Day 1: Domaine Belliviere and How i Arrived Here
The author of this post is the author of saignée as well the originator of 31 Days of Natural Wine. Considering the amount of talent contributing to the project, he is also probably the least knowledgeable on the subject at hand.
It was a couple years ago that i had my first glass of real wine. Now don’t misunderstand me here, i’d had wine before this, plenty of it in fact, and i thought i knew something about it.
Turns out i didn’t know much. (Still don’t)
So there i was at a local wine store after a tasting of New Zealand Pinot Noir looking for something to have with dinner. i asked a clerk for a suggestion. “Something…different” i told him and “have you ever had pineau d’aunis before?” came the response.
Pinot? Really? Was i that naive looking?
“No…” (he had heard this before) “not pinot, pineau d’aunis, from the Loire valley, rare variety” and he walked me to a plainish bottle with orange lettering Domaine Belliviere Rouge Gorge, Eric Nicolas Vigneron.
“What would you pair with it?” i queried “Maybe spicy pasta? Lamb?”
Pasta sounded good. I bought it, left, and started preparing a simple penne all’arrabiata at home. Then i opened the bottle, stopped, took a whiff, another, and maybe six or seven more. Couldn’t place the wine. At all. Took a drink.
This was different.
Mineral, chalky, green peppers, deep funky earth wine. Rustic. That’s it, rustic. Not smooth or big or glycerine or fucking crunchberries. Rustic. Not fucked with, to use the words of a friend i met later. i hadn’t ever had anything like it. The wine didn’t try and tell me it was good, i could have rejected it, opened something else and put the Belliviere with the cooking wine, i could have gone back to Argentinian malbec, Bolivian chardonnay, Thai viognier.
But I didn’t.
For weeks i couldn’t get it out of my head and started to seek out anything close in style to the Belliviere, that natural rustic style so firmly lodged in my head. i began to research natural wines obsessively. i found Thierry Puzelat, Clos Roche Blanche, started branching into wines from the Jura, fell in love with Huet, Puffeney and Paolo Bea. These were good wines and they went with food. i mean really went with food, not the bullshit steakhouse line of16% alcohol blueberry cocktails with t-bones. i was obsessed, reborn in wine (and clearly, hyperbole).
Note: At this point if this story sounds cliché, that’s because it is, but really, aren’t you glad i discovered pineau d’aunis instead of being that asshole that writes about discovering good wine by drinking a bottle of ’78 Romanee Conti? I mean really, does dinner at Taillevent get you to love eating? A ’57 Ferrari make you love the open road? Wearing the hope diamond for a week convince you that maybe rocks are cool?
i did the trendy biodynamic wine only for a while (a blessedly short while) to find the best producers, seeking out those producers that practiced the farming methodology of Rudolph Steiner. i found quite a few good ones doing this, but one day, on a tour of Benzinger winery i came to realize that this wasn’t it, at all. The guide was droning on about lunar cycles, bio-culture and Demeter all while pouring us bland, modern wines. Somewhere in between my eyes turning to glass and falling from my head and my brain shutting down entirely i realized that there wasn’t any mention of the people making the wine. Who were they? Demeter doesn’t make wine for you, so who is making it?
So i abandoned that (same thing with zero sulfur wines, rather people and not philosophy dictate that one). People make wine, and while i think that it has a lot of good ideas (and anything Huet and Lopes de Heredia use can’t be discounted), biodynamic marketing can obscure this fact. i abandoned the idea of any one definition for “natural” except perhaps that people make it, not certification entities, or machines, or architectural over-compensations doubling as wine caves, or enzymes, or chemicals, or micro-oxygens (i know, i know but i like the sound of it) or cultured yeasts, or INAO, or growing cabernet in Tuscany, or 100 point scores, or this shit talking hobbyist blogger.
So i was back to seeking out real wine made by real people, and i suppose that this is what this 31 days is all about.
i got a chance to meet Eric and Christine Nicolas a few months back in San Francisco where i tasted through their current releases and we chatted some. They showed me where their vineyards were located and told me why he grew pineau d’aunis (because it was there). i thanked them kindly for making such great wines.
So here i am right now writing this all down while drinking a bottle of 2006 Rouge Gorge with a bowl of penne, a pairing that has become one of my favorites. The wine cannot ever be as good as the first time i had it but that is ok. It’s still real.
Follow day by day here: https://saignee.wordpress.com/31-days-of-natural-wine/
Next up: Wine is, after all, an act of humankind, or: Jeremy Parzen drinks the real stuff in Tuscany