Many cavistes in Paris routinely organize tastings with vignerons in their wine shop. Tipped by their newsletter you can go taste (for free or for a fee) the wines of some of the best vignerons and listen them speak about their wines and their work, and this, without setting a foot outside Paris. Many of the ones listed on my cavistes page do that, these caviste tastings take place typically on certain days of the week, like saturdays or thursdays for example, sometimes once a month or twice a month, depends, but the winemakers selection is unmistakably great.
This is the case with Christophe Guitard's La-Contre-Etiquette wine shop [pic on left : Christophe and his wife Tania]. Contre étiquette means back label, that's where important info on the wine and on the vigneron's work philosophy are displayed. The wine shop has started to host regular tastings, sometimes with a fee, and this story is about one of them.
I know Chistophe [pic on left with his wife Tania] from the early years of this Wineterroirs, even before this blog came alive, we met at Alain Segelle's CIDD wine school (which closed since) that I didn't attend personally but where I accompanied B. to enjoy special tasting evenings. Since then, Chistophe set up an online wine dealership and a wine shop (see link - the dealership was previously known under the name of Ochato), I waited too long before visiting his venue in the 10th arrondissement but this is the day.
So, Chistophe and his associates now receive on a regular basis outstanding artisan vignerons in their small wine shop on rue Sainte Marthe and each time, the place is packed with passionate wine lovers, many of them 20 to 30 years old by the way (hints that some young French people are eager wine lovers). The first time I dropped there was when he received Sébastien David, a vigneron from Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil in the Loire, and I alas couldnt stay long, being busy with other important duties that evening. I still lament the terrific wines that I missed, there were about 9 or 10 wines to taste that evening if I remember... I still had time to see that more than a simple casual sip-opportunity, these tastings were events where the vigneron explained a lot about his work and the type of wine he wanted to make, and the visitors were very attentive and interactive.
So, the vigneron behind this thursday tasting was Alexandre Bain, who makes wine in the Pouilly Fumé Appellation, in the eastern Loire.
Alexandre now speaks about his job : he set up shop in 2007, very recently, on 7 hectares of vineyards that he converted to the organic farming when from the start. His goal was to make natural wines and biodynamic farming was obvious for him in that regard. For him, he says, making natural wine is very important, and asked by Christophe, he says bluntly that he makes literally nothing on his wines, simple like that. Alexandre says jokingly that if people look for enology courses, it's not the right address. On the other hand, he knows quite a few important things on the vineyard management side and that's what he works the most on. He says that to make a natural wine it's central to work the vineyard with the organic and biodynamic principles because that's the only way to harvest grapes that are alive. Why should they be alive, that's because they must be balanced and they must host many important living organisms which will play a role in the cellar. He says that the organic rules only target the vineyard side but many things are let aside, especially the cellar part of the wine, and he considers that the organic, natural philosophy must go all the way to the end product, to the bottled wine.
Asked by Christophe about the features of his soil and terroir in this Pouilly-Fumé region where the only grape he grows is Sauvignon, and how these soil natures translate into the wines, he says that he has vineyards on Portlandian limestones and also on Kimmeridgian limestones. The Portlandian areas are very whitish, stony soils, very tough to work on and very shallow, like 50 centimters of stony soil then it's the rock table. The bright side of this type of soil is that it works like a water drain when it rains a lot. The other bright side of this Portlandian soil is that the thick stone density at the surface stores heat in summer and gives it back, which is good to further the maturity.
Speaking of the variety, he says that Sauvignon is not the easiest variety to handle as far as he knows, especially with an organic farming, even if Chenin is considered more arduous on that regard. He plows every three years to force the roots deeper. He keeps grass and there is a very rich humus material on the surface on which the vine feeds. Christophe asks technical questions about the grape maturity, which is interesting I think because the maturity question is central to the desired perfect balance. You can listen to the recording (bottom of the page) if you understand French, the last minutes is just the happy noise made by people when they taste and chat, but I find it was nice to let it on the tape.
Christophe asks about the elevage of the wines : he considers it to be central, he looks to the expression of terroir. His elevage is usually from 12 to 14 months in wood on average, then he racks them in vats and bottles by gravity (no pumps). He noticed that 14 or 16 months is a bit too much for the wines, and 6 or 8 not enough. Usually around august they taste very well, plus he needs the casks shortly after. What he considers doing is adding some 6-month elevage in vats, plus some time to rest in the bottles.
__Alexandre Bain Sauvignon 2009. Taken from the vat (not bottled yet). The wine is not finished, says Christophe so that the tasters are not surprised of the lactic, fermentary notes in the wine. The color of the wine is greenish, I find personally light menthol notes, acidulous candy too. Richness in the mouth. The Sauvignon was harvested october 1st. Alexandre says that 2009 was a bit complicated because they had three hailstorms on the vineyards, otherwise there was both nice weather and sun, except at the end which was very beautiful from september 2 : beautiful sun on daytime and cool (12°C) nights. He says that on the Menetou-Salon area the hailstorm was even worse, some estates were 95% afflicted (he adds that if people like Menetou Salon, buy now, there isn't going to be much of it...). Speaking of biodynamic farming, the Valériane concoctions are particularly adapted to heal the hailstorm damages on the grapes and the vines.
__Alexandre Bain Pouilly-Fumé 2008 Mademoiselle M. (Sauvignon). This cuvée is more on the Kimmeridgian soils side, plus it is a No-added-SO2 wine (the other cuvée, the Pouilly-Fumé Domaine gets a bit of SO2 after the malo-ferm and before bottling). He considers that the Kimmeridgian soils make deeper wines and that these wines must be let free.
The first thing you notice is the oxydative notes on the nose. Mineral feel in the mouth, plus gorgeous richness with freshness. That's good indeed if surprising when you're used to the usual cat-pee aroma of Sauvignon. In 2008, they had hailstorms too, but less than in 2009, they had lots of rain until the first week of august and from then on the wind from the east had a salutary influence, drying all the potential rot that could have been brewing on the grapes, and helping concentrate the grapes. The night temp was low also like 2 or 3°C which helped preserve the acidity levels. The 2008 wines have a beautiful acidity, he prefers this wine personally but adds that the 2009 is not yet finished so the comparison is a bit premature. In 2008 he used Silica to counter the cold at the end and to eat the photosynthesis (they harvested october 20). Speaking of SO2, he says that he is not an ayatollah of sulfur-free wines but he tries as much as possible to use only a minimum, or even not to use any. the AOP rules allow a maximum of 210 mg/liter total SO2, and the organic certifications just the same. For his own wines, his Cuvée Domaine (made on the Portlandian soils) has 38 mg/liter and the Cuvée Mademoiselle M has zero added SO2. He says that the SO2 may help the long keep of wines but he had a vertical tasting at his friend's winery (Hervé Villemade) with wines from 2007 to 1991 and these almost SO2-free wines make it easily.
The cheese plate goes from taster to taster : Fromage sans soufre (sulfur-free cheese), jokes someone, corrected [by Nicolas, I think] as fromage sans conservateurs (preservative-free cheese), and well alive, non-pasteurized.... The 2008 wine costs 20,5 € at La Contre-Etiquette.
Note that Alexandre Bain is currently having difficulty to get the agreement and has already presented a wine twice without getting it. He can do it a last third and if it fails, he will be obliged to make it without the Appellation. That's a matter to follow because many natural-wine makers face this situation one day or another, which is quite a shame when you taste the wines and see how hard they work on their vineyards.
My Microtrack recording of this evening tasting at the wine shop. The introducing speaker is Christophe Guitard, then Alexandre will follow suit. At some point, Nicolas from the cheese farm will also speak about the cheese. From about min 43:00 to the end, this is just the crescendo background noise, laughs and chat of a happy wine-tasting event. Enjoy...