Saturday, December 4, 2010

Holiday Spirit

* A disclaimer: My friend Paul suggested to me the idea for this post. I cannot claim credit for it. So if you don't like it, you may post hateful messages at If you do like it, all he did was suggest an idea. I'm the one who wrote it.*

The more one learns of wine, the less one really knows and understands... A cliche if there ever was one. Over the past few years, as I've been exposed to more great wine and good wine and plenty of terrible wine that was supposed to be good, I've slowly learned to prepare myself to always be surprised, to never expect what's in the bottle to correspond with what should be there. No matter what the label says, it is still just  a piece of paper that suggests what should be inside. That label tells nothing of the bottle's handling and storage conditions, whether it was bought once and then resold, and in the case of an old wine, whether it has been topped up or had the cork replaced or even that it might be fake. Not that I often find myself in the position to drink wines so exalted that someone might have taken the time to manipulate them, but I'm always ready and on guard. In the same vein, I try not to dismiss a bottle out of hand before tasting just because it doesn't on the outside conform to my idea of good wine, though I certainly have my prejudices.

With this in mind, let me take you back 
A glimpse of Jongieux
to an October weekend, when my friends Paul, Danielle and I took a trip down to the south of Beaujolais to stay at the house of a winemaker, with whom Danielle had worked the previous harvest. We had mentioned the idea of a wine-related day trip to our host and since most Beaujolais producers were busy with getting ready to release their nouveaux, he suggested the Savoie. It was only an hour and a half away and he could collect some phone numbers for wineries we might visit. So we set out just before noon and only five hours later (having been waylaid by lunch and traffic in Lyon), we were winding our way up the foot of the French Alps to Jongieux, one of the central wine-producing villages in the region.

Steeper than they look from here

Though the countryside was beautiful, most of the wineries we had numbers for told us they were unavailable, having just finished harvest,  and lots of work unfinished. We received only one invitation, from Domaine Dupasquier, the only domaine on our list about which none of us knew anything. And when we arrived we couldn't help but be a bit disappointed. The wines just weren't particularly impressive, each one out balance in some way. The whites were either a bit thin and lacking dimension or overly rich and high in alcohol, while the reds wanted for character or any sense of energy. Still we were having fun and and their Pinot Noir, which, though a little hot and unbalanced, showed some very pretty and exotic red and blue fruit aromas and flavors and I thought it might benefit from decanting. And at 7 euros it was hard to complain, so I bought a few to take home.

Fast forward a month. For whatever reason, I had yet to open a bottle of the Dupasquier Pinot Noir. But three Sundays ago Paul and Danielle and some other friends came over for an impromptu early dinner of oysters (which I shucked myself) and escargots and when the two bottles we had bought for the occasion were finished I opened one and decanted it. It was fantastic.The wine showed none of the awkwardness and alcohol heat that it had previously. It was intensely aromatic, full of red berries, black pepper and a herbal, fennel-like note, and had terrific balance and weight on the palate, bound together by the clean fresh acidity that one hope to find in mountain wines. Everybody guessed the grape correctly, but nearly everyone though it was Burgundy and there was a suggestion it might be Californian. When the identity was revealed, Paul and Danielle couldn't quite believe it, and frankly neither could I. It was nearly a different wine from the one we had tasted a month before and if the other two in the cupboard are like this I'll be a very happy guy.

One often hears or reads stories of a wine tasted in a cellar, and purchased on the spot, but when the bottles show up what's inside is a shadow of its former self. It's like opening the big box under the Christmas tree and finding not the Ghostbusters proton pack you had asked for, but a set of encyclopaedias.  I liked this wine not just because it was great but because it's nice to get open a present once in a while, one that you are ready to hate and instead find something you really wanted... like pictures of Mitch McConnell and Sarah Palin doing lines at the Moonlight Bunny Ranch with Anton Scalia and the chairman of Goldman Sachs.


  1. Love your pictures--the oyster one is quite poetic. and want Michael to see the last sentence! xxxx mum

  2. also forgot to tell you that we're in Jamaica for the Dorrit and Todd joint b'day bash and the band for the big beach party last night was... Toots and the Maytals. IN PERSON, xxxx

  3. I'm not sure the Bunny Ranch would let that riffraff in.