Day 7: A Muscadet Moment
On my short list of dream contributors for this project a few names stood at the top and Alice Feiring was one of them. A long time author, wine critic, and tireless advocate for the diversity of wine, she is has become so synonymous with natural wine that a recent bottle was described to me as being “very Alice Feiring” (don’t worry, it was a compliment). She also agrees with me that modern Albariño should be dumped. If there is one wine you should try this whole month, make it a Marc Ollivier muscadet.
A few hours before I left Paris, I walked aimlessly on the Rue Dufour when a cloud dumped up a reservoir of rain, soaking me. Moments later, some sprite flipped the switch on the sun. My feet suddenly dry, my hair properly frizzed out, I was spit out like Jonah, right in the mouth of Fish, the wine bistro on Rue de Seine.
Hanging up the pain seigle and the Epoisses, purchased for eating stateside, I then sat at the bar and ordered a salad to fortify me for my return flight. I also aimed for a glass. Yet, as I prepared to choose from the wine list, I felt jaded. Having spent almost two decades being pulled into a fermenting vortex of my subject, was I bored?
Bored or not, my decision was an easy one. The 2008 Domaine de la Pépière, please,” I said.
The Loire’s most western region, the Nantais was dealt a difficult year. An April frost knocked down yields. I know the vigneron, Marc Ollivier well enough to kiss both sides of his bearded cheeks when we meet. I know that his wife makes killer gravlax, and I also know a few other key points about the way he works. Organically, for one. Naturally, for two.
2008 was wet and cold and kept him—and other winemakers in the Loire perpetually exhausted. During the tempestuous season, Marc fussed over his forty-plus year old vines, (not one clone amongst them.) He worked his crushed granite and gniess soil. He thought. He positioned. He obsessed. He lost sleep. He plucked. He leafed. He thought. He hoped. He infused those vines, at this point almost all organic, with love. His desire transferred and inspired. He hand-picked. Then he crushed and plunked the juice in cement vats and let them ferment without the addition of laboratory yeasts which most of the region (as the world) employs. Marc’s wine floated on its lees (the dead yeasts and refuse from the fermentation process which actually keeps the wine fresh and reduces the need for sulfur) until bottled, in May rather than January or February when most muscadet are rushed to the market.
He undoubtedly neglected his wife, kids, the dog and his fishing, as he nursed and squeeze those grapes into the liquid miracle before me. Damned if I wasn’t on my knees at my first not-so- simple sip.
A lot of regrettable muscadet hits the shelves. Much of it, besides a yeast and enzyme confection, delivers an instant sulfur headache. But thankfully there are other naturally minded contrarians, Muscadet visionaries as well as Marc Ollivier such as Guy Bossard, Jo Landron, Luneau-Papin, Michel Bregeon, Marc Pesnot) who raise the melon de bourgogne grape to the sublime, yet sell their wines for a relative pittance.
The wine, Ollivier’s most inexpensive, was tart, juicy, brilliant, and had a long lean vibrant nervous finish that kept on stretching and poking into my bites of celery. As I continued to drain my glass, the wine strutted a pure dry apricot nectar and carved out that spectacular finish. That coda was up there with the best of them. There are some that you always remember, that always touch you. My glass of wine reminded me why as absurd as it is, wine discourse seduces still.
The Beaune-based wine importer and sooth sayer, Becky Wasserman tells the story of Freddie Mugnier. When asked what his favorite white wine was, the famed Chambolle winemaker answered, “Muscadet.”
On the second Tuesday in June, sitting in jeans I had worn every day while on the road for two weeks, I once more felt the truth in his answer.
Follow day by day here: http://saignee.wordpress.com/31-days-of-natural-wine/
saignée note: Hey you, buy Alice Feiring’s book: http://www.amazon.com/Battle-Wine-Love-Saved-Parkerization/dp/0156033267/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1245625438&sr=8-1 (and not a used copy)
Next Up: BrooklynGuy gets down with his wine of the week; or: The wine of the week gets down with his BrooklynGuy