Monday, February 08, 2010

A New Discovery: Domaine Ruet Beaujolais


Jean-Paul Ruet shows off some of the blue granite underlying his vineyards

I love good Beaujolais. For too long, the region's been associated with cheap, mass-produced plonk, especially that Nouveau crap. Let's face it, that's not real wine. It's not even edible and, frankly, should be banned by the FDA. But, what do I know? I just want some real, authentic wine, not some factory-made product that tastes the same year in year out, without any soul.

Yes, the camera's straight, it's the hill that's steep

You want soul? Come to the real Beaujolais, where the hills are steep, the vineyards gnarly, and the wines swoon-worthy. As I wrote in my Battle of Bojos post, real Beaujolais, from real farmers, is something to get excited about. Names like Foillard, Lapierre, Descombes, Brun and Metras are well-known and highly sought after by winelovers like me.

Looking up the slope at 65-70 year old vines

Well, while looking for Beaujolais producers, a friend mentioned I should seek out the wines of Domaine Ruet. Luckily for me, they were at the last trade show I attended in Paris in November, and lo and behold, he was right. The wines are very, very good. Full of fresh Gamay fruit with earthy backbones, they are beautiful renditions of their terroirs and of Jean-Paul Ruet's gentle guidance.

Gravity-fed tanks through the wooden doors on the right

When I was offered the chance to visit the winery in the Beaujolais on this past trip, and despite having hit 7 trade shows/tastings in 10 days, I jumped at it. If you've never been to the area, I seriously recommend it. Just south of the Macon and north of Lyon, the region is full of very steep hills covered in Gamay vines that jut from the earth like crooked fingers. The food is hearty and warm, and the people generous and soft-spoken. There's a warmth of character that is both welcoming and reassuring.

Stainless steel fermentation tanks

I was met by Jean-Paul Ruet, whose family has been making wines in the Beaujolais region since 1926, when his grandfather started farming. Located in the small town of Voujon à Cercié, they own 16 hectares (39.55 acres) of south-facing, steep, old-vine vineyards on granite-rich soils that are filled with pebbles and stones, scattered between the communes of Brouilly, Morgon and Régnié (see pic below).

A panoramic view of their holdings

Jean-Paul Ruet subscribes to a philosophy of sustainable agriculture in the vineyard and strict quality controls in the winery (gravity feeds, semi-carbonic maceration, very little added sulfur), trying to respect his various terroirs and get the purest expression of his lands. Everything is manually harvested (granted, that is the law in the region), and selection starts in the vineyard and continues into the winery. In some years, he does whole-cluster fermentation (leaving the grapes on the stem), but that depends on the grapes' phenolic maturity.

To show his wines' ageability, he opened this, and all I can say is wow

And the wines? Well, they're fantastic. Full of fresh red fruits with earthy minerality and crisp, almost tart accents backed by bright acidity, they are what all Beaujolais should be but sadly isn't. Tasting through his line-up was a pleasure, and I say that as someone who has sat through some tastings where all I wanted to do was rip out my tongue so I didn't have to endure the pain anymore.

Look for this label, kids, it stands for quality!

I will begin showing the wines to distributors in the coming weeks, and hopefully someone will grab them. I think they offer great quality to price ratios, but what do I know? I just represent what I can drink, and I could chug these wines. Seriously.

PS: If you like these pictures, follow the big fat FaceBook Fan Page button on the right and check out the picture album, and while you're at it, become a fan.

Friday, February 05, 2010

It's Showtime!

OK, nothing to do with wine, but how could I not use this pic? I mean, come on!

It's that time of the year again, when most of the major wine shows in France take place. Happily, many of them are in the South of France. As you can imagine, being in the warm south of France in the months of January and February, when the air in NYC is bitingly cold and the wind cuts through layers of clothes to whip your bones, does not suck. In fact, I can't emphasize how little it sucks.

But, it is still work. As I mentioned in my report from ViniSud two years ago, it's hectic hectic hectic and by the end of the day you'd kill for a gin and tonic. Or a nap.

So I found myself in Montpellier for a week, attending the Millesime Bio 2010 show, which focuses on Biodynamic wines. What does that mean, you ask? Well, take the theory of organic/natural wines and take it a few steps further. You end up with wines that are made without any man-made chemicals (though this is similar to "sustainable agriculture" and organic/natural), with very little added sulfur to ensure the stability of the wine, and, here's where it gets a bit odd, with a lot of attention paid to the days of the year and the lunar cycle. In fact, there's even a Biodynamic calendar that lists what days are Root Days, Fruit Days and Leaf Days.

The Biodynamic Calendar

In any case, many of the wines are fantastic (look for producers like Puzelat, Foillard, Jean-Marc Senat to get an idea of the quality out there), though far, far too many of them are either bleh or downright awful/flawed. And, let's not forget expensive. THAT was probably the most frustrating part of the trip. Despite a world-wide recession, a still-strong Euro, and massive competition from everywhere folks can plant a vine, these wines were sometimes just stupidly priced. I mean, I know you've got expenses and need to cover them and make a living, but who's going to buy a $30 white from the Savoie? You're lucky if anyone even knows where the Savoie is!

So I ran around from table to table, catching up with folks I knew in the business, and best of all catching up with the winemakers. The Spanish Basque winery I represent, Bodegas Aroa, was showing their wines, and the winemaker, Txus Macias, was beaming like a proud schoolboy as he'd won two, count 'em, TWO, gold medals for his wines.

Txus poses with his award-winning wine

I also met up with my two favorite women winemakers, Claude Jourdan from Felines Jourdan, and Christine Deleuze, from Clos Bagatelle.

Claude and Christine open samples for me

But my work wasn't done yet, oh no, so I headed up to Angers, in the Loire Valley, for the Salon des Vins de Loire (Loire Valley Wine Show). Which, by the way, means going to Paris, changing train stations, then heading down to Angers, even though it would have been faster if there were direct trains there. But, all roads lead to Rome, or, in this case, Paris, so there you go.


The first event I attended, a small-producer Biodynamic wine tasting, was in an old, gorgeous monastery with amazing woodwork in the ceiling. Yet again, while many of the wines were delicious, too many had flaws, the biggest of which was the price. But I won't belabor the issue, I promise. Angers, by the way, is gorgeous, and a city I will have to explore some day.

Busy busy busy

Next I hit the main show, meeting up with my Muscadet producer, Jean-Pascal Aubron. His 2009s, even though they're not finished, show real potential. I know you were wondering.

I hit many, many stands, saw some new and old faces, tasted LOTS of bad wine, but may, just may, have found 1-2 well-priced, interesting and well-made things. We'll see, there's much more work to be done.

Oh, and I will have an announcement in the next few days. Stay tuned... I know you're just dying of anticipation...