well. But then, that's the world according to Dalí, right?


He was quite the prodigious artist, and his works were not limited to any one form. There are films, paintings, drawings, sculptures, jewelry, anything he could get his hands on and transform into something similar but different. It was quite fascinating to see, and it is evident that he liked to play with his viewers.


So, without further fuss, here are some pics from that outing. Some are lovely, others weird, and yet others frightening, but they all make you look at the world and the things in it with new eyes. Or at least strange eyes.

See the face?

See the face? Hint: he's on the US penny


Dalí's resting place, supposedly, in the middle of the floor of his museum

An interpretation of his wife, Gala

A landscape, or something else...?

Dalí's bed

The spoon snake

Yet again, an interpretation of Gala

Look familiar?

Dalí's car

Dalí's face

All in all it was a nice learning experience, as the art is, to put it mildly, interestingly different. I am not sure how much I liked it, but I did enjoy his plays on how we view the world.