Posts Tagged ‘Beaujolais

What I Learned at VinExpo

VinExpo, one of the world’s largest wine trade shows, welcomed nearly 50,000 visitors last month — including yours truly. See below for a list, in no particular order, of what I learned from my whirlwind trip.

Warm climate wine producers have the coolest booths.

While the Piedmontese and the Burgundians took a low-key approach to their stands, not so the Corsicans:


Corsica VinExpo

the Lebanese:

Lebanon VinExpo

or the Brazilians:

Brazil VinExpo

Gamay is full of surprises.

I know my way around a cru Beaujolais, but I was still (very pleasantly) surprised to taste the wines of Joseph Burrier. The wines are subtle and focused, and Burrier — a 6th generation winemaker — was chock-full of quotable observations. One of my favorites: “the key with Gamay is to avoid vulgarity.” There was nothing remotely vulgar about these wines. They’re the Audrey Hepburn of cru Beaujolais. Graceful, elegant and unadorned. My favorites were the 2011 Saint-Amour “Côte de Besset,” refined and delicate, and, at the other end of the spectrum the 2001 Fleurie les Colonies de Rochegrès. Here it is, on the right, next to one of its younger compatriots. (You know the tasting starts getting real when the winemaker pulls out the unlabeled bottles.)


The very name Fleurie puts these wines at a disadvantage, says Burrier, as it inevitably prompts drinkers and even writers (ahem) to call these wines floral, charming, and unserious. He uses older vintages like this one to prove that Fleurie has a serious side. The wine is indeed drinking nicely now, and falls into what I think of as “October” wines.

Marketing can’t beat Mother Nature.

The boosterism that pervades events like this was no match for the cold (literally) hard reality of the weather. It was raining cats and dogs — or perhaps just cats if this whimsical sculpture installation was any indication:


In all seriousness, the horrible weather blanketing western France cast a pall on things. It remains to be seen how much the deluge will end up affecting the vintage, but, as they say in PR, “the optics were not good.”

The children are our future.

Tasting and drinking a lot of  wine was great, but the best part of my trip was meeting the next generation of France’s wine professionals, from sommeliers to winemakers and everything in between. A young couple who had abandoned their life in Paris to start a winery in Savoie focusing on indigenous grapes. One sommelier with the extremely quixotic, and extremely worthy, pursuit of introducing French people to wines from around the world. (Not an easy task. One Parisian diner, upon seeing Vega Sicilia on his wine list, asked, “they make wine is Spain?”) A Bordeaux winemaker who took as much pride in his Bordeaux Supérieur as his Pomerol. France’s obsession with rules and bureaucracy has a way of sucking the life out of its brightest young people, so it’s beyond encouraging to see all this dynamism and creativity.



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Time to Grow Up: The Problem with Tasting Notes

My almost two-year-old twin boys have entered the chatterbox phase. They are overflowing with words to describe their environment: two shoes, mommy’s cup, big shark book. Their vocabulary and their thinking are anchored in the concrete. It will be a little while before they understand abstract concepts completely, and acquire the words to express them.

Watching this process has me thinking differently about the language we use to describe wine. The current state of the tasting note is, well, not good. Eric Asimov cites a number of howlers in his recent book, How to Love Wine. (Check out my favorite chapter, Tyranny of the Tasting Note.) To my mind, the biggest problem with notes today is this: they are chock full of nouns. They’re a hodge-podge of names of things — roasted plums, dried thyme, Maduro tobacco — that remind me of how my toddlers see the world. Just like my little guys aren’t demonstrating a capacity for abstract thought yet, or an understanding of associations and comparisons, most tasting notes are stuck firmly in the world of things. As in, “here’s something that tastes like some other stuff, let me list them out. 92 points.” If, as writers and readers, we think of wine only in these concrete terms, we miss out on subtlety and sophistication. It’s infantilizing. Concepts like balance or terroir will elude us. Consciously or not, we give more weight to wines that taste like things, and less weight to wine that taste of a place. I’m not a terroir absolutist, and I understand that tasting notes are convenient and practical shorthand, but we do ourselves a disservice if we rely on these notes, and the wines they benefit most, to the exclusion of all else.

Back when I had time to teach wine classes (pre-chatterbox toddlers) I loved to pour cru Beaujolais for my students, if only to show them the world beyond Duboeuf. Once, after  asking a group to talk about the Morgon in front of us, a student said that “nothing about the wine stuck out.” She spoke reluctantly, certain she had said something stupid. I asked her to elaborate, and gradually I understood what she meant, and why she felt so sheepish about it. There was no “flavor” that jumped out at her, no raspberry jam or flambéed cherries or whatever it was she thought an ” expert” would identify. It just tasted like wine to her, wine that she liked. in fact, it was exactly the kind of wine she preferred. But she didn’t know how to ask for it, because she didn’t have the vocabulary she needed. “Nothing sticking out” was her way to explain that it was balanced. That it tasted of fruit, but wasn’t exactly fruity. that it had just as much alcohol as she wanted. That it was refreshing, even, not something she usually thought of in red wine. (And the more she drank, the more she wanted something delicious to eat with it.) How can we provide someone like her with a wine vocabulary that’s ample, descriptive and nuanced?

We spend a lot of ink and pixels criticizing winemakers who produce simplistic, overblown wines and the people who drink these wines. But if we want more people to appreciate different kinds of wine, we need to give them different language to understand and express their experience.

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Miss Vicky Wine — With Free Shipping No Less

I’ve been pressed for time these days, which is one reason why I’m delighted to kill two birds with one stone in this post: supporting one of my favorite wine peeps and offering all you lovely STBNY readers a nice deal. Miss Vicky Wine, who I’ve written about before, is a super-energetic young Frenchwoman who is on a mission to bring her family’s wine to the world — or, at the very least, the U.S.

The wine in question is Fleurie, one of the cru of Beaujolais. We’re not talking bubblegum fruity Beaujolais Nouveau here. Fleurie, and the other 9 crus (=subregions, more or less) of Beaujolais produce fruity, highly satisfying, and highly undervalued wines. Miss Vicky’s 2007 Fleurie fits squarely in this category. Fresh, with subtle fruit and more than a hint of earthiness, this wine practically screams fall. (Keats’ “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” and all that.) It would be great with roast chicken or any straightforward poultry or light pork dish.

It’s priced at $18.80/bottle, and available only online. And if you email me at sasha@spinthebottleny I will send you the free shipping code. And let me know what you think!

In the meantime, check out this vid Miss Vicky (that’s Anne-Victoire to you) made of this year’s harvest, which looks to have been both exhausting and a pretty kick-ass time.

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Beaujolais Like it Oughta Be: A Great Wine for Fall

When many people hear “Beaujolais,” chances are they think of Beaujolais Nouveau, an inexpensive, often mediocre wine that is shoved down their throats every November. A marketing trick from Georges Duboeuf that reached its apogee in the 1980s, Beaujolais Nouveau was a smart way for producers in the Beaujolais region to make a lot of noise and turn a quick buck. (The wine is made using a fermentation technique called carbonic maceration that produces fruity, simple wines that are ready to drink almost immediately. No need for a long fermentation or aging period requiring winemakers to hang on to a lot of inventory for months and months.) The problem with Nouveau, in addition to the fact that it usually doesn’t taste very good, is that it overshadows the really good wine that comes from Beaujolais.
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