Friday, November 18, 2011

looking for the real BoJo

La Cave des Papilles is on the rue Daguerre, a lively pedestrian street full of cheesemongers, butchers, fishmongers, bakeries, traiteurs, and vegetable shops.  It holds down a corner of Daguerre and a street called Lalande, and is probably one of the most thrilling wine shops I've ever been in.   Bottles upon bottles of wines made by small producers, young and old, men and women, who make their wines in small quantities and hold themselves to both traditional and honest standards.  There are pots of pâté and foie gras, handmade jams from a farm in the south.  There is a tasting on offer tonight, and for that there are beautiful baguettes and a rather impressive loaf of country pâté  as well as a bowl full of rillettes.  Six bottles for the tasting are lined up.  

It's the third Thursday in November, which means that the newest of the new wine from this year's vintage in Beaujolais will be released.  Here in Paris, there is a typical excitement, though excitement might be too strong a word, maybe more of a typical expectation.  It is the day the Beaujolais Nouveau will arrive and it's the same day it's been arriving for the last thirty years, and it's a good day to find cause for celebration.  Café bars and little bistros all over the city have planned tastings.  Most begin at five o'clock in the evening and go till nine or ten, some will go on late into the evening.  Many will be pouring Beaujolais Nouveau from George DuBoeuf, but others will be pouring something a little different.

Beaujolais Nouveau (referred to as BoJo here in the city) has a slightly less than savory reputation.  People seem to like the idea of it, but not really like "it". The wine is so young and so many of the industrialized brands use chaptalization (adding sugar for fermentation purposes when the natural sugar content is low and to back sweeten), designer yeasts (there is a little bit of an "in" French joke going around right now in the wine community about a yeast used to create a slightly banana flavor fro BoJo.  "Want to see my banana?" and all that...), and a heady dose of sulfite to stop fermentation and stabilize.  As a result, what is supposed to be a particularly authentic wine, a real experience of wine ready to drink so close to the end of harvest has become commercially and chemically changed, or like the French word, derangé, deranged.

I've never had real BoJo and have been particularly interested in searching it out as I see so many similarities between the Marquette growing in so many vineyards in Vermont and the Gamay grape.  For the past two years, after our own harvest, our young red wine has been fresh, lively, fruity, and well, rather lovely.  Couldn't we have our own Nouveau tradition? The quest, as there must always be a quest, has been to find true Beaujolais Nouveau in a sea of imposters.

It doesn't take long to find the venue for which I'm looking: La Cave des Papilles (that would be The Cellar of the Tastebuds) which specializes in natural wines.  They are having this tasting of several producers of BoJo as well as a Nouveau from the Loire and 
Côtes de Rhône for comparitive puproses.  They started opening bottles at eleven in the morning.  We think to arrive at around six in the evening.  Music starts at seven.

The tasting itself is everything from educational to intriquing.  The wines, which come from various parts of Beaujolais, have similarities but also strong differences.  The wines are light by nature with fruit and excellent acidity.  They have a yeasty almost nutty element to them.  They vary in texture, some being more ethereal and others almost weighty.  They are curated perfectly, moving from the lightest style to the richest--though rich is never really a word to use with BoJo.  Hints of cherry, tar, iron, and something a little sauvage. The producers shown: Karim Vionnet, Jean-Claude Lapalu, Raphael Champier, Michel Guigner, Christian Ducroux, the Paire family of Domaine de Pothiers (the Loire offering), and Marcel and Marie Marchaud (Côtes de Rhône), all farm organically or biodynamically and believe the less intervention in the cellar the better.  All the wines were fermented on wild yeast, no chaptalization, and little or no sulfite at bottling. 

At six in the evening, there are a handful of gentlemen in the shop discussing how to place these Beaujolais Nouveau in relation to the ubiquitous M. DuBoeuf's selection.  By seven, it is tight standing room only, and a lot of people move out on the street corner with glasses and bottles in hand.  The music, a kind of Klezmer jazz mix-up reminiscent of Dixie bands in New Orleans holds court out on the street.  We meet a Canadian chemistry professor well-familiar with La Cave and in the city teaching for the month.  His brother-in-law lives in Vermont.  We spent the evening talking about Paris, economics, wine, and the woes of the world, the woes greatly tempered by how the wines charm us, and the rousing tunes.

On the street, a series of images pass like a film using the lens of this new wine.  This is why there are people crowded here on the corner--because of the Beaujolais Nouveau.  To celebrate something not quite tangible, to feel--while in this city--the rhythms of harvest and the countryside, to salute your neighbors.  Women walk by in skirts carrying bouquets of flowers, a dog barks in admiration for the music, a scooter buzzes by, a woman on a bike rings a bell.  An older lady hangs out her apartment window from up above.  A man in a wheelchair rolls close to the tuba player moving his head to the sound.  A man kisses a woman on both cheeks in greeting.   



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