Want to piss drinkers off? Hand them a wine like, Sebastien Riffault and tell them the wine they sip is Sancerre.
But get them to try the wine without telling them it is grown in Sancerre. Go ahead, it's a trick but it works. The wine made without any added sulfur or anything else, is the grape in its natural state, as it wants to be. So, if they don't come to it with preconceived notions of the grape, if they don't have their reality fucked with because there's no cat piss or cut grass, well they might love it. If they are listening very carefully, they might sense and correctly identify its soil, place and using their noodle,they might even get the grape.
To Sebastien as well as a growing number of vignerons, the earth and terroir, that thing that is debated by scientists as existing or not, is much more important than the variety. Of supreme importance is the correct marriage of the two that makes the difference.
After weeks of hanging with winemakers this past June, from Burgenland, to Styria to Mont St. Denis, a repetitive theme came into microscopic focus. The moment of revelation hit when standing in the Morey St. Denis vineyard Clos Mont Luisants with its owner, that rascal Laurent Ponsot.
The Ponsot monopole, Clos des Mont Luisants is planted with century old aligoté. In past decades the vineyard had flirted with some chardonnay and some pinot gouge, but now it's back to aligoté all the way, because Ponsot believes the oft considered lowly grape with enough acidity to naturally block malo, is the best vehicle to deliver the soil to the glass.
"It's the place that matters, not the grape." He didn't yell at me, but he might as well have added, you idiot.
"Look. You have many elements side-by-side that makes the wine what it is. In Burgundy we have 1500 different appellations we don't have a wine named, pinot noir or chardonnay. This is Burgundy. The land has to be the victor. From the New World came the fame of naming a wine according to the grape. In the past, people would plant the best grape to extract the location."
So why did this wisdom get lost?
"People had time and committment, now they make money."
His disdain for the world of labels was apparent. "In Burgundy we have Burgundy, not a beverage called chardonnay and oak. It is Burgundy. To label a wine by the varietal is like a man holding up his pants with both belt and suspenders. No confidence."
You might well wonder why I bothered to ask how he was going to label his Corton Charlemagne, which is aligoté from Corton-Chuck? (before phylloxera there was mostly aligoté on that famous hill). Will he give some clue to the drinker that it's aligoté?
"Why would I do this?" he said, getting testy, but tempering it with a, okay, a somewhat superior laugh. "Forget the name! It is the place not the grape that matters."
That's all well in good for a region mostly is run by two grapes. After all, one can assume (though not safely) if it's white it's chardonnay and if its red it's pinot. But many drinkers (self-included) have an intellecutal curiosity to know the grape(s) inside, so some info on the back might be welcome. The goal, however to respect a piece of land so much that what matters is that the right grape is matched to the soil, and not a grape matched to a market, is extremely appealing. After all, when is the last time I reached for a bottle that screamed gamay? But show me Py, and I'm there.
In light of the new labeling laws in which we will see more grape names on the label, as if that meant anything, this is the ripe time for a vigneron push back.
I don't know, when is the last time you had sex with someone who wore both belt and suspenders?