The Humble Gourmand






Dearest good people,

I'm getting back on American soils for the first time in a few dozen fortnights. Luckily Continental offered It's a Wonderful Life as a movie option which duly prepped me for this state of consumer anxiety as well as this freezing snowstorm on the East Coast.

The wine intelligentsia in Burgundy tuned me onto Sylvain Loichet, a passionate kid from Chorey. The stodgy London merchants are taking interest, because Loichet wines are showing up some of the great producers. However, Loichet is unheard of the U.S. When I say kid, it's because Sylvain is 25 - and has a one-track mind for making the most pure, hand-made, naturally-composted, biodynamic range of wines. Like the best of hiscontemporaries, he's an idealist, a junior Coche-Dury perhaps. While the market calls for mass-product wine, I say drink less and better (but within reason).

Pernand-Vergelesses Blanc "Les Belles Filles" 2007 (coming from the same "bande-de-terre" as Corton Charlemagne)

This odd-sounding commune of Pernand-Vergelesses has a though name to swallow (there are no monkeys on the label to ease the consumer). However this quaint little village just north of Beaune has been producing haunting pinot noir and chardonnay for centuries - and with the influx of idealistic winemakers, one can find wines here that have the ripeness and depth to hold up to the looming grand cru of Corton Charlemagne (which sits in both Pernand and Aloxe-Corton). I like the 2007 vintage in the Cote de Beaune whites - because I find them to have more energy (aka : minerality) and charm than some prior vintages.

Sylvain comes from an industrious family of Carriere's - stone workers, who have owned vines for several generations, the grapes of which they historically sold off to a local negociant or two, that is, until Sylvain got to be of age. He found passion in the work of making wine from start to finish, and after graduating from Beaune's Lycee-Viticole and them some years working, coincidentally, with Olivier Merlin, he took back the vineyard contacts and started this domain in a garagiste-style cuverie. Four vintages later, he has won the rightful respect of his peers, more and more praise from the press, and a little 12 appellation, 30 000 bottle operation. I think what makes his wines so vibrant and beautiful is that he is extremely focused but not systematic, he chooses details such as his percentages of new oak, lees contact, or whether he will do a gentle fining, based on the vintage - which means he needs to be hyper-attentive - as demonstrated by his permanently raised left eyebrow.

While I loved the range we tasted on that chilly February morning, I chose the Pernand because I found that it had a particular brooding quality without being closed - more inward, women, structured for a white - and yet vibrant, mineral, floral and elegant. Only recent oak is used here, which serves to highlight the broad and silky notes. I was delighted with the complexity and nuance here, meaning that the aromas entice you to chase them around in the glass - not because they are so obvious but because they elude and then reveal themselves.

Aromas that are present but not in-your-face (where the "haunting" bit comes in) and that's what I call a great wine. Luckily I was able to negotiate a price that is the best in the US - $ 34.50 bottle.




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