Monday, 15 April 2019

Catherine Dumora and Manuel Duveau


"Barrel wine is for the head", Manuel Duveau said,
and we’re in the biz. of firework spritzers and volcanic elixirs and getting mescaline crazed butterflies dancing in bellies.

— Visit 1 April 2019. Blanzat, Auvergne.


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Thursday, 11 April 2019

Aurélien Lefort


There are two things I want to say about Aurélien Lefort and here they are in no particular order.

The first concerns his labels, each as if drawn by a genius doodling fine-lined the unwinding of the labyrinth of the mind in paper margins with spacecraft precision its runaway monsters and underground suns. Hieronymous Bosch sky burials event horizon heavy falcon full engines blast through black hole energy. Insane messages scratched out by ravaged wingtip with ketamine clarity, NDE-lucidity. Francis Bacon rib cages and dino-boned claws arranged methodically, algebraically, madly; urgent warnings left in black quill tip hint at the wine's liquid intensity. Cryptic script left by those before the known cosmic order in machine language and jester diamonds, traces of minotaur mazes filled with frightened winged things captured in scratchy lithograph Expressionist madness and the second thing is: his sound system is amazing.


— Visit April 2 2019. Madriat, Auvergne.

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Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Vincent Tricot


Vincent is a Sunday afternoon beaten Creuset cooking all day slow on a Saturday quiet kitchen deep eyes heavy lidded talking slow like a metronome tick tick about the different Gamays. Silver stubbled old western smoking steady radio voice tones invites us post tasting 18s in late sun gilded cellar after pickup truck safari tour of sandy Auvernat hilltop soiled parcels of old and also newly planted vines to stay and drink at kitchen table cracking almonds and later eat risotto with François Dhumes and Francien their friends and neighbours for dinner. All we did otherwise today is eat lunch: six oysters with London beer and a Mediterranean rosé (Castex) with a breadcrumbed cassoulet and a liver nourishing broth that's pot au feu in French and afterwards I fell asleep in the back of the car.

— Visit 30 March 2019. Orcet, Auvergne



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Friday, 5 April 2019

François Dhumes



Last year here they say a lack of Nitrogen means the wine’s lazy the day today March 31 twothousandnineteen spring and warm and sunny us music on in plastic small-trunked Jeep driving out of Clermont Ferrand city and what’s better all Sunday doing nothing ‘til at five drinking weeks to months-long cold carbo charged wines colour of dark stain-glass violets with taste hints of local basalt volcan-icty and different fibreglass personalities in a three years-new cellar downstairs before dinner dipping Saturday-dry bread sliced thin in juice of whole house smells like golden-crisp chicken? Dipping fries young-faced, doe-eyed François (Dhumes) triple-fried hot and salty with a bar of torn foiled dark chocolate, Spain’s first strawberries and effervescent Gamay d’Auvergne rosé flicking through folder of ancient local paper cut-outs of now older Auvernat gods in the kitchen with new friends fresh escaped from two weeks extra pruning in a pink-hued, otherwise stifling Beaujolais for dessert.



— Visit 31 March 2019. Orcet, Auvergne






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Thursday, 15 November 2018

10 November


It’s been a long while since I wrote and with so much happening in between where to start? so you don’t or you start with what is true now so I will write about living in a cloud. 10 November 2018 and the Ardèche is sink-sponge yellow-green shaggy grey skies and sodden. The vines cling to their leaves shades of neon with gold skeletons their grapes two months-long gone into juice now quiet the last of the garden's green tomatoes fridge-top in jars next to the cooking spoons oh, and I brined olives today. Life is in muted sage green mist mottled with tones of brass door handles, burnt quince and ochre shades of corduroy, brushing off lazy flies and baguette-bending humidity, there was to my dismay no goat milk yoghurt thick as walls at the market today I'm told no more until spring and the mushrooms we picked were orange and poisonous but: quince! Meaty spice orbs turned slabs of fridge-cold jelly and an illicit harvest of hand polished chestnuts means they are brown in their basket with the walnuts on the windowsill while beyond I see a calico cat landscape of quilted army fatigue olive sheen, winter tomato ghostly greens copper pots fading into sad soup brown plus blush of rose gold pear and like I said, sodden. 


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Monday, 14 May 2018

Hashtag unicorn wines

I’m sitting here in the sun one week into a six month unpaid internship in the vines thinking about some of the things money can’t buy. I’ve got: fulfilment, the Italian home-cooked lunches I enjoy double portions everyday, a sequel to Brideshead Revisited and unicorn wines.
What’s a unicorn wine? Whatever the super-somm says. For the rest of us, #unicornwines, like Pokemon, are a human construct. Despite thousands of mentions on Instagram (3,095 at the time of writing), they don’t exist. Unlike Pokemon, they’re so rare you’re never gonna catch ’em all. Elusive if not extinct, their mythical unobtainability makes them the ultimate big game for today’s trophy hunters. They’re so late stage you can’t even throw money at them. And in a world where beef-heart tomatoes from the farmer’s market cost more than beef burgers, Apple doesn’t have to pay taxes and €100+ yoga mats and eight dollar slices of toast are just some of our everyday realities: that’s the thrill.
Not that conspicuous consumption – from the 17th Century tulip mania to my spending much of the 90s bored in the back seat as my parents trawled antique stores hunting antique decoy ducks – is anything new. Nor ever in good taste. But it’s reached a new low now that we can instantly take credit for everything we do or drink (or worse, haven’t) whenever we have 3G.
Social media has created a bottle oligarchy while winemakers work like monks. It allows anyone with the means (and followers) to spend the workweek in bars and restaurants claiming kudos for someone else’s achievements. It’s a stage on which to showboat by association, to transubstantiate liquid into likes. What you drink is how cool you are and extra points if the winemaker’s deceased.
With all the noise we think we have to generate in order to be noticed, it shouldn’t be a surprise that a snapshot of a 2011 Pierre Overnoy speaks louder than the thousands of words the man himself has to say about his craft. But in worshipping what speaks loudest, the super hip and the ultra rare, we’re building alters to the wrong gods. We’re missing the point.
If only our pursuit of the world’s most un-pursuable wines translated to genuine concern, appreciation or sophistication and not just “HEY GUYS LOOK @ ME”. If only we did more questioning than scrolling, double-tapping and following. Did more quiet, un-recorded drinking. Permission to drink alone if this gives you the stillness to remember that before our icons were icons, they were pioneers. That they worked for what they believed in and that the real reason your last post ‘broke the internet’ should be because they succeeded against all the odds, not because you have an allocation. If drinking wine was less about show and tell than enjoying, we’d care more about the wines we drink every day than those we most likely never will. And if it was less about hype then it could be more about a wine’s true value; about the heart, patience, skill, soul and sweat that a human — not a hashtag — put in to create it.

Written for and originally published on The Morning Claret

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Thursday, 3 May 2018

MAGS, BAGS, MAC 'N' CHEESE / VINO BRUTALO (+some Italo)



Hotel de Goudfazant, 19 March 2018

or,

'The time we drank 35+ litres of wine on donation on a Monday.'

And yes there was a tonne of mac n' cheese. 

And hot sauce. 





























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Sunday, 18 March 2018

La Coulée d'Ambrosia


In two weeks I’m moving to the Med so we spent the last two days in the mud. We stayed in an old dike house and made the most of having no electricity but time and two wood stoves in the sense that we were mostly busy with lunch. 

And pre-lunch and post lunch and — by extension — post breakfast, which is when we drank this, a rusty tangerine-coloured spritzer of a Grolleau (Noir) from La Coulée d’Ambrosia which is not only a pét nat and not only an experimental pét nat (he made about 50. He likes it. More to come next year) but an experiment ALSO! in distillation. The distillation of, to be precise, lunch in the autumn Alps and bubblifying and bottling it and  by "it" I mean my childhood memories of lunch in sparkling mountain air and glacial water gurgling down rocks and moss and sweet and dying and dried grasses and apples and rough-cut hunks comté and sausage washed down with flip-cap $%#pschh#! bottle Apfelmost while cow bells tinkle and smoke curls up from down beneath.

And because it was an experiment it was also a gift, gifted after a tasting with Jean-Francois Chéné post-Dive that went on so long we got stuck in the snow. I’ll not exaggerate and say  something like, ‘Luckily it was so great we didn’t mind’ cus we did — minded for our lives every second of the four hours it took to drive the 120-odd kilometres to Tours looking for a place to stay the night — but it was great capital G Great, even. 

Definitely the most interesting tasting I’ve been to.

And you'll have to trust me on that because by the time we got to the interesting stuff, I stopped taking notes.

Jean-François Chéné started his domaine in 2005 with 5 ha in Beaulieu-sur-Layon in Anjou, the same village Sebastian Dervieux, so, Babass, used to live (there’s still a note taped to his kitchen door behind which we helped unpack his groceries this summer). Now he’s down to just under 2 ha with 1.2 ha of it Chenin, 0.43 Grolleau and 0.32 Cabernet Franc. Of all this, most of it goes to Japan.

He is the third generation to make wine in his family and the second (after his grandfather) to work organically; but only, he said, after his first five years of following chemical-heavy convention. It was the way Babass and Pat Desplats (at the time working together as Domaine Les Griottes, since dis-banded) talked about wine in terms of life and energy and emotion that changed his mind and actions.

So far so normal.

But the way he’s coaxed the ghost of a Spanish Pedro Xemiez from Anjou Cab Franc and Chenin is exceptional. The wines he makes in this style (he also makes one a la vin jaune), their depths and tastes (soy sauce and browned butter, caramel drenched pancakes, cask-aged honey and mains-charged Warhead candies sours), are phenomenal.

And while not exceptional, the tasting gave me a new appreciation of the good a spot of staying power can do. Not only in terms of the style of winemaking (François practices ‘Passerillage’ for his naturally sweet wines, allowing the grapes to dry-up on the vines and then ages them, untouched, under flor for 36 months to 5 years to achieve their kaleidoscope of sumptuous sweets and sours), but also when a winemaker releases wine for sale. While recognising reality and its financial pressures, he heart and soul believes in only selling a wine when ready; a refreshing if idealistic response to too many wines being rushed out into the world just to be poured down the drain for their faults (he believes in just sitting out ‘even’ soirée).  


Tasting notes

Smell starts reductive to open towards a mango chapstick rimmed glass of just- poured Orangina and, faintly, but now that I thought it, unmistakably, of a stick of Juicy Fruit gum

Looks like a stratified tangerine sky with a halo of ocean foam.  

Taste: (American) apfel(cider)schorle with marmalade bitters, papaya and the suggestion of dried summer grass.

Super dry, like sucking a crystal. Porcelain-fine bubbles. Wear wool socks.


(We also bought a couple magnums of Francois' 2015 Grolleau 'Le Boit Sans Soif' for Le Carton pop up MAGS, BAGS MAC 'N' CHEEZE / VINO BRUTALO (+some Italo) on Monday).






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Wednesday, 14 March 2018

How natural wine killed the tasting note


I was on the Internet the other day, on a forum.

(Bear with me.)

Specifically, a thread on a Facebook group that turned into an argument about whether tasting notes have a place in natural wine. It got fairly heated.
Now, I know people are wrong on the Internet all the time; that one shouldn’t take them too seriously. And I know, don’t read the comments, but I just couldn’t figure out who’d come up with this stuff. Luckily an army of keyboard warriors were on duty, itching to set anyone with a different opinion straight. “Hell” they said, “I won’t do (or taste) what you tell me.”
Think about it. The tasting note. The audacity of it. So obviously a relic of the past – back from when the power rested not with influencers, but with the few. Of course it’s dead.
But times are different now everyone has their own blog. The world smaller, Instagram’s reach bigger. There’s no place for experts where we’re headed. I admit, they were knowledgeable those few. Proper professionals some of them. But that’s the whole problem: they wrote like it too. Shrouding the truth with jargon and obscure descriptions conjured up to make us feel stupid. I mean, what else are you to make of notes like, ‘tastes like a Patagonia night sky?’
No, what we need is fighters. Warriors willing to dedicate their days to the Internet CAPS YELLING for all that is natural, wild and free. The sort of people who just ‘get it’ – no critical questions asked. The do-ers who just do what everyone else online is doing. Those who won’t just go gently into the good fight but goddamn rage, rage against the machine (by which I mean Christmas music, Parker, the elite and, most annoying of all, people who genuinely get excited about what they’re drinking and start spewing incredibly niche, totally unhelpful tasting note “poetry”).
Natural wine is the next frontier and we need radical thinkers and concept-shakers. People who aren’t afraid to look the universe in the eye and ask the big blue sky questions: ‘Vintage chart vs. Insta-grid? Why string along adjectives when you can line up bottles? Why write a poem when you can snap a picture? Who has time for talk when there are trophy unicorns not yet captured on my feed???!’
The frontier is the future and the future is wine that is accessible to all! Wine by the people for the people, unless it’s from the Jura and then only for those with allocations. Wine with labels that look like they’re made by anarchists that no real anarchist could afford unless their parents take them out – again – for dinner.
Yes, I look forward to the future. One without people who know more than us. A future that’s open, more understanding and inclusive to all. And we’re getting closer. Even now we hold no secrets. We share everything (good) we drink on Instagram.

(Written for and originally published on The Morning Claret)

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