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)


Thursday, 1 March 2018

Natural wine, acid punk and all that jazz

In November The Guardian published an 1800-odd word article about natural wine of which approximately zero said anything new. Not that it had to. A piece called “The cult of natural wine – ‘this is like punk or acid house’” was bound to rip through the Internet like wild fire, breaking news or none. To re-post was to validate – a digital secret handshake. See guys, we are cool.
I saw it going round again the other day and got annoyed. Then I got annoyed at getting annoyed. Finally I took action and did what we all do: I blamed Facebook for wasting my time. But I’m sorry Facebook, I was wrong. It wasn’t you this time. It was yet another article saying the same old stuff four-plus years (and that’s a big plus, I’m a newbie) after it’s already been said.
I know, don’t be a snob. Education is important. People need to know there are alternatives; they need to start somewhere. But let’s just imagine we’ve already started. That instead of copy-pasting the same old stuff, we’re charting out where we’d like to go next and that you’ve asked my advice. Well, here goes:
It’s time to move on from just labelling natural wine as ‘different’. As something you’re for or against, have to learn to love or ‘get your head around’ – how can people get their heads around factory farming but not deal with a bit of residual sparkle in their ‘but it’s not meant to be sparkling’ wine?!. It’s not only something made by cowboys and drunk by Ginsberg’s angel-headed hipsters with their pizza while their parents wonder what they’re up to (though a lot of it is drunk by hip kids), and so what if it’s cloudy.
So where to begin? Talk to the winemakers, watch them work, drink around. Consider the gravity of what they’re doing. The parallels and lessons we can draw. Afterwards, whether a wine’s unfiltered may no longer seem so newsworthy. And while I’ve got my advice hat on, here are six more things we definitely don’t ever need to hear any more about:Natural wines come from a philosophy that can give a perspective on the way we do other things; on the more holistic, hands-off mentality we really need to start applying elsewhere. Their makers put in a hell of a lot of hard work. They run huge risks. For or against or not-what-you-know is not the point. ‘Cool’ is not the point. We’re framing the subject wrong by making it seem black and white. You don’t think in terms of black and white when talking about a rainbow.

1. That natural wine is a fad
Nope, but I’ll give you ‘trend’: an upward trend among the environmentally conscious to adhere to sustainable, environmentally-friendly practices while producing artisanal products for those who care. On a good day, I might even call it the future.

2. That there’s no definition of ‘natural’
Get over it. No one seems to be too concerned about what standards conventional wineries are held to or whether there’s room for abuse.

3. That there’s a fourth colour of wine you didn’t know about
Orange wines are often dragged through the mud of generalities about natural wine even though they are not necessarily natural per se. Also, evidence dating this style back 8,000 years means the fact you didn’t know about it is a little besides the point. Think about it: you’re a farmer. You’ve got lots of things to do. You’re thirsty. Are you actually going to bother taking the skins off, robbing the grapes of their natural protection just to make it a colour we nominally call ‘white’? Didn’t think so. And just a thought: Was rosé such a difficult debutante?

4. … and that it tastes like nuclear ceiling drippings while the reds and whites tend towards flawed cider, farmyard, hamster cage, what my grandfather’s wine tasted like or (gosh!) grape juice

5. The no hangover thing
Wine is alcohol and alcohol is ethanol and ethanol is a toxin and if you drink too much you will die or at least wake up with a hangover, natural or not.

6. That natural wines can’t age 
Here, I did some research. I WhatsApp’ed four friends to recall an old natural wine they enjoyed still in top form. The results:

Emidio Pepe, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 1976, ’78, ’80, ’82, ’88 
Domaine les Roche, Chinon 1978
La Stoppa, Stoppa 1996
Nicolas Joly, La Coulee de Serrant 1999, 1990

The discourse is still too concentrated on low hanging fruit. Let’s reach higher. We can have both meat and juice.

(Written for, and originally published on The Morning Claret)


Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Le Carton x Wink | Als Wie Ein Lamm

On Sunday 18 February 2018 Le Carton hosted a creative re-construction of the Last Supper with parts of the Matthew Passion, a short lecture, stories and Karev Yom singing plus lots of wine and yoghurt flat breads in collaboration with Restaurant Wink and Florence Gramende.

Each dish was based on an ingredient which, in their totality, make up the traditional Jewish Passover Sedar plate.

Cavalo Nero + bitter herbs + caramelised yoghurt dumplings with blood orange mayo

Rainbow chard + pickled stems + celery leaf sabyonne with poached egg yellow

Hibiscus polenta + smoked beets + red chicory with beet crème

Lamb and carrot pasty + lamb jus with prune crème

Sweet potato cake + spiced creme fraîche ice cream



Next Le Carton pop up: MAGS, BAGS, MAC N' CHEEZE or, VINO BRUTALO (+ some Italo) @ Hotel de Goudfazant

19 March 2018


Monday, 15 January 2018

Harvest 2017: François Blanchard | Le Grand Cléré

The first time we spoke with François Blanchard was when he invited us to make a grand fête which sounded like a great idea except driving there 45 minutes south somewhere wasn’t such a great idea because we didn’t know where ‘there’ was except there was a château and also because we were drunk because this was Dive or at least afterwards so we didn’t go.

We met again in October. When we finally arrived at Chateau du Perron in Lémere in the Touraine in the Loire it was dark and I say ‘finally’ because we were driving from Amsterdam and the drive — all parts but especially the last part — always takes longer than you think it will and even longer when it’s me driving which it was so like I said, when we finally arrived it was dark and it was also very late. François came out of the chai howling and whooping and got us glasses and poured us wine and it was cold and good. It was a skin-contacted Sauvignon from 2012 and there was also paté and homemade pizza and it was 01:00 which I know because I went to the car to get a sweater.

François had been drinking with a friend who looks like Hemingway whose name is Gerard Blanchard but they are not related — François and Gerard I mean. Gerard is an accordion player and he played for us and said I looked like an American actress by which I am sure he means an American actress in the old days when there was a certain American actress look which I don’t have. Later he showed us a book that made no sense because it was in French and because he had illustrated it on acid and later still François played on the guitar and started howling and everyone joined in and started banging things. I say howling and not singing but it was more like throat singing which I guess is still singing and we were still banging things. It was about 04:00 and by then we were drinking a Cabernet Franc from 1995.

The next day we woke up sneezing and still dressed shoes socks and all. Our bed was clean but the room was dusty and there were sheets over the things in the corner and our bed was a mattress on the floor and we were very very thirsty. François lives in 3/4 of a château with his family and, I quote myself, the other 1/4 is full of rooms full of mattresses, dodgy to no electricity and bidets in unlikely places. This is the 1/4 we woke up in and it was sunny. Later we went on a tour.

François took over the family’s château in 1999 he said and channelled his energy of which I can attest he has huge amounts into wakening the vines. His grandfather and I think but am not sure his father made wine to be sold in bulk to négociants and in the chai which is very large and you can see the big vats they used for storage. After this, or perhaps after his father, the vines were ignored and are now revived and strong. François started making wine in 2003 and always according to organic principles and with much care and attention paid to bugs and other critters and fruit trees grown everywhere in-between. He works with horses and Olivier Cousin helped him with these. 

Soon it was time to make the fête but first it was time to prepare. I should explain before I tell you that we picked raspberries and tomatoes and made a big pot of sauce for everyone who arrived that night to eat at long tables by the fire with bread and pasta that François was, but really still is, a jazz player but that when it was his profession he played jazz in Tours. For him, and like I wrote for The Morning Claret, the harvest is all about good energy and making the fête and the more musical you are, the more valuable you are, I think, to the whole operation. ‘Making a fête’ by the way translates to making a party and is how they say it in French.

The harvest began on Saturday at 11:00 which was the next day. We were told it would be sunny, that it was always sunny for the harvest even though it was grey at the time we were told this but indeed it became very brightly sunny and I was hot in my turtleneck when it was even though it was also windy. We were there to pick the Sauvignon situated a little ways down the rolling, wheat-lined road on a hillside on the highest plateau in the area which like I already said is Touraine at an altitude of approximately 110 metres. His vineyard is called Le Grand Cléré and is about 3 hectares with the total divided between Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. They would pick the Cabernet next week and there would be another fête we were told with some Japanese, two Belgians and an Italian from Rome. All of them, we were told, were musical.

The picking was very relaxed and everyone which is to say neighbours and old people and young people and very young people which supposedly have better energy and a lady with curly hair who comes every year from Brittany and a café philosopher who did more philosophising and smoking than picking came to help but mostly, I think, for lunch. Harvest lunch is always the best lunch and François’ wife made the best fromage du tête I have ever had and this coming from a vegetarian who is not a vegetarian when she knows the animal or is in France which is among the worst sorts of vegetarian she knows. There were three tables laden low with lentils and hardboiled eggs and cheese and bread and boudin noir and paté and rillet and herring and apples and countless more things but these are the things I ate. We sat on our buckets and drank small glasses of beer and a little wine and then it was time for coffee and then to pick more grapes.

We finished at 7 and the next day it rained and we made the wine and the café philosopher smoked. First we de-stemmed the grapes by pushing them around and around and around a big basket that worked like a sieve in which the stems and stalks get stuck and out of which the skins and juice and ladybugs fall. Underneath was a plastic bin. Next we would check the bin for ladybugs and snails and breakaway stems and then it was time to crush this with our feet. This is a lot of fun and very satisfying and everyone wants to do it but is also tiring and cold work and it makes you thirsty and appreciative. We stood stomping in our buckets gushing and crushing while another group continued de-stemming and others just were talking. You crush until what you are crushing is juice and then someone adds more grapes and you crush some more all the while upping and downing and drinking cold little glasses and no longer noticing everything is sticky and smells like grape and thinking how great a thing is wine. There is, I think, something to be said about energy. And reggae.

(p.s. Today I received an invitation to the next fête. See you there, François!)

September 2017

François Blanchard (Le Grand Clére)

Lémere, Touraine, Loire

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