Touraine, Loire This was during a weekend in the Loire recently, I was visiting an elderly lady in a village to buy her vegetables and eggs and I saw this huge pile of recently-uprooted vines, obviously old vines that were still looking very healthy and fit for grape bearing. The woman in question although
totally outside the hype of organic farming is growing all her stuff naturally, she also has a few sheep plus a couple dozen hens and that's always a pleasure to visit her and buy her stuff, this time I was looking for buying 10 kg of her wonderful potatoes, plus eggs and beetroot. The potatoes taste so good, they don't get chemical sprayings and the only fertilizers they get is sheep manure, and they're a steal at 1 € a kg...
These vines were given to her by a grower, it is pretty common in the French countryside to use uprooted vines as heating wood and for this lady with meager means this was pretty useful as she heats her house with a cook woodstove. Her son was going to cut this wood so that she could use it proprely.
What spiked my interest is first that the vines still had all their root system, and this was very interesting to watch the spread of roots in old vines that were intially farmed correctly with regular plowing and no herbicides/fertilizers. The woman told me that according to the grower they were 60 years old, that is, they were planted well before the time when easy conventional farming brought drastic changes in the root architecture and ultimately in the yields and quality of the grapes. Even if this vineyard was later sprayed with weedkillers and boosted with fertlizers, it still retained it's original web of major roots which was a useful indicator for me.
Ottorink is the oldest Weinbar in Berlin, in a city where wine-considered-for-itself made a recent entry : Just a mere three years ago according to several wine-wise Berliners we met, if you wanted to indulge in some well-chosen wines you had to walk into high-end restaurants like the one at the Hotel Adlon, and you had to order a regular meal to go with, because wine was not something you would order alone.
In Germany beer (and they're so good here)
can be had for itself while for the wine there's a whole culture to build, something Ottorink and several others have already managed to do.
The wine bar is located in the now-sought-after Kreuzberg neighborhood, an area which during the Berlin-wall years was somehow cornered and remote, facing the DDR south of the Spree river and west of the canal at Görlitzer Ufer. This area where you could also find factory buildings was favored by Turkish immigrants and also bohemians and artists who settled there in cheap rentals and developped an alternative lifestyle, turning Kreuzberg along the years into a magnet for the youth around the world. It's what the German call a Multikulti Bezirk, but from close it's a much softer area than many no-go zones around Paris (called euphemistically zones de non-droit or quartiers sensibles there), plus there's a growing gentrification going on in Kreuzberg, as was testified by an artist we visited on Maybachufer along the canal and who settled 35 years ago in a former factory workshop on what was then a dead end street running into the wall. This German artist saw appartment buildings along the canal being renovated and purchased to wealthy investors or Berliners, and same for some former factories although the building structures were very spartan. Although I'm fond of other Berlin neighborhoods like Friedrichshain or Prenzlauer Berg (both situated in the former DDR) because they have more a feel of the old Berlin, Kreuzberg remains an area to visit, beginning for its artist and small venues, and there is a wide choice of Turkish or Asian restaurants. The Dresdener Straße on which the wine bar is located is a quiet street between the Spree and the canal, near Oranien Platz (by the way, a tip : the easiest way to reach this street is to enter it from Oranien Platz rather than from its Kottbusser-Tor end).
Here is another of these very recent wine bars of Berlin (It's one year old to the day !), it is located on Gormannstraße, a quiet street also opportunely situated in the vicinity of the aptly-named U-Bahn station Weinmeister. Gormann straße is a quiet side street in Mitte, in what was a few decades ago east Berlin. This is a quiet area with a mix of new and older buildings.
On the wine bar website you can read in French
under the bar's name Bar à Vins Libres (libres __free in French__ for freedom and liveness I guess) which hints rightly that this wine bar is centered on natural wines. Further it explains that the wines here are made exclusively by small producers and winegrowers.
Maxime Boillat is from Switzerland (the French-speaking part) and he has been living in Berlin for 15 years now. But he had several lives before embarking on this wine thing, he took part to archeological excavations in Petra (Jordan) in 1997, he's also been a DJ in a techno club (Münzsalon), then he worked in various restaurants including, before opening Maxim, when he was running the restaurant HBC near Alexander PLatz. Maxime opened his place just a year ago with the intention to welcome wine lovers who just want to enjoy wine, and wines that are made naturally without correction or lab yeast.Although wine comes first here, if you want to eat there is a chef and a kitchen with 3 staff to prepare dishes that have been thought to go with a particular wine. I think that Maxim is the only wine bar in Berlin serving exclusively Naturweinen, wines that made from aus biologischem Anbau , that are made ohne Zusätze [I'll give you this one : without additives], ohne aufwändige Kellertechnik and that are unfiltriert gefüllt and often ungeschwefelt (I'm sure you already understand German thanks to your vinous culture...
For those of you who want who have German basics and wish to better their natural-wine lexicon, read the Naturwein page of Wikipedia. The history part of Naturwein is interesting because in Germany it started in the early 20th century in response to the correction techniques instituted by Ludwig Gall, a former proto-Marxist revolutionnary turned wine chemist (see story here).
When you travel to Germany you think primarily about beer, notably regarding their Trinkkultur over there, this country being a big consumer of the beverage with a multitude of local breweries which still for many of them follow a very strict and natural brewing-process
rule known here as Reinheitsgebot. Germany is also a wine producer
with several important regions but somehow wine remained in the back seat which explains why wine bars are not so common here, but this is changing rapidly and in the matter of three years Berlin which had no real wine bar until recently had 3 wine bars open successively.
The wine bar is located on Große Hamburger Straße, a quiet street on Mitte close to Prenzlauer Berg in what was in the past part of East Berlin and the DDR. It's ironically located near a U-Bahn station (line 8) named Weinmeisterstraße, Weinmeister as you guess it, meaning wine master in German.
The venue is run by 4 associates, all passionate wine lovers, among them Willi Schlögl who was at the counter that day when B. and I dropped unannounced. The wine bar is the place to visit if you're here to taste not only German wines (which they have) but also Austrian wines, as it has a big selection of them. We have to aknowledge that as recently as three years ago the only place you could find quality wines was at Hotel Adlon, a high-end venue of Berlin, and only as a side thing in the restaurant. Elsewhere, from what people told me during this berlin stay, you'd find only generic wines without real commitment.
Thank you for what I feel are countless solidarity thoughts streaming from the whole world for Charlie-Hebdo.
Barbarians stuck in
the 7th-century-thinking of their desert tribe are believing they can put the world civilization in reverse mode, back to their own flat-earth cult in countless countries, from India to Thailand, the Philippines, the whole Middle East, Nigeria, Somalia, China, Russia, the United States and Europe (and many more). They might meet some effective resistance one day, possibly from within, but since the fatwa against Salman Rushdie and the tepid response of the free world, the pressure has augmented, putting even the historians under threat. Let's hope that France will awaken after decades-old policies of appeasing terror groups as well as their sponsor states and rewarding the bad guys with huge ransoms against hostages.
Make sure to buy next-week's issue of Charlie Hebdo, they'll have one million copies -- 3 million, now 7 million__ and counting__ printed (instead of the usual 50 000).
The candle on the left is our own contribution sitting outside at our window in Paris, the breeze gently left it quiet.
A vinous travel through time
A new year is beginning, let's remind the great moments we went through in the past year, moments whose greatness was often beyond our understanding of their real, unique value. Casual drinking in good company for example is one of these human activities that make life worth living, more than the superficial pursuit of wealth or other recognition or status objectives. The people pictured on this story enjoyed some kind of togetherness years ago, they paused a second in the swirl of their everyday life holding a glass with friends and family, and had not this snap being shot by one of them, we'd ignore that in this somewhere and sometime something really meaningful occured...
As always I picked all these documents (except the last one) in street flea markets here and there in France, mostly in either the Loire region or Paris. I am a fan of these vide-greniers, brocantes and marchés aux puces where you can find everything from the plastic junk of our modern era to old dusty stuff that seems to have really been found in an attic. I find lots of diverse stuff in these flea-market foragings, including things that I'll use in everyday life like kitchen tools and old wine glasses, but these stacks of pictures are always touching because it is often obvious that the last person who took part to these anonymous events is gone.
Essoyes, Aube (Champagne)
You might have an image of Champagne like a monocultural landscape of hills covered with vineyards and nothing else, but this corner of the Aube is so different. With the woods and the narrow valley you would probably have betted on another wine region if having to decide blind, but this is Champagne. We must remember that the Aube was historically the underdog of Champagne, and in the early 20th century the Maisons de Champagne of the Marne came here to buy grapes, especially between 1907 and 1911 when the harvests were calamitous because of the phylloxera and bad weather. The Aube was just good enough to sell its cheap grapes to the Marne so that the respectable Maisons could turn these otherwise-vulgar grapes into prestigious and expensive
Champagne wine, the Aube being the back door where you could source fruit in case of emergency. In those dire years where there was a shortage of grapes, the Aube where the fruit harvest was less affected than the Marne's, helped keep the demand for the prestigious bubbly satisfied, but it was itself not allowed to make Champagne wine according to the Appellation of that time, only the Marne could. the Marne growers were unhappy of this switching to the Aube grapes and this sparked what is known as the Champagne revolts : in short, to calm down the anger of the Marne growers the authorities decided in 1911 to allow only Marne grapes (and a few from certain villages of the Aisne) in Champagne wines, to which the Aube growers responded with demonstrations (picture-postcard). Faced with sometimes-destructive riots, the government after sending the Army in, then chose to sit on the fence and gave Aube the status of "secondary Champagne zone". While this history relativizes the real value of an Appellation, it rewarded at last the Aube for it's humble growing service that had not been recognized before that. The Aube was formally integrated (without restriction) in the Champagne region in 1927.
You can have a look at the distant Aube region on this interactive map of Champagne : mouse down to the southern tip of the Aube département and then zoom in, you'll see that Essoyes is as close to Burgundy as Les Riceys, another hidden gem of Champagne.
Leppert-Leroy, named from husband and wife Bénédicte Ruppert and Emmanuel Leroy is a small winery making less than 5 hectares in vineyard surface. It is located a mere 7 kilometers from the village of Grancey-sur-Ource which is already in the Burgundy region (Côte d'Or). The domaine's vineyards have been farmed organic since the start and are now biodynamic, and for a couple of years it has been making its Champagne wines without any added SO2 from A to Z (from the pressed juice to the bottling).
A few weeks ago while on a weekend in the Loire I fell upon a nice Languedoc wine. I didn't know about this winery and chose the bottle who knows why, first because it was fairly priced (I saw later that I paid less than the regular price) and something in the labelling
(in addition to the appellation which I use to think has lots of hidden gems) made me take it. As I was planning to do some cox tail on the wood cookstove I thought that if not satisfying I might use the wine to cook the tail (I always cook oxtail in wine for long hours). My fear was that it might be too extracted and tannic and in these circumstances I reserve the wine for cooking meat. I have in this regard in the Loire several bottles of wine made in Spain by François Chidaine (Tempranillo & Monastrell) which I find too extracted and overloaded with SO2 and I keep the bottles for the cooking as they're still good wine with good tannins and the SO2 vanishes anyway when cooked, In Paris I ended up putting aside the milk bottles I filled with Domaine Rimbert's Cousin Oscar because there was too much SO2 in there too (We just cooked another oxtail with it a few days ago, so delicious).
The Ermitage cuvée Tour de Pierre was a delicious wine, gentle and fruity, and it perspired a feeling of truth and respectful vinification. The labelling is very discreet and humble, they don't even brag aboit the domaine's vineyard being farmed in biodynamics, but the wine speaks by itself, you confusely feel something different is going on, there. It's made from Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre and the yields are 35 ho/ha. Depends where you buy it but a bottle of this cuvée costs about 10 euros.
I was happy to find out later when back in Paris that this wine had been rated best value in an article by Eric Asimov featuring a selection of wines from the Languedoc (it's imported by Kermit Lynch).
I realized recently that slowly along the years I began to really appreciate what certain people consider acidic wines. When I say acidic, I don't mean the wines that have been corrected with acid additions (see on this page all the acid types supplied by a single additive company) but rather the wines with a natural acidity that they owe solely to the grape, the
vintage and hard work in the vineyard (biodynamics is also known to yield higher acidity in the juice). I'm speaking of natural acidity and in the matter
I realize that I've been fortuitely also deluged with lots of beautiful non-wine products recently, either vegetables or fruits, that are also naturally very acidic, and which I samely began to more appreciate than I used to.
Can taste change dramaticly over a few years and affect both the types of wines we choose and the food ? I think it can, all it takes is a routine for more spartan foods that aren't fueled by the sugar-salt testosterone, then, wine is also a good entry to the world of the beautiful acidity, you walk in there because you like the style of intoxication you get with certain wines and you end up in a second phase opening yourself to the sophisticated pleasure of acidity.
Here is a quick and non-exhaustive review of acidic products that came our way this year and which I'm not sure I'd have been so fond of a few years ago.
Here are the vibrant acidic cherries which you can find here and there in France, mostly in old orchards that were planted years ago when people sort of knew by instinct (they also loved sugar though) what was good. This year was particularly prolific for these griottes and I stocked them to bring back as much as I could in Paris, where B. would cook them lightly so that we could them weeks along.
These cherry trees are the fruit-tree equivalents of our favorite "minor" varietals that the wine-appellation administration has made everything to uproot. Like Menu-Pineau or Pineaud'Aunis these sour-cherry trees are survivors from an era when farmers and country people knew instictively what was good, and I'm not sure that back then you would have easily convinced them to uproot these archaic cherry varities for an international & standard cherry variety (to name a cherry equivalent of Sauvignon and Chardonnay). This type of cherry is known also under the name of Prunus Cerasus and it is said to have of course more acidity but also greater nutritional benefits and greater medicinal effects.
Torano Nuovo, Abruzzo (Italy)
Emidio Pepe is a quite rare example of a man who developped his vineyard management and winemaking philosophy alone, beginning in 1964 with one single hectare near the nice village of Torano Nuovo. The estate which has now a surface of 15 hectares is considered on the the best of the region. Emidio Pepe's father and grandfather had been winegrowers there but like elsewhere in Europe they would sell their production to the négoce and not bottle wine themselves.
When Emidio Pepe started his own wine business in 1964 he understood quickly back then that
quality paired with a very traditionnal approach both in the vineyard and the cellar. Doing so, he fought against
the tide and seduction of modernity that was the only respected norm at the time and was pushing winegrowers to repeated investments in machinery and other fancy cellar equipment. He also disregarded wood and kept vinifying in neutral cement vats, ignoring another trend that was hard to resist : the push for oak, which many Italian wineries followed to accomodate the export demand in the United States even when there was no root for this type of vinification in their respective regions. Emidio Pepe, who was derided by the trade in these early years, ended up winning big, because quality always pays at the end no matter what the opportunists may think, and today as the winery is celebrating its 50th anniversary, you can feel the accomplishment reached through hard work and uncompromising work ethic.
The Pepe family as a whole takes part to this success story, including Chiara (Emidio's granddaughter) who is the best Ambassador of the winery. Emidio's daughter Sofia (pic on right) is now in charge of the winemaking and her sister Daniela also works in the winery, administration side. The third sister Stefania opened her own winery in the vicinity and she spoke also during this special weekend. I visited the winery as a guest for the 50th anniversary of the winery and can testify that this is really a family thing with all the energy and fun that Italians are famous for.