Here comes the New Year, a time of unrestrained excesses worldwide and I thought it might be well timed to have a visual reminder of the dangers we face when we raise our glass or grab a bottle. These posters remind us also of the Soviet Union's and Russia's long-running struggle with a national plague, the chronic drunkenness among a sizeable part of its male population. This fight took many forms along the 20th century including a total prohibition try during the Gorbatchev years, and state-employed artists provided dozens of images to move workers away from disastrous overdrinking habits.
This problem never really went away and a couple years ago, a new Russian law restricted the sales of alcohol after certain hours, thus closing off the access to the wine and vodka aisles in supermarkets. The St Petersburg government recently added amendments to widen the hours during which alcohol couldn't be purchased.
With the growing prosperity and travel capacity, airlines are also faced with an increasing number of unruly passengers getting into brawls during flights after excessive drinking, and the authorities consider forbidding in-flight booze sales. I noticed myself when I flew on Aeroflot earlier this year that the flight attendants didn't offer vodka anymore, you had to pay for it. Russia is not Russia anymore...
Fromagerie des Marronniers, Origny sur Seine, Chatillonnais (Burgundy)
Contrary to the commonly accepted thinking, the Epoisses cheese can be made outside the village of Epoisses, like here for the Fromagerie des Marronniers which is located in Origny, 50 km from its birth place. The namesake cheese was originally born thanks to Cistercian monks who designed the recipe in the 16th century, afterwards this washed rind cheese was made in
countless farms of this region, most of the time by women, the region being the area around Epoisses in northern Burgundy.
Before the revolution, it even became one of the favorite cheeses found at the court in Versailles. The Epoisses cheese had probably its apogy in the 19th century, even peaking in the early 20th before WW1. After then, as the women had to replace the fallen husbands and sons to work in the farm, they had less time to spend for cheese making. Later, another major blow was the setting up of compulsory norms for the cheese-making rooms and buildings.
The Chatillonnais region where this Epoisses cheese farm is located is a little-known part of Burgundy, it is divided between the plateau part with lots of agriculture and the valley side through which the still-very-small river Seine flows (pictured on right close to the cheese facility at Aisey-sur-Seine) and where you have lots of woods and pastures (video). Otherwise the Epoisses cheese appellation area covers 2/3 of the Côte d'Or département plus 3 cantons in the Yonne département and 2 in the Haute Marne. This means there could be more cheese farms or dairies making this cheese.
Origny is a small village at some distance from the main road. When you arrive at the edge of the village there are a couple of nice medieval towers on the left, these are remains from a 14th-century castle (more pics on this page).
Passage des Panoramas, 2nd arrondissement (Paris)
Coinstot Vino is a resourceful venue located in the heart of the right bank. It has certainly become very fast since its opening in 2010 a reference on the wine scene here, making people forget that it's so young. This is also a wine shop with a large portfolio of uncorrected wines (if only with a bit of SO2).
There's something I like on the Grands Boulevards, especially the part between République and end of the Bd des Italiens. It may have to do with some reminiscence of the flamboyant Napoleon era when this area of Paris was so wildly feisty and sinful, with the emerging bourgeoisie discovering without restraint all the entertainment and consumering culture. This stretch of "the Boulevards" are certainly
today the ghost of what it has been then, but I don't know, you still feel I-don't-know-what behind the patina, an excitement for fun and going out which overflows on the neighboring streets.
There's something more in this part of Paris that you can't miss, the passages and galeries, actually covered passages that were probably along the first shopping arcades of the modern history, places where women of the 19th-century bourgeoisie could go spend their money, rain or shine, under the natural light, and in the evening under the lighting of sophisticated gas lamps. You can immerse yourself back in the passage des Panoramas in 1880 by reading an excerpt in English) from Emile Zola's Nana, a novel describing the rapid social ascension of an energetic young prostitute nicknamed Nana.
Most of the remaining passages (25 out of a hundred maybe, originally) happen to be located in this precise area of Paris, and they're among the hidden gems of Paris. Some walking tours offer to show them for a fee, but all you need, to locate them, is choose a passage from this list, paste the exact address of one extremity of a given passage in Google maps and print the map. Today, we'll go to Coinstot Vino at the last end of the Passage des Panoramas, and the door to this passage is 11 Bd Montmartre.
On the video on the left you'll follow more or less the walk from one of the exits of the Metro (Grands Boulevards station) to the end of the passage des Panoramas where you'll stumble on Coinstot Vino. Once inside the passage, you'll pass another reference in terms of wine restaurants, Racines.
A couple of weeks after visiting Brendan Tracey near Vendôme in the Loire, I kind of stumbled upon him in Paris as he was pouring his wines at the Cave des Papilles wine shop in the 14th arrondissement near Denfert Rochereau (OK, I had actually read the Cave's newsletter). I had missed alas Kenji and Mai who did the same thing here for their own wines
the week before, being myself in the Loire region at that time, but went to Brendan's tasting, especially that there was a couple of wines that I didn't taste during my visit.
The Cave des Papilles is a very resourceful wine shop where you find can artisan wines made with the best ethic, beginning with cuvées costing a mere 5 €. Paris has now a good number of such wine shops (I'd say a few dozens) selling mostly natural wines, these wines made without any additives or tricky correction, if only occasionally with homeopatic doses of SO2
Some of these shops have a pleasant soul that make a tasting there very pleasant, and this is the case with the Cave des Papilles. I'll try to go to other wine shops as well in the next few months to share these nice tasting experiences where you can meet the vigneron and relax sipping their wine.
The wine shop is located on rue Daguerre which has a pleasant pedestrian section (video on the left), an open-air commecial stretch where you can shop for meat, cheese, fish and other stuff or sit at a terrace. There are by the way a few other wine shops there, although not of the quality of the Papilles (but it's always good to check there are certainly good values, for the Papilles you need to walk to the non pedestrian section, you can't miss it it's the golden yellow shop at a corner.
Brendan has been selling his wines in this wine shop since 2011, it's the first Paris wine shop where he had his wines, thanks to Pascal Simonutti who also sold his wines here.
Summer in the shade, 1953 (probably in the Paris suburb)
Here is another serie of anonymous pictures which I found along the previous months on various flea markets in France, mostly in these ubiquitous sidewalk sales known in French as vide-greniers. When I come across one of these attic sales either in Paris or in the French provinces, I use now and then to forage through boxes of old pictures, it's very interesting both because the photographic quality of many of these small prints but also because of the sharp picture they provide on a gentle way of life and togetherness where simple pleasures were enough to have a good day with friends, colleagues or family.
Patrick Bize who passed away recently told us when we visited him a couple years ago that "le vin, c'est fait pour être bu à table, avec des gens qu'on aime bien, avec une bonne bouffe", meaning wine is meant to be had with good food and shared with friends and people we like. There's not always food in these anonymous scenes but the rest is there, a good drink with friends and family.
Some of these pictures had some hand-written information on the back, and for the others I relied on my intuition to date the scene (est. meaning estimated year).
Caves Augé, Paris
This title sums it up so well, "Beaujolais Nouveau day is Thanksgiving for wine lovers", and for a further comparison with this story I'd say that Thanksgiving is so much better with an artisan, free-range turkey. The vinous equivalent being all these primeur wines which were advertised on the shop window as being unfiltered, unfined and without SO2 (pic on left).
The weather was particularly unwelcoming on this primeur day 2013 in Paris. Not that you expect a september weather in late november, but still, it was really bad, cold, humid and rainy, the type of Paris weather that even my Russian friends consider unpleasantly cold and which makes you wonder why you don't just set sail for fairer latitudes.
had planned to attend the primeur tasting at Caves Augé on Bd Haussmann
but when I saw the drizzle when I left my workplace in Saint-Mandé I wasn't looking very positively at the prospect of riding my motorbike through two thirds of Paris under these conditions. But the thing is, I had told Liz (just a former workmate, don't worry) to join me there and, well, on the other hand I assume that on Beaujolais-Nouveau day you have to be able to go beyond your comfort zone to enjoy the liquid treat.
I wouldn't say the ride was a happy one, Paris is quite a nightmare even for two-wheelers and the rain, dark and cold don't help, it was maybe 5 ° C out there and you feel that the Paris administration has been adding new red lights every other day. But I guess that Bacchus wanted his flock to suffer a bit that evening before reaching the many wine places where the primeur wine would flow without restraint.
I frankly think that people in Paris are spoiled and don't realize the chance they have in terms of access to free tastings and wine events which are either free or almost free. When I arrived at the spot near Saint-Augustin, I could see that there was a small crowd, but not as big as I expected for the guest vignerons who were there to pour their wines for free..
Ste Anne, Vendôme (Loire)
Brendan Tracey's home and winery buildings are sitting right next a cute old church, in the small village of Sainte Anne on the outskirts of Vendôme. I visited him by a rainy day, and when I stopped just outside the property, he was working around his press in the courtyard. If not for this execrable weather, the workplace view was particularly pastoral and peaceful. As an introduction, we looked at the funny caquetoire, a common fixture for churches of the region, a sort of roofed chatroom built outside the church (picture on left) so that parishioners could chat (cackle) after the mass (caqueter means cackle in French). Brendan says that's they hold traditional masses there (in Latin) and that he hears the songs from the courtyard, which are sometimes as nice as Gregorian chant (I found later that it's one of the 2 churches in the département 41 with old-style Latin masses)
Brendan didn't land in this corner of the Loire overnight, he is a New-Jersey native who spent most of his youth in San Francisco where his parents moved to in the 60s' to follow the hippie trail. When in San Francisco, Brendan lived through the cultural revolution embodied by this city, he soon developped a passion for music, going to concerts at the Fillmore Auditorium, listening to psychedelic bands and then much later to punk musicians. His mother being French, he travelled from time to time to France and eventually moved in Blois in 1971 at the age of 15, initially to better his French, staying with his aunt. He went to high school there and passed his baccalauréat in 1974, beginning all the while to love this country. His aunt Geneviève was a journalist at Le Figaro (a major newspaper) when he arrived in France, and Brendan remembers that one day she brought him to a restaurant and asked him what he wanted to drink, he looked at the drinks list and ordered a coke, in America it was unthinkable to order wine for a minor, and the waiter could have risked jail for letting him have some; his aunt was pretty upset of his choice, saying that this was France and he had to oder wine, and that's when he understood that there were big differences in the culture here, things that he didn't suspect and that he should try to learn. From then on he tried to understand better this alien culture and as it happened that his aunt was planning to leave Paris and journalism to set up an antiques business in Blois, and as she told him he could stay if he wanted to, he decided to remain.
A few lines from Gargantua et Pantagruel, a book written in 1534...
We French all remember having read some of the gorgeous writings of François Rabelais (1494-1553) in school, namely Gargantua et Pantagruel, although maybe not in the early classes because his prose was
often full of booze, sex and gore. Rabelais, a native from
Chinon (Loire) and a Franciscan monk, is considered an illustrious case of scatological talent and joyous rebellness, and in his work you'll find drunkards, monks, blasphemers and unrepentant gluttons with no respect for the politically-correct clergy of that time __which it seems was much more tolerant than our contemporary secular clergy (to paraphrase Régis Debray), because if some one wrote a modern equivalent of Gargantua he'd be sure thrown on the pyre by the hygienists and all the victimization lobbies looking for a witch who dares raise her broom above the correct line of thinking. Reading Rabelais's vivid and colorful prose is akin to taking part to fiery pagan parties and you almost feel you're splashed with wine and meat sauce. There's even an adjective in French, gargantuesque, to express the wild, happy gluttony and unrestrained drinking practiced in a spirit of humorous debauchery.
I happen to have found during lunch break in Saint Mandé the other day a "translation" (from old French to modern French) of Gargantua et Pantagruel which Rabelais wrote in 1534. This 1936 "translation" makes it more easy to understand the language than the original which is demanding in terms of attention and going aroung strange disused words.
The book was lying among many other books (often less interesting) on a table in this weekly old-books street market, it was only 2 €, so I bought it for the fun of it. As I leafed randomly through the volume I was stunned at the vividness of these scenes and exchanges, it's so bewildering to think that this was written so many centuries ago, it's so free-wheeling and wild, some would say with a Tarantino touch in the gore side of certain scenes along with something of Charles Bukowski's excesses albeit with a more light-hearted tone.
I did a bit of research and found an English translation online, which made me decide to post two excerpts, the first being about an improvised conversation between drinkers, and the other recounting in a visually-expressive form (almost like in an action movie) how a single monk defeated an army of invaders who had been pillaging, stealing and killing in Seville and then went to this abbey and proceeded to loot the vineyard and cut the grapes, thus jeopardizing the future wine of the monks. All the monks chose to just stay indoors, pray and make litanies in hope everythings gets fine, but one monk decided to take the matters in his own hands...quite violently. Nothing related to any contemporary situation or events here, of course...
Chapter 1.V. — The Discourse of the Drinkers
Then did they fall upon the chat of victuals and some belly furniture to be snatched at in the very same place. Which purpose was no sooner mentioned, but forthwith began flagons to go, gammons to trot, goblets to fly, great bowls to ting, glasses to ring.
Draw, reach, fill, mix, give it me without water.
bring me hither some claret, a full weeping glass till it run over.
A cessation and truce with thirst.
Ha, thou false fever, wilt thou not be gone?
I attended this monday a tasting event in Paris/11th featuring 29 artisan wineries from the Jura (Vignerons Bio du Jura). I could barely taste a few of the wineries there as I came after work, but thanks to my friend and sommelier Alain Segelle who was finishing his turn, I could discover a few gems, and one of them is Claude Buchot from Maynal, Jura who with his father turned his domaine organic in 1974, a very early time for that viticulture, there were maybe 3 organic growers in the Jura then.
__ I first tasted a Côtes du Jura Chardonnay 2009 Terroir du Bry, a non topped-up wine, Savagnin style. 30 months without topping up made about 30 liters disappear. Malolactic made in vats before going into the casks Nice color, green reflections. Nice mouth feel with a bright, neat expression. Costs 8 € tax included at the winery. 5000 bottles (total production at his winery : 25 000 bottles).
__ Côtes du Jura, Cuvée Charles Baudelaire 2009 Savagnin-Chardonnay blend. Same vinification, non topped-up in barrels for 30 months. Color : even greener. On the nose, more intensity. Mouth more intensity and length, with again this typical oxidative mouthfeel. Costs 9 € tax included at the domaine. Claude Buchot says that he adds 3 grams of SO2 at the press, then nothing after that. He filters the wine.
__ Poulsard 2011, no added sulfites here, but it is filtrated. Claude Buchot says that he is working on stopping adding sulfites but he is a supporter of filtration for different reasons, including because he considers that filtration makes more refined wines. Because of the filtration he has very long élevage in bottles so that the wine recovers properly (this one got a 15-month-élevage in bottles). Claude says that this small parcel of Poulsard (50 ares) is plowed with a draft horse (not his but the one of a friend). The poulsard grapes were cooled down for a few days before letting the fermentation start with indigenous yeasts. The wine, which is carafed, has a vivid and bright color, very pleasant and lively. I can't but imagine the same wine in its unfiltered version though, it's already nice here but I'd expect more with the full version.
I also loved his Vin de Paille 2008 made with 65 % Chardonnay and the rest in Poulsard & Savagnin. Claude Bruchot sells mostly in the region and also a bit in in Belgium.
A few images of the Percée du Vin Jaune 2008 of which Claude Buchot was the president.
I had just dropped, unplanned, for a few minutes and the intention to just say hello to Jean and Agnès Foillard on my way to visit France Gonzalvez.
It was lunch time and it happened
to be the last harvest day at Foillard. All the pickers plus the cellar staff were eating in the usual room, the place was packed and additional tables had been set up to seat everybody. When I walked in, I said hello to Agnès who was taking care of the kitchen with another woman, and I saluted Jean who was sitting among the pickers. I'm sorry for not having taken any picture, I somehow was shy and didn't want to disturb all these people who had worked hard in the morning. That's too bad because the scene with all these people enjoying their meal was very photogenic, there was even among the pickers a young woman with a hat made out leaves and foliage, she looked so nice like these autumn queens (Королева Осени or Koroleva oseni) in Russia who wear such headgear made of yellow and red leaves. I asked Jean if she was the queen of the harvest, he said that every year she'd sport a headgear like that.
Whatever, self-restraint made me miss great potential pictures on this last harvest lunch, but Jean told me to visit later the afternoon when I would be available and I came back to see what they were doing.