Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The Moet

Introducing the Moet:

Unit of production defined as the rough production of the largest producer.

Thus 1 Moet = 26,000,000 bottles.


Duval Leroy, 5 million btl production = .192Moet

Bollinger, 2.5 million btl production = .096Moet

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Guy Charbault

There’s a lot of ruins in Mesopotamia….

There’s a lot of Champagne in Champagne. So without further ado I give you.

Guy Charbault. 3rd generation growers based in Mareuil-Sur-Ay in the Marne valley. They are a smallish house producing a bit over 200,000 bottles a year (0.76%Moet). Their vines are mostly in the Marne valley in the villages of Mareuil-sur-Ay and Bizeuil, though they source some Pinot Meunier from the Aude.

Their viticulture is mostly organic, though they do employ ‘l’insecticide de confusion sexuelle’ colloquially known as the ‘l’entraitement de Shoreditch’ and reserve other spray in case of problems.

Guy Charbault are typical of a large section of the Champagne market, exporting across Europe, but also selling a lot of wine to the, mainly, Belgian hoardes that descend annually looking to fill their boots with bubbles.

If I was being very cruel, I’m not, but mainly because I’ve a glass of nice rose Champagne in my hand and I’ve just had a lovely breakfast, I’d call it commodity Champagne. I don’t think anyone is ever going to seek out Guy Charbault wines, or write breathless blog posts about them (this one excluded), but that doesn’t stop them from being worthy of serious consideration.

They’re substantially cheaper than the big houses, cellar door prices ranging from €14 to €18. Now if that doesn’t say everyday drinking Champagne to you, then you obviously have a better control of you bank account than I do.

A lithe and racy Blanc de Blanc, a nice fruity (dare I say it Moet style) Selection Brut, a Vintage offering that mimics the style of the NV but with more oomph, a rose de saignee (a surprisingly bold winemaking choice) that would be more than would more than happily grace my glass as I lounge on a riverbank come summer. Only a mildly disappointing 1ere cru Reserve Selection marred the range, it was a bit heavy on the autolytic yeasty toastiness without the power of wine beneath to balance it.

Full tasting notes and pretty pictures of the bottles here.

So there you go, family owned, good bubbles, and the satisfaction of knowing that every time you drink a bottle Bernard Arnault, a man much richer than either you or me (unless you happen to be Bernard Arnault, in which case hi) sheds a solitary lonely tear (probably not true, but I like to pretend).

Xavier Charbault
Guy Charbault, 12, rue du Pont, B-P 24, 51160, Mareuil-sy-Ay.
+33 3 26 52 60 59

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Les Enfants qui a perdu son politesse

Quite apart from how difficult it can be to secure a table reservation for five people on a Saturday in Paris when you’ve restricted yourself to choosing places where the wine list focus is what one would call natural. There are other issues involved with trying to have a celebratory evening out in France’s capital city.

T&C had hopped on the Eurostar, somewhat on a whim and we were planning a good solid evening of wine consumption, accessorized with a few plates of decent food and lots of catching up.

Meeting them off the Eurostar we ducked into a nearby bar to sort out plans for the evening. Of course this necessitated the usual rigmarole of catching the proprietors eye, taking a table, then waiting for him to see fit to come over and take an order, nothing out of the ordinary there.

We hopped in a taxi to the hotel, which was a neat 9.5 euros. T&C nipped up to their room to drop bags, then we asked the hotel to order us a taxi to the restaurant, essentially back where we’d come from.

It was here that I started to get a trifle annoyed, after repeating the name of the restaurant, the road name and the quarter 1eme a couple of times, while the driver queried the 10eme (all in French). He finally shook his head, asked again, I offered to show him the address as written, he then repeated it word for word as I had told him, before shrugging and driving us there. For 19.50 euros. Cunt. Now my French accent is pretty good, and I was being very clear, I can only assume that his view was as English folk we wouldn’t really know what we were doing.

Les Enfants Perdus, on arrival to an empty restaurant. (In French)

Me – Hi, we’ve got a reservation for 5 in the name Edwards.

Waiter – OK, where are the rest of your party?

Me – Oh, they might already be here, they left before us from the 18th.
(bear in mind the restaurant is empty, it’s 7.30pm before most people eat in France)

Waiter – Nope, please can you wait at the bar.

Me – Sorry, is it ok to go to the table.

Waiter – Well, sometimes the rest of a party can take some time to arrive, so it’s better at the bar.

What the fuck, it’s a tiny little restaurant bar, there are three stalls, the table is empty and we’re on time. What did they think they were going to squeeze another sitting into the time we were waiting for the rest of the party. Did they hope that making us feel like three out of place cunts was going to make us order more? No fucking clue.

(a couple of minutes later)

Waiter – You can go to your table now.

Ahh we’d served our penance for arriving at different times and now we were being given the privilege of our table. E&E, the rest of the party arrived moments later.

I’d considered posting about what we ate, it was all pretty good, the wine list was about 6.5/10. A nice Alex Bain Pouilly Fume 010 (though I was a bit uncertain of the storage as it wasn’t as fresh as the last couple of bottles I’ve had), a non-descript Savennieres and Ermitage Pic St Loup, were our choices.
The service carried on its theme of incompetence and misplaced hauteur, so we left after mains.

Les Enfants Perdus, 9 rue des récollets 75010 Paris

I understand that this reeks of first world issues, but I've spent a large part of my life working in hospitality, and there is no need for this odd need that a lot of French waiting staff seem to have to ensure the guest knows his place.


‘If you drink wine everyday you drink sun energy’ we need life energy.

Christine Saahs.

Say what you like about biodynamics and it’s adherents but there is no doubt in my mind that it is practiced by some of the world’s finest estates.

The Wachau is on the Northern shore of the Danube river. The Bohemian massif, a large granite feature forces the river to take a winding detour leaving a south facing slope of granite leading down to clay silt closer to the river.

It is believed that the Celts brought viticulture to this part of Europe, with the Romans carrying on the tradition, however it is certain that it has been practiced pretty much constantly for the last couple of millennia, for centuries the Krems monastery was it’s focal point.

Similarly the Nikolaihof estate has a good bit of history, it’s first referenced in the time of Saint Severin and the Romans (around 470AD). I mention this because there is something about the wines that seems somewhat ageless. Or at the very least they seem to age on a different timescale to other wines.

The Saahs family started working biodynamically in 1971, if this seems very early, remember that Maria Thun the major proponent for much of second half of the last century was German and it always had a stronger following across the German speaking parts of Europe.

Intrinsic to their wine making is the natural yeast colonies, which Christine says are unique to each vineyard.

‘Every vineyard has a different yeast’ as such young vines don’t ferment properly for about 6 years or so as they’ve not developed a strong enough vineyard yeast culture. The 1st vintage is always half dry as the yeasts are not yet strong enough to ferment the wine to dryness.

Christine went on to mention that when samples of different yeasts were taken from around the area, theirs were the strongest and most efficient at consuming sugar. This leads us to one of the other marvels of the Nikolaihof wines, their low alcohols. 11.5% up to 12.5% but with no attendant lack of body or intensity. A couple of weeks later Christine showed me their 1999 Zu Mautern Jungfern Wein (11.5%) and still incredibly vibrant, with floral, mineral notes, a lovely off dry lime edged fruit. A wine that hardly betrayed anything of it’s 12 years of age.

Certainly I was starting to think of the wines ageing on a human scale. With 18-20 years of age being when they start to have something interesting to say. That’s not to imply that there were no precocious youngsters, as they were all fascinating, but it made sense when one looked at the 1993 Gruner Veltliner Vinothek aged for15 years in old oak casks 1500-12500l and 4yrs bottle. A wine they released when it was legal to drink, makes sense no?

Slightly waxy polished edge, salted preserved lemons (almost an herbal vodka like note). A smooth and almost sensual palette, dry, savoury and intriguing. A hint of dried fruit showing on the finish, but all in all very fresh and remarkable free of oxidative notes.

Gruner Veltliner Federspiel 2010 11.5% from the Urgestein – Granit/Gneiss
Vibrant herbaceous, white pepper, austere, mineral with an underlying breadiness, good length and nice purity, a slight herbaceous tang on the finish.

Similarly the 88 Elizabeth cuvee Gemischter Satz (field blend) Riesling, GV, PB, Neuburger, Fruh Rot Veltliner, from a vineyard they planted in 85 to celebrate the estate anniversary. They chose to interplant the varieties in the old style, and commensurately harvest them all at the same time. Not unlike the great Marcel Deiss crus this has the richness, complexity and satisfaction that comes from a blend of varieties all quite at home where they belong.
Ripe apples, some complex old floral type notes, a lovely richness intertwined with the bottle aged characters, a very delicate acetyl note (not enough to be bad) finishing with some tasty ripe apple notes. Some lovely acidity gave it structure (from the slightly early harvest Riesling).

Other wines tasted.

2007 Steiner Hund, Riesling Reserve 12.5%
Complex minerally lime (thai lime?) green apple skin notes, medium bodied but with a creaminess to the acidity. Very assured and intense.

1990 Riesling Smaragd, Zu Mautern/Wachau
Maturing vegetal notes betray some bottle age, cream and a hint of peach. Incredibly mineral palette, medium ripe with stunning length.

1986 Honigfogel GV (Honigfogel predates Smaragd as a category)
Slightly toasty nutty sort of nose, reminds me of old Champagne, some lovely fading fruit over a mineral skeleton, citrus, crushed slate, great acidity and a caramel edge bottle age character.

1983 Gruner Veltliner (1st great year)
Dusty subtle cellar mould like note, like smelling damp age worn rocks, some ghostly fruit notes and lovely length.

Finally a last word of wisdom, ‘Green matter is always the link between sun energy and animal life’.

The tasting was held at Spring Boutique, 56 Rue de l'Arbre Sec, 75001, Paris.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Bistrot Paul Bert

The underground walkway between the line 4 and line 12 of the metro at Marcadet Poisonnieres is interminable, throw in a trip that took three changes an empty stomach and a slight hangover, you’ll understand why I was a bit jittery by the time I arrived at Faidherbe Chaligny to meet my friend Juel (@winewomansong).

Lunch was to be at the storied Bistrot Paul Bert, an old school place down a little side street. They were middling busy when we arrived, 1pm on a Tuesday in February possibly not being their busiest service.

Service was gloriously French in that it had that charming inattentiveness that only the French seen to quite manage. They had their own pace for feeding and watering us and little I could do seemed to change it. Mind you aside from the quibbles over getting a jug of tap water and a basket of bread there was little for which we wanted.

2007 Overnoy Arbois Pupillan: Savoury and salty with some neatly delineated dusky oxidative lowlights, but nothing too outré. This was all about the coiled acidity and tightly wound minerality.  

Turning established gender menu choice stereotypes neatly on their head I opted for the red mullet carpaccio followed by the brill, while Juel took the agricultural laborers option of terrine de campagne de la maison and tete de veau avec sauce gribiche.

The mullet was a beautifully arranged carpaccio of luminescent stained glass like slices decorated with milky white disks of daikon and lightly pickled spring onion. The slices came slightly thicker than at Au Passage, and though the plate was marginally more cluttered both dishes were astonishing in the freshness and quality of fish presented.

In contrast to the carpaccio, the terrine was a veritable doorstep of country bluster. An edible cliché of traditional peasant directness and honesty, it’s muscular porky depth bristling like stable boys stubble on a ladies cheek.

Jean-Francois Ganevat, Cuvee de l’enfant terrible Poulsard 2010 was almost schiller wein in colour, being fresh and like a deep rose. Light carbonic style tannins came with fresh Jura alpine influenced acidity. Some faintly cherry like fruit notes, but really this was about restrained site specific expression.

I have long held that there is nary a dish that cannot be improved with the measured addition of pork product. The Brill with Puy lentils (aux lard) was a prime example, marvelously cooked brill, seemingly needing no more than a shrug of the knife to come away from the bones, the flesh still juicy in it’s chunks. The flesh had been crowned with two perfectly crisp rashers of bacon that neatly proved a flavour bridge to the slick of creamy lentils, their lovely earthiness grounding the dish.

I didn’t try any of Juel’s tete de veau, but there was very little attempt to gussy it up for the restaurant table, indeed the waiter congratulated her on her order and left with a wry grin on his face. A pile of fatty, meaty head was topped with a pile of sauce gribiche, there were a couple of boiled vegetables added as an afterthought and a surprise treat of a largish morsel of wobble brain. Judging from the heroic amount that Juel ate and the entirely positive noises I kept hearing it was rather good.
I’m always less impressed with desserts that I feel I ought to be, it’s probably related to my tendency to work my way through the bread basket at the start of the meal. That said the desserts were great examples of Parisian classics, my Paris Brest coming liberally decorated with bits of nut and fair bulging with praline cream. Juel’s Baba aux rhum looked like a particularly extravagant mediaeval hat with it’s towering spiral of cream at its centre. As usual the bottle of rum was left on the table in the off chance that we’d need to add more.

I loved Bistrot Paul Bert, it was exactly what I imagine of a French bistro, bold traditional flavours where necessary, delicacy if called for. A stunning wine list of natural wines, though taking the more liberal French interpretation of the term means that there are wines for everyone here.

I will be back

Bistrot Paul Bert, 18 rue Paul Bert, 11eme Paris
+33 1 43 72 24 01

Wine by one

This is the posher end of the Paris wine bar scene, all shiny black tables and polished steel, there is none of the natural avant garde's rusticity here.

The idea (indeed it’s unique concept) will be familiar to anyone who’s visited the Sampler or Selfridges in London. Enomatic machines line the walls upon receipt of your euros, deposited via card, you can taste differing size measures of a selection of wines.

Oddly, the selection of wines on offer when I went seemed strangely outdated. Rather as if I was looking at a top restaurant list from four or five years ago. There were a couple of Mouton Rothschilds, Opus One, Ridge Montebello, a couple of top end (big and oaky) Chilean Carmeneres, Cloudy Bay Sauvignon (mind they had Clos Henri Sauvignon as well).

All very excellent wines, and particularly if you’re French and looking to taste some highly regarded new world wines then it’s not a bad place to stop by. However I couldn’t help but feel that the selection rather missed the changes that have taken place globally in the last five to ten years. There was no evidence of the trend towards lighter less oak influence new world styles. There was a token acknowledgement of the impact that natural wines have had on France, but it didn’t feel like anyone had their heart in that part of the selection.

Finally, we were there on a middling busy Sunday afternoon, and there were simply too many bottles that were empty (I counted 5) or on their last drops. Which for me isn’t good enough to be taken seriously as a wine bar.

Wine by one, 9 rue des capucines 1eme, Paris 
+33 1 42 60 85 76

Ca c'est bon

It was while trying to get some sleep in the deathly dry air-conditioned nightmare that was my Angers hotel room that I had a realisation.

I'd been trying to get a handle on how to explain the brinksmanship that that many of the more out there natural wines seem to pull of in their aromatics. Being simultaneously wrong and slightly unpleasant but also very moreish and right.

I'd recently been drinking Donati Camillo 2010 Lambrusco frizzante and had been at a loss as to what to write as a tasting note, other than that it'd been thrillingly interesting and very enlivening as a pre dinner drink.

I was reminded of an aromatic compound called Indole, at very low concentrations it smells floral, at higher concentrations it smells fecal. From shit to roses in only an extra 10 times dilution. It occurred to me that it may well just be lots of very low levels of problematic compounds. That the background tang of slightly pissy vinegariness that seemed to stalk the edge of my flavour perception, may well have been just that. There was certainly a not unsubstantial level of volatile acids. But yet, I really enjoyed the wine. Had my perception threshold of various volatile acids been so pummelled into submission that I just didn't notice/care any longer.

Anyway I was reminded of this yesterday evening as I was enjoying a glass go Laurent Lebled's Touraine Gamay 2011 Ca c'est bon. It had that lovely background tang of refreshing vinegariness that I know I'm not supposed to like, but dammit I'm quite happy with a decent robust vinaigrette on my salad, and the Roman empire pretty much thrived on Posca (a vinegar/water drink). So maybe it's not that odd that I find this extra tang, along with the decent acidity, crunchy tannins and verging on stalky herbaceous red fruit an appealing sort of drink.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012


So this turned up after dinner a couple of nights ago - I was a trifle concerned as the word Absinthe was rather prominently displayed upon the label (I have previous with the green stuff).

However it was far from undrinkable and dangerous. Cherries and bitter herbal notes all blended quite happily, being a trifle picky it was a bit on the sweet side, much improved by an addition of an extra slug of absinthe or pastis (Henri Bourdain in this instance)..