18 August 2011

On the Road to Find Out 1

This is a tale of a summer. It was a summer of many travels with several different stages. Five stages, to be exact. The five staged summer was a summer of friends, a summer of family, a summer of solitude. It's been a cool summer and I'm grateful for that. It's been less stressful, less heartbreaking than last summer, and I'm grateful for that, too.

It's been a long, busy, and generally good summer. As always, it taught me about expectations, as in trying not to have them. Also, I've learned a lesson or two about spontaneity, as in act that way more often. Up, down, back, and forth, it's been the summer of the road more traveled.

It started in the Beaujolais, a wine region I never thought much about before moving within three hours of it. Then, thanks to Roy Cloud and his company Vintage '59, I tasted the 2005 Domaine du Pavillon de Chavannes Cuvée des Ambassades from the Côte de Brouilly and all my wrongs were righted. There was none of the sweet, candy-fruited juice that makes its way over to the American shores in the form of Beaujolais Nouveau or the mass marketed Georges Duboeuf wines. This was a wine borne from the limestone and granite soil it was raised in and the soft sunshine that presses down upon its hillsides. It's pretty, it's elegant, its tannins are fine and chalky. It's versatile with food and, as the six year-old bottle attested, it's able to age. My interest was piqued, appointments were made, and so began the summer.

Domaine du Pavillon de Chavannes couldn't see us so we made a cold call to another vigneron whose wines I've been digging: Clos de la Roilette located in the appellation of Fleurie.

Big, juicy, but fine tuned and earthy, these wines are excellent examples of the complexity of Gamay when left in the hands of an artist. Alain Coudert opened several bottles of the Clos cuvée (2007, 2009, 2010) two vintages of the Cuvée Tardive--a selected blend of old vines aged partially in oak foudres, or large casks--and an even smaller production and otherwise unavailable wine called the Griffe du Marquis, literally Claw of the Nobleman. The grapes for the Griffe du Marquis come from a single parcel, are aged in smaller casks, and exhibit an earthiness or sauvage more commonly seen in the big brother region to the north, Burgundy. Excellent, all.

Next we headed back to the Côte de Brouilly and the beautiful estate of Claude and Evelyne Geoffray at Château Thivin. Claude took us on a complete tour of the place before sitting us down at a table with bread, local chevre and sausage, and several vintages and different cuvées--the estate cuvée, Cuvée Zacharie, and Les Griottes de Brulhie.

More elegant, more pretty, and more structured than the wines of Clos de la Roilette, we probably should have tried the Thivin wines first. We still walked out of there with several cases under our arms (and a couple older vintage magnums!) and were ready to start the second part of the journey: the eats.

Night #1 took us to the decidedly uncrowded Les Platanes de Chénas in the village of Les Deschamps. Night #2 was spent at L'Atelier du Cuisinier in Villié-Morgon, a decidedly more crowded but no less delicious bistro where we dined on, among other things, bone marrow, snails, and frogs.

Walking and driving narrow country roads filled the rest of the trip. Not a moment was wasted. Technically, summer was still two weeks away when schools would empty and roads would fill. We jumped the gun a bit and were luckier for it. The villages were quiet with a looming air of anticipation. For the time being the Beaujolais felt like ours for the asking, which seems appropriate as it was a wine region I previously ignored. Not now and no more, however. We quietly slid away before the rest of the world descended.

(Continue to Part 2.)

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