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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