Sou-vin-ears – Wine and Listening

I have a pretty good range of books on wine acquired over a lifetime of study, but what you can get out of a book will never compare with what you can learn from listening to winemakers themselves. Most everything I’ve learned about wine has come from talking with winemakers and like pretty much all fields of study, the more you learn, the less you really know.

The subject is vast and continues to evolve as we move back and forth between tried and true traditions, new innovations in viticulture and wine-making and the newest scientific gadget, which tend to be either a real boon or a complete delusion.

But what is always reassuring to me is when the winemakers themselves listen. And to what are they listening? To the unmistakeable clarion voices of the vines themselves. It is those who listen to nature and follow its paradigm who unfailingly make the best wines. It is those who are able to remain open to what is happening around them, to observe and learn from their vines who are the best at giving voice to their wines.

In an earlier post I spoke about wine and humility, pointing out that winemakers who work biodynamically (which would also include many working naturally and organically) show extraordinary humility in the face of nature’s mysteries, whereas conventional farmers tend to think that with the technology they posses, they know it all. This humility among those working with as opposed to against nature engenders openness and a willingness to learn. A willingness to listen.

“Son, you’ll do all right in this world if you just remember that when you talk you are only repeating what you already know—but if you listen you may learn something.” (J. P. McEvoy)


La Robe et le Palais (on a Wednesday night)

Whine on

Unfortunate conjuncture (great French term usually referring to economic conditions, but which I intend to use here in the same way we think of stars aligning) with La Robe et le Palais this evening having chosen, deliberately, because it was a dear friend’s birthday, and randomly because Wednesday the sommelier just ain’t about, to dine there. As an opening gambit, when I requested the wine list, the waiter said “just tell me what you like and we’ll find the wine”, a line that I might accept were the person I was speaking with were God. Apparently there exists a clientele willing to surrender their pleasures to someone else’s taste. So when I said, “hang on a minute, you’re going to interpret what I’m about to say into the wine that I might possibly want?”, he suggested I speak with Ariane.

This was a step forward because at least Ariane was able to speak somewhat knowingly about what the non-existent list might offer. (I should point out that all around us were trophies of great wines, the makers of which I’ve had the privilege of meeting and often visiting). Having requested a Burgundy, or ‘un vin d’Italie’ (our birthday babe being Italian and asking if perchance they had a Bellotti Rosso made by my friend Stefano Bellotti, which more or less went unheard) and only offered a Cote Chalonaise, we moved on to the Loire and touched ground with a robust Anjou that was exactly not right for a sipping, not eating opening, though would have been perfect with roasted root vegetables, a richly dense cheese topped potato purée or a thick pea soup…delicious, but much better adapted to being served with food.

So I returned to address the question of a second wine, again inviting some reflection upon the idea of a ‘light’ wine (as fish seemed to be the general inclination, all the while staying with red), which lead us to a Lapalu Beaujolais. On this I did not hesitate, because life in a bottle is better than a bottled life. Great wine and indeed friendly enough to accompany the mirthsome gathering we were. Food by now was beginning to arrive, including a rather unassuming clam tartar served on a piece of slate that was too narrow to properly accommodate it. Our mirth being at a peak, and no longer really concerned about what treasures this respectable wine bar might have (and not willing to have someone read my mind whose own isn’t informed), I opted for another Beaujolais, as we were, after all, celebrating a birthday.

All was going swimmingly with conversation at its peak, everyone sharing amusing stories about their children and their very funny antics (if you’re the parent), when I decided it was time to visit the water closet.

Descending the stairs laden with box upon box of wine, I arrived at the bottom to see a wonderful range of shelf upon shelf of very special and interesting wines with several bottles of Stefano Bellotti’s Rosso staring me in the face.

No wine list, but a cellar that you can visit and choose from any of probably hundreds of wines that no one can actually tell you about.

Moral of the story: If you ever go to La Robe et le Palais and know anything about wine, or would at least like to know the range, take a pee first.

La Robe et le Palais, 13 Rue Lavandières Sainte Opportune, 75001 Paris

Tel: 01 45 08 07 41



Uncouth Vermouth

It’s heartening to discover outstanding tastes in a world of industrialised sameness. There is a growing trend world-wide of quality driven products created by individuals inspired by taste rather than profit, who risk change and who innovate and experiment to produce unique, ephemeral pleasures that once discovered, are highly sought after. People who source their ingredients naturally and don’t compromise over money or health. One such pleasure is Uncouth Vermouth, a range of astoundingly flavourful vermouths created by Bianca Miraglia in Brooklyn, from foraged, seasonal ingredients.

Uncouth Vermouth

But how I came to know them is pure serendipity. Stopping by the other day for a quick visit chez the artist Matthew Rose here in Paris, he invited me to taste 3 of these exquisitely charming vermouths, which are without a doubt, the best I’ve ever encountered. Matthew designs the labels for Uncouth Vermouth and happened to have 3 different bottles – ‘Hops’, ‘Wildflower’ and ‘Serrano Chile Lavender’ – all of which offered taste sensations and combinations that were as surprising as they are difficult to describe. But they were all vigorously alive and kicking and the punch they gave was wrapped in pure velvet. The experience was enlivening and exhilarating, utterly dashing any chance of me ever tasting the sadly predictable and excruciatingly boring industrial vermouths again that currently hold sway in bars around the planet. Here was hope, here was joy, here was unique, magical flavour and the wonderful promise of new tastes to come.

You can read more on the Uncouth Vermouth website, but here is an extract from their ‘Ethics’:

Uncouth Vermouth believes in transparency and commitment to sustainability. All ingredients are either foraged from untouched areas, or purchased from a farm that does not succumb to modification. Farmers, not distributors.

Seasonal ingredients produce seasonal flavors to pair with our isochronal meals. What grows together, goes together. I will never sacrifice the health of our people or the integrity of my vermouth to sell more “product.” It’s not about “organic” certification, it’s about the spirit of my practices. This is a food, meant to be enjoyed in good conscience because this is what we are worth. I aim to be a hopeful influence and help educate and promote a real food movement. Enustebignors It is of the utmost importance.

Check out Matthew’s website and Facebook page.