- Back in the day farmers used to spray their fields with toxic chemicals and when their plastic containers became empty, they burned them at the site, tells Christophe Pacalet, shaking his head and laughing.
As an aspiring producer of natural wine, Christophe Pacalet embodies the undiluted version of the Beaujolais region – the one that everybody is currently talking about. The Beaujolais that is about respecting the environment and the local traditions alike. The results are nothing short of stunning, as I’m just about to find out.
Though Christophe Pacalet carries himself with notable modesty and doesn’t make too much noise about himself, he is not an ordinary farmer guy. Well he is, but at the same time he isn’t. He is the nephew of the late Marcel Lapierre who was considered the pioneer of the natural wine movement which has received a lot of worldwide attention in the past few years. Though originally a chef, when Christophe decided to become a vigneron, he learned the ropes from the best.
The last vintage of Beaujolais, the 2012, was a difficult one with almost all possible problems, from frost to hail and to mildew. A catastrophe from the viewpoint of volume. Some producers, like Domaine de la Grand’Cour, got only 15% percent of the yield they usually get. Jean-Louis Dutraive was able to produce tasty wines, but economically speaking situation is obviously dire. The fact that it was raining cats and dogs most of my time in Beaujolais makes one hope that the 2012 doesn’t repeat itself.
But let’s get back to the cellar of Christopher Pacalet. He pours me a glass of his 2012 from the small cru of Chiroubles, located at a higher altitude than other nine Beaujolais crus. It is a tightly knit and vibrant wine, the kind of firm but succulent interpretation of Gamay that cleans your palate without drying your mouth and is at the same time able to appeal to you in a more thoughtful way. Rare quality in the world of wine, though pleasingly often available with high quality Cru Beaujolais.
- I want to make the same kind of wines my grandfather used to. That means hands off approach. Well almost like my grandfather. Sometimes his wines turned into vinegar, which hasn’t happened to me, he laughs.
- Back then people didn’t understand the fermentation process thoroughly. Working with the vines was more difficult too. For example, mildew was a huge problem. That’s why they built the chapel on top of Fleurie, next to the famous vineyards of La Madone. They used to pray in the chapel so that mildew would stay away, Christophe explains.
That fact tells you something quite essential about the region in itself but especially about the relation of its people to wine. The chapel on top of Fleurie was built to gain divine protection for the vines, not for the people. I kind of like the idea.
Marcel Lapierre, or uncle, as Christophe calls him, was one of the unpretentious pioneers who were able to change the image of Beaujolais with their own example. Lapierre was among first to travel vastly abroad. It was no coincidence that it lead to a revolution of quality.
- When he came back he was full of new ideas. This was in the late seventies, Christophe says.
As paradoxical as it may sound, the ones who wanted to go back to the traditional methods were the ones who’d been around the world most.
The quiet revolution that was ignited by Lapierre has made Beaujolais one of the most interesting wine regions of France at the moment. Thanks to him and people like Foillard, Metras, Balagny, Brun, Dutrieve and Pacalet, the story in the wine media is no longer one of declining sales of Beaujolais nouveau but of the new Beaujolais, that has gone natural.
- The generation before me didn’t choose. They didn’t decide to become vignerons. They were born into families making wine and become vignerons because of that. That’s the big difference with today. If someone makes wine now, he or she has chosen it independently. It’s not the easiest way to make money, so many of the people who do it today, do it properly, Christopher tells.
Indeed, passion seems to have come back to Beaujolais. The region is full of aspiring producers making interesting wines, like Sunier, Jambon, David-Beaupère and Thillardon.
But now that nouveau was mentioned, let’s talk about that for a minute here. Nouveau seems to be the blessed curse of the region. It has made some people rich but at the same time destroyed the quality image of the whole region. I see Beaujolais Nouveau as a typical short term gain, long term loss –situation leading towards all kinds of trouble, but the locals seem to be more forgiving towards it.
- Well it did make the region famous worldwide, says the great Jean-Paul Brun before continuing that it however might be one of the reasons why a Moulin-à-Vent goes for one tenth of the price of a Vougeot from neighboring Burgundy, though they used to be at same price level a hundred years ago. Yes, that might have something to do with it.
Cédric Chignard, the wine maker of the brilliant Fleurie company Chignard making wines with piercing purity and long aging potential puts it the other way around.
- The problem is not in my opinion the nouveau. The problem is the crus. They’ve been badly marketed, Cédric says.
The man does have a point there. The majority of Bordeaux is cheap low quality wine, but no-one thinks that would affect the image of Pauillac crus.
Christopher Pacalet seems to agree with Cédric Chignard, since Christophe too makes nouveau. In fact 50% of his production is nouveua and especially the Japanese are crazy about it. But one shouldn’t confuse his nouveau with the thermovinificated industrial stuff the big houses push out. We are talking here natural nouveau. If it sounds crazy, listen to this:
- I’d want to put my wine into a bag-in-a-box. Why not? Natural nouveau in a box, imagine that, he says.
I try to, but the whole concept sounds almost too out of the box, pun intended. After chewing on the idea for a while, I start to like it. Especially the idea of drinking Pacalet’s nouveau. Maybe this could be my ticket back to world I’ve actively avoided for many years?
The low quality industrial nouveau is mostly to blame for the situation many Beaujolais producers are currently facing. Since nouveua isn’t selling anymore like it used to, producers that have grown dependent on it are struggling.
- The markets for giants like Duboeuf are shrinking. Some smaller wineries have two vintages of wine in their tanks, but they are stuck with it because Duboef doesn’t buy it. It’s of course not Duboeuf’s fault. The market just doesn’t need that kind of Gamay in that quantity. The Beaujolais has to concentrate on quality, Christopher says.
The man has a significant point here. The Beaujolais cannot compete on low level markets with international players that have almost infinite access to cheap land and labour. France cannot win that match.
- In my mind the future of Beaujolais is firmly in terroir wines. Authentic wines that are connected to the soil they come from. The region is already making 50% less wine than just 25 years ago, he says.
Mathieu Lapierre, the owner and winemaker of legendary Lapierre seems to agree here.
- You know I did my first vintage 2004 with my father, but before that I worked in different places. In Chile and South-Africa for example. Based on that experience it was obvious to me that Beaujolais can’t compete with them with price. France is expensive. Nevertheless, I’d say 95% of the wine produced in Beaujolais has even today gone through industrial thermovinification. One has to remember that wineries like Lapierre are in the minority, though I do hope more winemakers will start making wines with traditional methods. The problem is that it takes a lot more work and skill and produces less wine to sell, he says.
Among the natural wine enthusiasts Beaujolais is a hotspot offering personal wines and bang for a buck. It is much more than industrial wine consumed once a year. To me two things became clear during my three days stay at the region: first, I think Beaujolais has never been more interesting. And the second thing? I love Beaujolais.
Disclaimer: The trip was partially supported by Beaujolais
A contract for my next book, all signed and looking fresh. And yes, it will be in Finnish like the one before. But not to worry, the time for English book will come later, I’m sure. Have a good Friday and enjoy a nice glass of wine!
With this piece I continue to cover the Murcia region which I’ve written about in the previous posts. Now it’s time for Yecla, the third player of the Monastrell-kingdom of Murcia region. It’s a smaller DO than its next door big brother Jumilla but also a younger one. Only 8 producers in total. The few seem to play together well, sitting all around one table and sharing bread; not necessarily a common thing to happen on any European wine region.
Out of the three Murcia areas I visited, Yecla seemed to be the most savvy when it comes to the business side of the wine. This makes sense when you think about the modern history of Yecla. The region has had winemaking going on of course for milleniums but it was mostly small scale production for local consumption. Farmers making wine on the side. 50 years ago the region was more known for thriving furniture business (in serious trouble at the times of the current crisis).
When producers like Castaño started getting serious about wine, two things happened. First, because Jumilla was already a well known player and Yecla was challenging its reign by producing similar Monastrells, the region needed to push the envelope further to gain recognition and not be left in the shadow of the big neighbour. Enter contemporary label designs, progressive marketing thinking and stylish bodegas with restaurants serving fine dining.
Secondly, because of the furniture tradition, Yecla had people who were involved in the international trade. They could use that know how. And unlike Jumilla, Yecla didn’t have extensive bulk wine culture in need of a make over before they could get serious. So jump start for Yecla when Jumilla had to gather its speed more slowly.
All of this means basically one thing: Yecla produces tasty wine brought to you in chic looking bottles.
But time to get honest here folks. How do the wines of Yecla actually differ on one’s palate from wines of Jumilla and Bullas? Beats me, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. My five cents for the three regions would be: collaborate more.
It’s a big planet catering 7 billion people. When you try to get your fifteen seconds of fame (some inflation here), size matters. Small regions lying next to each other but concentrating on their own messages may in fact cannibalise the common objective: the goal of raising awareness and thus selling more Monastrell with better prices.
Since all three regions produce (on my palate) rather similar bold and juicy Monastrell wines and since the notorious generic consumer has probably never heard about any of the regions, why not create one ceiling DO to represent all of the regions? ‘Monastrell from Murcia’ wouldn’t sound too bad to my ears.
From what I talked with the producers, collaboration between the three Monastrell regions is unlikely to happen, since though the producers of one region may get along well, same cannot unfortunately be said about the three regions. It seems the regions live like lone satellites in space concentrated on their own orbits. Jumilla might see Yecla as a cocky new comer and Bullas Jumilla as an old fashioned bulk area and so forth and when they attend international wine events, it’s three different stands selling similar stories with different DO’s. The one getting confused might be the consumer.
It has a lot to do with the history of course, since the producers of all three region are very friendly and hospitable people. Murcia used to be an underdeveloped piece of land with little connections to outside world (just like many other regions, mind you). On conditions like this people tend to craft their micro cosmos based on smallest differences instead of biggest similarities. That’s the way humanity seems to work. Therefore if you live on the arid plains of Yecla, you might think you have barely nothing in common with a person living next to the sea in Cartagena though you share the genes, the cuisine, the dialect, the history and the traditions.
Embedded in the local culture, the situation is probably difficult to change. That is unfortunate because the world around has already changed dramatically. It’s a big globe with a lot of competition from powerful brands. The regions are close siblings, so why concentrate on the differences? Especially while trying to challenge the more well known brands.
I do recognise the issue might be a bit of tabu, something one shouldn’t really talk about like this, but I want to make perfectly clear that by no means do I look to hurt anyone’s feelings or piss someone off. But I want to do my job properly. Sometimes it means articulating things that would normally be left intact. Consider about collaborating more folks.
At Yecla, my coverage from Monastrell region unfortunately ends. If you ask from me, the story of Monastrell and Murcia is a winning one. The style of tinto the region produces has lots of potential among eco-friendly European consumers looking for juicy reds produced organically closer to home base than Chile, Argentina or Australia. Murcia, located in the South-East of Spain, is definitely an area to keep a close eye on.
At first sight there’s nothing special. Just a guy filling a bag in a box. But if you think about it in the context I’ve been trying to set up the past two posts it hopefully starts to make more sense. Two worlds clashing at one coop in the rural Spain. The old and the new. The way the guy is filling it by hand (which probably doesn’t really happen at Devil’s rock, you know) with inexhaustible patience is a symbol of the old way. The package format obviously represents the new. Foil would have justifiably meant space technology for the grandparents, nothing less.
I really like this clip. The old and the new collide without violence.
Please click the picture to see the video at Youtube
- If these vines weren’t here, nothing would grow. I mean nothing. With other varieties, like Syrah and Tempranillo, one needs to nurture and irrigate them or they will die. Monastrell thrives even with barely any water. That’s why local farmers love to work with it. The amount of grapes Monastrell is able to provide is a miracle if the extent of water is considered. It shouldn’t basically happen but every vintage it still does, Joaquin Galvez Bauza of Bodegas Carchelo says and smiles.
The man looks distantly like a rock n’ roll professor on a tour. His body language is full of electricity and he speaks about wine with passion. He’s the type of wine maker you want to finish the bottle with. Originally from Chile, he worked for three years alongside legendary Paul Draper at Ridge Vineyards.
- I learned more in three years than during the whole university, he laughs and tells how he learned to analyze the maturity of grapes by tasting the skins frequently with Draper.
After California he ended up in Madrid and eventually landed in Jumilla. Though Jumilla is ten thousand kilometers away from Chile, when you listen to the man talk about Monastrell, you get the feeling that he is here for good.
- Jumilla is pretty much naturally organic. You don’t need to treat the vines during the season. Conditions are close to perfect. Organic wine is not a big thing in Spain so most wines are uncertified. That doesn’t mean that viticulture in Jumilla would be a walk in the park. About once in five years skies open and hail storms destroy most of the crops. That’s why one needs to have his plots spread wide, Joaquin explains.
I follow the man into the winery, where we’ll taste some tank samples. Crunchy wines. They command you to return with a raw stake. Let’s leave them to mature and open a bottle. Sierva 2009 is juicy and dries your palate. The tannins are hefty in amount but finely grained. Tasting the wine makes me yearn for jamon iberico, though it’s only been an hour since the last portion. The big wine is in nice balance.
Joaquin represents the type of winemaker that was probably not present in Jumilla two decades ago. This is why he embodies the regions transition so well. He is eloquent and speaks perfect English, he made his way from the other side of the globe off the beaten track but didn’t stop creating his own path when arriving into Jumilla.
The region used to be known for bulk wines (that some claim was used to give Rioja colour) but has gone through a transformation. Because of that the traditional rustic wine style has been at many times replaced with smoother style produced in bodegas designed by known architects. Quality wine. The end results are able to surprise even a person inclined towards skepticism like yours truly.
I leave Carchelo and continue my tour around Jumilla. Over the two days I visit more than ten bodegas. The transformation of the area is best spotted in the coops that have modernized their production, but continue to produce bulk wine as well. You can see gigantic yellow tanks in rows, each filled with half a million liters of wine. Impressive sight. Locals still come and buy cheap wine into their plastic containers. On the other hand the one can hear the progress in the fluent English of the marketing directors of the coops and see it in the chic labels designed by studios abroad.
The best coop on my palate is San Dionisio, hands down. They make pure and delicious Monastrells that sell for ex-cellar as little as 1,5 euros. Talk about bang for a buck! In general my favorite producer turned out to be Bodegas Olivares with their wines that take the purity of Monastrell to the next level. The winery is a prime example of how a traditional family company can reinvent itself and jump from bulk production into quality markets with great success.
In Jumilla one has to also mention Juan Gill, successful winery, with Clio and its big brother El Nido fetching praise from well known American publications. Like icon wines from South-America, these wines are packed in heavy glass bottles and contain full bodied and bold wines that are at the same time serious and ‘hedonistic’. They are easy to fall in love with, no doubt. I didn’t, though we did sip a bottle or two during a wonderful tapas dinner. Enjoyed, yes, but fell in love, no. I lost my heart to more affordable style of Monastrell, with less oak and more freshness. Sometimes it definitely pays off to have a simple taste, as proven once again.
Talking about simple pleasures of life, if you ever have the chance to taste Jumilla Monastrells together with local raf-tomatoes, do not hesitate. They are crazy tasty served with local olive oil and a pinch of salt flakes. Combine them with big sips of Monastrell and you are in food heaven my friend, nothing less.
Let’s hope the success of Jumilla wines on international markets will help to spread the cuisine as well. I for one wouldn’t mind buying a case of Monastrell and ten kilos of raf-tomatoes and not leaving home before the deed was properly executed.
Disclaimer: the trip was done in collaboration with the Spanish embassy in Helsinki and the DO
- There’s often a generation long gap. Grandpas used to produce wines, but the next generation didn’t continue the tradition. Now the grand children are getting back to their roots with fresh ideas. Crianza, reserva and gran reserva don’t mean much anymore. Wines are bottled and shipped abroad instead of sold in bulk for local consumers, Alfonso García Sánchez of Bodega Monastrell explains.
Bodega Monastrell is situated in the middle of a conservation park, in the region of Murcia, in South-East Spain. An odd place to visit, to be honest. Untamed and rugged, yet inspiringly beatiful. At this time of spring the bare vines sprout out of the rocky soils like it was a fertile take on the landscape of moon.
The vineyards are surrounded by mountains. On a hot summer day the air stays still and the temperature rises.
- The temperature can get to a level of unbearable, over the forties, Alfonso says.
During winters it gets freezing and snow regularly covers the vineyards. From one extreme to another. This means tasty wine, as I’m just about to find out.
This is the Monastrell country. The variety can sustain the conditions where others fail: the hotness of summer, the coldness of winter and the extreme drought of the growing season. The combination of 3000 annual hours of sunlight with a precipitation of under 200 ml is brutal and comes with a price: typical vine can carry as little as one kilo of grapes. That means a bottle per plant. A stubborn variety.
Monastrell benefits from its long history in the area. According to scientific studies it arrived to the area whooping 2500 years ago from the Middle East and spread into France only quite a bit later. Something the producers of Bullas remember to mention.
Even Phylloxera had problems with the sandy soils and though it did break out, many of the vines are still ungrafted.
We are about to enter the winery of Bodega Monastrell. First we have to wait for a while though. Public power grid isn’t allowed at the conservation area and Alfonso has to go and start the generator. Lights turn on and in we go. That is good news since though it’s only April, the sun is able to scorch the skin of a Nordic barbarian. They tell me it was sub zero a week ago, but now it is beyond thirty Celcius degrees.
Down in the cellar Alfonso pours me some of his 2010 Monastrell. The wine has a texture gently leaning towards inky, but it comes with a fresh spine and acidity one can only describe lively. It’s a crunchy interpretation of a usually heavy Monastrell. Fruit is pure and isn’t hiding behind layers of oak. The new Spain clearly doesn’t need too much wood to blur its intrinsic character.
Alfonso pops open his rarity. An ice wine crafted out of Monastrell. Yes, ice wine from Southeast Spain and from warm dry lands. Some Spanish wineries produce ice wine with cryoextraction, that is to say by freezing the late harvest grapes in the winery with hi tech machinery, but Bodega Monastrell has no need for these kinds of short cuts. Biting freeze comes in Decemeber regularly enough to make sense out of ice wine production. Wine has a spicy nose, candid fruit character, long taste, and though it is an ice wine, it has delightfully low level of residual sugar. Tannins appear in the end and the slightly bitter finish makes the package truly tasty.
Wines of Alfonso García Sánchez are one of the few who are leading the way for the Bullas region, looking to export more. 5.500 hectares used to be all about bulk wine, but the latest generation wants to look beyond local markets. According to Alfonso, even today 78% of Bullas DO is produced by one cooperative, and though the coop also bottles its wines and is quality orientated, it’s a clear token of the transition taking place in the region.
The wines of Bullas are predominantly tasty. The key seems to be retaining of the freshness, which has a lot to do with the acidic structure of the end product. Other key factors seem to be the purity of the fruit, sometimes a problem with Monastrell and of course the control of the ABV. 15,5% is most times too much for any variety.
Wines of Bodega Monastrell, coming from the middle of mountains, are a proof of the winning concept. The quality of wines is only half of the coin, though. In the times of global markets other half is marketing. When I’m looking the rugged rocky soils and listening to Alfonso talk, I keep thinking about Bullas on a general level and what the distant region is about. I’ll put it for you in short form.
Ungrafted vines producing miniscule quantity of organic wines in extreme conditions with more than two thousands of years of history with its main variety. Phew… How many other regions can claim the same?
Something tells me the story of Bullas is a story we’ll be hearing more frequently in the years to come.
Disclaimer: the trip was done in collaboration with the Spanish embassy in Helsinki and the DO
It’s an exceptionally chilly morning for late March. Random snow flakes are falling down from the steely sky. Spring is late. ”Look around you, there may still be stashes buried in the ground”, the winemaker of Staffelter Hof says, standing on the verge. The vineyard is steep enough to cause vertigo even when viewed from the bottom, not to mention from all the way up. He lets go his signature trait, a booming hearty laughter, and stuffs his hands deep into pockets. Stone’s throw away runs the river Mosel, steadily, the way it has done for generations, just like it should.
Mosel is one of the very best, maybe even the best, white wine region in the world. It has cracked the code of success a long time ago. If you compare contemporary scenery to black and white photos of the area, the region appears to have remained unchanged for decades. Immutable to the point of being uncanny in perseverance. The vineyeards continue as far as eye can see, conforming to the shapes of the arduous hills that seem to guard the river flowing through it.
But let’s introduce the man properly before we continue with his story. He is Jan Matthias Klein, the latest generation in helm of Staffelter Hof Weingut that produced its first vintage year 862. Yes, you read correctly, there is no 1 in front of the number. We are talking seriously old school. Think about Crusades, Black Death, Little Ice Age, Thirty Years’ War and many other things written in Capital letters. Staffelter Hof has withstood and witnessed all of them. It is in fact one of the worlds oldest businesses still operating.
Career in wine was never self-evident for Jan. As a youngster he wanted to become a mathematician. Now as a man in his thirties, he works with wine. Gravity of the family heritage, I suppose. While not working in the vineyards, he drives a van around Mosel listening to strange industrial German hip hop with metal influences (and apparently owns only one CD). But let’s not hold these things against him, because he makes great wine and has a story waiting to be told.
”The stashes…” he says. ”We have to go back a bit in time to understand. You know, back in the day Mosel wines used to fetch top prices on the markets. Like really high prices. That’s why the impossible slopes were cultivated in the first place. Then something happened. Namely we, starting two World Wars (put here a booming laughter). The prices never quite recovered.
Back in 1945 the Nazi regime was about to collapse and the French troops marched into Mosel. They were a thirsty bunch, cause French know how to appreciate wine. Locals had been making wine through the war as well as they could under the circumstances. When they heard the sound of the boots, they tried to save their stock by hiding bottles in the most imaginative places. Some were hidden behind fake walls, some buried below ground, into the soil, at vineyards. Who knows how many stashes were recovered after the chaotic times?” Klein asks rhetorically. Group of Winelovers listening seem to look around their toes like they’ve just lost something.
One of the local winemakers tells a story about his grandfather. During the days wine making was a dangerous profession. His grandfather was relieved from the military service for being the oldest son in the family. Nevertheless, without seeing any real trenches, he almost ended up getting shot in front of his own winery. Drunken French soldiers decided to shoot the man cause he didn’t surrender them more wine at late hours.
Now if someone is willing to take a bullet before giving his wine away, he must love his wine enough to dig deep, I think to myself and take another look at the vineyards trying to think like a stubborn German wine maker. Where would I bury my treasure?
Though Jan tells stories about the regions past in a chattering manner, the weight of history is present in many layers. The fleeting moment at the vineyard kind of crystallises Mosel to me.
Klein, in his thirties, is making organic wine, still considered progressive in Mosel, in a winery that has a track record of whooping 1151 years. That is seemingly a paradox. Like most companies of the region, Staffelter Hof is still family run and relatively small in size, so very much traditional way. Still in his chatter the past intertwines with the present seamlessly. His story and history are the same thing. And while talking about it, he wears a neon green beanie and looks more like surfer than a wine maker. …And it all makes perfect sense.
Mosel keeps making moreish wines with power, focus and finesse and its people keep finding new ways to express its unique features, whether we’re talking about Thorsten Melsheimer’s hands off natural wines that keep fermenting for a year, Staffelter Hof’s Riesling und Electro parties in the middle of a medieval dorf, the crazy project of Tobias Treis at the red soiled slopes of Sorentberg or Konstantin Weiser’s Riesling with Weiser-Künstler that carries a striking preciseness, structure and freshness. As old as its primeval soils, as young as its beanie wearing winemakers working at the steepest vineyards. This is Mosel.
The beanie generation has no need to reinvent the wheel. It doesn’t have to break anything in order to thrive. From a winelovers perspective, the region works like a charm offering superb wines with modest prices. The new kids have inherited the wisdom of the previous generations (Jan also got the booming laughter of his father). But small adjustments, minor tweaks here and there… Definitely, absolutely.
What the future holds for Mosel remains to be seen, since it is in a constant slow transformation without a clear goal, like most wine regions. One thing is clear though: meanwhile the region marches to the fresh beat of the drum of Jan, Thorsten, Tobias, Konstantin and others alike, the mythical wine stashes buried deep into the soils are left lingering in our tickled minds.
I’m greatly honored to have been shortlisted for the IWSC Communicator of the year 2013 award. As a token of gratitude to all the people who have noticed this peripheral wine writer exercising his craft out of all places in Helsinki, I decided to share with you my take on the topic of being a good wine communicator. Hope you enjoy it and share your thoughts with me.
To be a wine expert is to take a stance. To form an opinion. To spit it out. To not hold it back.
Let me tell you why. Whether Vin Jaune from Jura, Casablanca Carménère or Moscato d’Asti, one cannot prefer every style out there. Hell, if you like everything, you are probably an alcoholic and would benefit from discontinuing drinking wine. No need to like every style.
Not to worry: the things you don’t prefer can be valuable assets to you. Let me open up this thought a bit for you.
To be an opinion leader is to have opinions. Sounds self-evident (not to mention tautologic) but is unfortunately far from it in the world of wine. As a wine communicator opinions are your most valuable possessions. More lucid, pronounced and articulate, the better. Your palate is fundamental, because you cannot access a wine without it. It is vital that you do not disrespect yourself by not trusting your own palate. You’ve drank a bottle or two. That’s why they call you a wine pro. Stay true to your palate, that is your job.
For example, my palate tells me it doesn’t approve 95% of Sauvignon blancs out there. You see, I dislike most aromatic white wines in general, but find cheap SB particularly nasty. I find it mostly boring and irritating and as far as I’m concerned, producers could rip all the Sauvignon blanc vines off and replace them with something better. Why? Because that’s what my palate tells me after hundreds of samples. I’m not proud about the fact that I have trouble respecting wines that other wine pros find delicious and palatable. But you see, it’s not at all about me being proud or ashamed of the matter. It’s about my palate communicating it to me as a highly subjective fact.
All I have to do is to own it. And that is the most difficult part of being a wine communicator.
To be a wine pro is to not be ashamed of your preferences. Instead of hiding the dislikes, build your personal brand around the things you love and the things you don’t. You are an unique voice in the world of wine. Do not blur that voice by being a forerunner of safe and mediocre. Communicate your preferences clearly so people will know where you are coming from. By accumulating vast amounts of knowledge but not communicating your preferences, you’ll end up being another walking dictionary with little relevant to say. We don’t need those anymore. We have Google for that.
To be a wine communicator is to be fallible, so be mistaken regularly. That’s what evolving is all about and you are not ready. You will never be ready. Allow yourself to evolve through discussion with the world. Don’t fix your position too firmly, allow the world around you to change. It will change no matter what you do. Be sensitive to change. Have a dialogue with it. Embrace the fact that you don’t know everything. Be open to insights from others. If it means eventually changing your position 180 degrees, do not hesitate to follow suit. People who know they are always right are not good wine experts. They are self-righteous schmucks. People who never recognize their shortcomings are disconnected and thus inevitably boring. Be authentic and thus interesting.
To be a wine lover is to share your passion. The more you share it, the more you generate it. Period.
To be more than wine lover, is to form opinions. Whether your perspective is utter bullshit or a valuable insight to some, is not for you to decide. It may be both at the same time. Your task is to form an opinion through your knowledge and not be intimidated by the fact that you are unfortunately not the infallible Pope of vinous matters. Others will disagree with you. They will sometimes think you are an idiot. It is their right, do not try to take it away from them. Let the people decide whether you are onto something or totally clueless, do not strain yourself with the task of being your own judge. Instead follow your instinct.
To be a wine expert is to take a stance. It’s good for you. Sometimes you intuitively hit the mark when you are forced to form an opinion on something you are not sure how you feel about. That’s silent knowledge in action. It forces you to improve your thought process. So go and embrace the discomfort zone. Growth happens outside the boundaries of cosy and nice. Discomfort is your friend. You see, brain is like a muscle. Exercise hurts a bit, but eventually you become a better thinker. That means you will become a better wine expert not to mention a better communicator. And that my friend, is a worthy goal.
One of the issues with Languedoc region is the lack of distinctive styles from one sub region to another. Obviously there are nuances like within every region, but the most popular style seems to somewhat suppress the differences. From consumers point of view all the different appelations don’t feel justified. Whether consumer point of view should count in the AOC-system made to protect originality of the region is another conversation. To me it seems that they are making things quite difficult in order to claim they have an identity that many times doesn’t taste in the glass. But enough with the rant, let’s get to positive matters.
Don’t blame yourself if you’ve never heard of Malepere AOC. I hadn’t either before I tasted 30 odd wines from the AOC a few weeks back. The wines of the appellation are mostly sold locally (only 20% are exported) and the small family companies that make up the vast majority of the producers are not big in marketing to put it mildly.
What separates Malepere from the rest is the use of Cabernet Franc in the blends. I was skeptical of the concept before tasting but was forced to change my opinion while sipping and spitting. The variety seems to work very well in Malpere providing classic notes of bell pepper, building up decent structure and increasing overall complexity. Dash of Cab Franc makes the difference.
The story behind the use of Cab Franc is not the most romantic wine story. Scientific approach was used in the 70′s to determine which varieties would suit the region best. One of them was Cab Franc and though people had doubts in the beginning, they soon made the same conclusions I did. Proof is in the glass and if something works, just go with it and stop over analyzing. Recognizable style in Languedoc context is a good start for recognition.
This Western part of Languedoc is an interesting region. It’s the final frontier for so called Atlantic varieties. According to Ryan O’Connel (making wine near Carcassonne in the Cabardès AOC) coastal areas of Languedoc enjoy often sunshine when Cabardès and Malepere fall under a cloud. Two weather systems collide above the AOC’s which seems to provide wines with some needed freshness. Watching forecasts predicting sunshine everywhere except your place may feel depressing, as Ryan put it, but in the end it seems to be good thing for the wines!
There it is in short. I apologize for writing in haste but I feel like getting this post out of my system before continuing to taste Crozes-Hermitage wines over a dinner with producers in down town Lyon. A glass or two of wine? Why not.