Three days before my European trip I took the subway up to iTrulli where Nicola Marzovilla had prepared a tasting of the legendary Valentini wines. This was a mini-media tour of the wines, a rare chance to taste a vertical.
The house in Abruzzo is famously secretive, and it ain't cheap. They rarely allow any one in the cellars and they won't talk technique. But they have a reputation of being one of those old-fashioned sorts and swear that they never vary in the way they make wine. But, who knows.
A few weeks back I had a 2000 Trebbiano which had the lees stirred into a souffle--Meursault-like, and I was like, hey guys, what gives?
'08 Trebbiano- A lovely purity with ginger and white pepper. Limpid. Nutty. More ginger! And a long, long finish.
'05, Lively a bit of a CO2 spritz. Nutty, peach pit fuzz and lacks the '08 focus
1998- Yes! Long and lingering finish, in fact it doesnt finish. Two months later, I can still taste it, and it's great! It even has a food friendly bitterness.
1990- Who squeezed marzipan into the wine? It is stinging and oxidized, a little sherry-jura thing going on with wet wool. I wonder if this is a good bottle. On the other hand, I don't mind it, but it ain't for everyone.
Cerasulolo! (this is the famed rose)
'08- Some RS, it hurts. A little too much S02? Reduced and brett. Need to see another example before I really understand.
'07-- This is LOVE. Poetry. And cinnamon. High alcohol but I forgive. Because the raspberry and cherry hit and finish dry.
'02 Root. Radish. Overripe roses. Medium finish with gazpacho! And believe it or not, I loved it. Elegant. how the hell did they do it?
'00-- I wasn't fond of the white from this vintage either, correct? Something was going on. It might have been the year that his son took the reigns? But here, it is lactic, reduced, harsh and out of wack. There is something modern here too. Something like syrah and horse and bitter and I register some sort of spoof. Edoardo Valentini died in 2006, and I believe I heard that this was the year, 2000, when his son made the decisions. If this is true, I'm glad to see that some sense has been returned and recent vintages seem in step with the house. But this is total supposition on my part. A guess. Maybe educated, but a guess never the less.
And....with sadness the 1985 gave itself over to a dead mouse, but I just knew, underneath it all was a gorgeous wine.
I don't care if the only reason Pierre Overnoy threw me a party because out of friendship for Jean Paul Rocher, my publisher. In fact, I'd rather that was the case. I'm not a Leo, I'm a Cancer, and this kind of center of attention thing raises mixed feelings, but, I am not stupid enough not to have been thrilled.
foto par Philippe Gasnier
Our little entourage drove or waked up to Pierre's families farmhouse just up the road. There were chickens, dogs and a garden waiting to give potatoes and tomatoes. I had no idea there was a pot luck dinner involved. There were radishes and butter and Pierre's bread. There were lentils and fabulous Comte. There was no one there at first, and then Olif from the blog de, showed up. So did an enologue from the area who swore by enzymes and told me that I did to. Why I asked. "Coche Dury!" He said, positive that I liked those wines.
"But," I answered, "I am not of the faithful."
Ah well, he didn't like me too much.
There were about 40 people. I signed books. People in France buy books. People in Spain buy books! It is thrilling. Now if only Americans can buy books and learn to love words instead of reality TV. That would be a miracle.
Pierre put up his friend to blind taste in front of the group. "The best taster in the Ardeche!" he said.
In Pierre's opinion, the best taster in the Jura is standing behind him, and with the cap Aurelian, Manu and Adeline's brother.
This is a new form of party trick. Not for me. The man did brilliantly.
1991 Ploussard. Gorgeous. The man hit it within a year. Quite articulate, nice piece of detective work. And the 1991, in a light bodied wine it packs long-lived complexity. It kept on going. Long finish. Dancing.
I can't imagine ever being able to drink this much Overnoy in one place at one time.There was '09 Savagnin & Chardonnay and 07 Plouss as well, and forgive me, because I was so overwhelmed I didn't take any notes.
And on the way home, there was this, the color they named night blue for.
The day started with a train ride from Paris and then to Pupillon and Chez Overnoy, directly outside to his garden, to where he has his own little nursery with baby ploussard, savignin and chardonnay.
While late June, the yard had this tender spring green about it. The hour was 11 o'clock. Out came the glasses. A mystery wine was poured. We stood in the breeze, just where Pierre likes to taste, per instructions of his old mentor M. Jules Chauvet. No one had any intention of spitting.
"Guess how old it is?" he asked.
Jean Paul Rocher & Pierre Overnoy
This was a tough one. I usually fail miserably at the games, though I love them. Keeps you sharp. Forces you to think. It was savignin. Got that. It's salty. It's got age. But how much age? It's saline heaven and full of freshness with the sweet sucked out of the caramel. It's long. It whistles. And then more salt. Pass the Maldon.
I say 1999. Why? I have no idea why. I have no context for guessing the age of an oxidized wine with its sherried taste. I just don't have enough practice.
Pierre gives us a hint and says the wine was ouille. Poetically, this means filled to the eye, (which now I realize must mean to the bung hole) and this topping off is done regularly to protect it from the punch of oxygen. Vin Jaune is made in the opposite manner, sur voile, under the veil of a yeast layer called flor. The result is a wine rich with intense band-aid and nut. Never the less, the wine is not totally immune, especially when it stands in barrel for so long, as the one in our glass had.
We were all stumped.
Pierre, tanned legs and hiking boots, younger looking I'm sure than his age, flashed a smile. Gangsta gold teeth glinting from the rear of his mouth, he said with great pride, "The oldest wine in this is 1991."
Each year they added wine from the last vintage, so it is understandable that I flubbed.
It was eighteen years in the barrel and this was the third 1/2 bottle that M. Overnoy ever opened up. Okay. A thrill.
"The last wine we topped off with was either 2007 or 2008."
He and Manu tasted it every 2-3 years. He said you can't open the barrel, but needs a special pipette.
So this was wine was the result of blend of minds, Manu Houillon (who many people refer to as childless Pierre's 'adopted' son, and the man who has taken over the technical aspects and decisions of winemaking).
There was something in the wine that defied decay and death. I had the feeling when tasting that 18- year -old, which he only opened three bottles of so far, might change the mind of the angel of death.
How do you have the patience to wait for eighteen years? What kind of spiritual life must be in place to command that kind of impulse control? Hell, I don't even have that impulse control to wait until my copy is edited before I post. I am ruled by urgency, but Pierre? Somehow, if you meet Pierre, you understand. Life seems like this amusing journey. He reminds me so much of my grandfather who did not even get old til his 100th birthday. (Please give me an IV of something lethal if I get that old. I just don't want it.)
The end of the salty dog came. Our glasses held mere stains. Pierre put his nose into the vessel and said, "Smellng an empty glass gives you a lot of answers."
Like great people I have met, Pierre is given to statements worth repeating. Many of them are about the end of life and many cover the same ground.
"You are the same jerk at 20 or 80, but at 80, it's the end of it."
"In Biodynamie you need a life for experience, even if you die before you have the answer."
"Mr. Chauvet said, when he was in his 80's, 'I'm going to die and I don't know anything about wine."
We left the garden and retreated into the darkness of the office, when vineyard fresh, Manu made his entrance.
Manu Houillon started to work with Pierre when he was only 15. The connection? Manu's father bought the Overnoy wines. When the father saw that his son just wasn't interested in school, but could be interested in the vine, he asked if Pierre would take on Manu as an apprentice. Manu showed talent and engagement and (along with his sister and brother) is in charge and Pierre is proud. This is the stuff of fairy tale. Of fiction. Of romance.
Pierre kissed him six times, not like a father, but with the unconditional love of a grandfather. I recognized the kisses. My own grandfather used to kiss me like that, before he turned away from me when he turned 100. But Pierre doesn't have the underlying anger Pop did. Manu will retain that love from Pierre forever.
And from there to lunch.
A new one for me. Lovely.
Felt odd drinking a non-Arbois wine but this was gorgeous.
A few months ago, noodling around, I came across something called Mod Gamay, made in Australia from the Chris Ringland operation. This wine, with it's bold copy and flashy visuals, seems to have been removed from the net, gave homage to 'the father of Natural Wines, Jules Chauvet.'
When an obscure scientist/vigneron becomes a buzzword for marketing, you know there is a body of work in trouble.
I did a little investigation and found out that while the MOD grapes are conventionally farmed from not so old fruit, and while it is naturally yeasted it is indeed acidified and I just had the feeling that Saint Jules would be rolling in his grave if he knew his names was thus invoked.
The new wines, vins libre, au naturel or live or real or naked, are in the mainstream, and that means buyer beware. The rule? If there's 'natural' on the label, a knee jerk reaction is forming--to avoid. But even then, one has to be smart about what to avoid, for example, if it's the NPA, that is one to drink. You just have to learn to suss out the true ones, read between the lines. That sort of thing.
Which brings me to my Google Alert and ......
It's an art directed operation. We've seen it before. Oriel and the like. A company creates a brand. They pretend it has a person and soul. It often works, especially with two searching eyes of a handsome boy peering from the label or old, veiny, wizened hands, fresh with vineyard dirt.
Two enthusiastic Perez brothers are heading up this project. I met them in 2009 when I was presenting in Rioja. They were so sweet and earnest, and why they wanted me to taste their wine, I do not know.
I held my tongue until now, I didn't want to tell the world how happy they were about this yeasted commercial Moscatel that they make in Rioja. I believe they have their own DO for this which makes me wonder who their father is in bed with.
I hated them, the wines, I mean. It was easy to like the young men. But the wines? The hatred reached some sweet profundity. Obviously they hit a nerve, and it wasn't pretty.
Now you might love them, and that's fine, drink them, buy them, guzzle them as much as their 90 + score indicates you should, and feel guilt-free about it. But besides the wines, monolithic turn offs, the marketing with earnest men, farmers provoked a gag. Rugged hands on the label and soulful eyes, just wrenching the grapes from their stalk by sheer emotion, yes, those boys made a line of wines. And their marketing is just going to make you cry. I'm repeating myself. You get the point.
So, on the WineWench.comWe have these words.
...perfectly defines an initiative that connects the oriental culture and its care of the natural world with the most ADVANCED TECHNIQUES OF BIODYNAMIC AGRICULTURE OF THE RURAL EUROPEAN ZONES. All of its wines are NATURAL, in so far as its vineyards are cultivated in a form that is completely ecological, avoiding any use of chemical or synthetic herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides. Matsu represents the ESSENCE OF NATURAL WINE, and its elaboration constitutes of a process that demands one to "wait" during the cycle that permits the achievement of its final equilibrium.
I see, this is why there are those advocating a dismissal of the world 'natural.' But any word is going to be co-opted. Nothing is sacred.
Anyway, have a look at the site. I'm going to drink some over-sulfured riesling right now, and I'm going to enjoy it too. You see? I am open-minded.
I'm hunting the Leon Trotskys, the Philip Roths, the Chaucers and the Edith Whartons of the wine world. I want them natural and most of all, I want them to speak the truth even if we argue. With this messiah thing going on, I'm trying to swell the ranks of those who crave the differences in each vintage, celebrate nuance and desire wines that make them think, laugh, and feel. Welcome.
And, if you'd like a signed copy, feel free to contact me directly.