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Texier 2012 Côtes-du-Rhône (Rhône) — All the classic characteristics dialed down to about 7, without sacrificing anything except unnecessary force. This is why one drinks Texier. (7/16)

First we take Manhattan…

[sandra bullock takes a sniff]A scientist, an artist, and an artisan walk into a bar…

…and order a cocktail. Because they can actually have a conversation about that. Wine? Impossible. On that subject, the three shall never speak, nor (even more tragically) listen.

The long silence of this blog has been accompanied by a significant personal focus on cocktails both in concert with and in lieu of wine. There are more differences than similarities between the two disciplines, despite both being founded on the pleasurable boozification of daily life, and one of the biggest is that in the cocktail world, analytic inquiry is not relegated to — or worse, dismissed as being the unseemly meddling of — industrialists.

Some of the very worst biochemical travesties in the natural wine realm come from those who not only avoid science, but are actively hostile to it and whatever lab-coated hyper-globalist monsters stand behind it. This while their case-stacking and exceedingly wealthy counterparts in the mass-market realm dismiss not only the raving unwashed hippies at the other fringe, but any notion of wine being more than a soulless recipe custom-fit to a receptive demographic.

Cocktail folk, to their great credit, aren’t afraid to poke these monsters with syringes and pipettes, to see how and why they bleed. Witness this analysis, for example, which questions whether or not there are actual recipes — golden proportions, if you will — that transcend ingredient identity. The wine community will see no similar effort, because the Olivier Cousins of the world would never read it, and because Constellation Brands has already profited from it.

There are a few exceptions here and there. Some winemakers are actual technologists, like Clark Smith. Some are disruptively interrogative pebbles in the natural wine machinery, like Eric Texier. Though they start with completely different philosophies about wine’s essence, and their products evidence relatively oppositional goals, in actual practice they don’t let results stand in the way of inquiry and testability. Sadly, such people are thin on the ground in the wine community, and when they exist they tend to be gobbled up by the megacorps.

This somewhat depressive muse comes not as a result of the above-linked article, but after reading this brilliant thought experiment on the intersection between aroma, sweetness, and sense. Go read it; it is eminently worth your time.

I’m somewhat hesitant to respond to this terrific essay in the manner I’m about to, because I don’t want to give the impression that I’m in serious disagreement with it. I’m not. A great deal of its foundation is based on subjectivity (because it’s about taste), and with that there’s no fruitful argument. The rest is thoughtful, forceful, and challenging. I think it proposes some extremely penetrating notions, and even if they prove to be wrong or partially wrong (though I don’t know how one would “prove” such things), rarely is the starting point pinned so far, and so authoritatively, into the latter stages of the conversation.

Despite my now well-established cocktail enthusiasm, I don’t yet feel expert enough to respond to the spiritous specifics in the essay, so my responses there will remain general. Regarding the wine-related portions, however, I do have some reasonably-founded thoughts. This will be a somewhat scattered essay, on my part, but the source material filled me with knotty mental puzzle pieces, few of them neatly-knit into a cohesive narrative.

Let’s start with the lowest-hanging fruit:

This lesson was first mastered by port wine producers who created the 18×6 template. For port, 18% alcohol puts the wine at the minimum of preservation so as not to be a distraction.

I think it’s an easy but understandable error to attribute intentionality to such choices, at least with the confidence this essay implies. The fermentation-stoppage alcohol employed in the Douro has varied wildly over the years and across producers, with both innocuous and deformative effects on the organoleptics, the aromatics, and the perceived balance of the finished beverage. And it’s little use to speak of Port as a single entity, anyway; an aged Colheita and a baby-cheeked Ruby don’t express balance in the same fashion, nor do a White and a Vintage. It’s possible that there are known ratios for each category, but I submit that ratios are quickly superseded by house styles.

Further, Port is an interesting example in that its tinkering winemakers and marketers have (like their counterparts in Champagne) long exploited differing cultural responses to the beverage. Drier, more oxidative Ports are popular in one country, while tooth-decaying young-Ruby sweetness reigns in another. In a third, Port may be more or less unsalable as part of a wholesale rejection of “classic” sweet wines.

That said, Port is correctly identified by the essayist as, at its core, a procedural, “recipe” wine…in which category it is joined by Champagne and most other sparkling wines (save pet-nats), Sherry, and nearly the entire universe of fortified wines. To my knowledge, Port doesn’t have a Marco de Bartoli-style iconoclast (Infantado would be the closest I’ve tasted) working to reduce or eliminate all but the most necessary interventions and producing atypical yet incomparable results along the way, but it could. And then we might see whether or not the received ratios are actually all that golden.

Champagne, however, is currently littered with such iconoclasts, and what they’ve demonstrated amongst all the strict interventions and recipes is that there is a multiplicity of positive responses to the sugar/alcohol/non-sugar dry extract/ester quartet. In other words, subjectivity of form and response are a greater factor than the linked essay allows. Which is still very far from saying it’s wrong, only that if it indeed applies to cocktails, it still might not apply to wine. But if it doesn’t apply to wine, yet wine is being used to support the thesis…well, there’s clearly more work to be done.

Are there demonstrably successful ratios that fling wines from shelves into customers’ baskets? Maybe, but I’m deeply suspicious. I’m particularly uncertain that the market demonstrates the validity of such truisms. When’s the last time you laid down a case of Port?

I thought so.

Drinkers of dry wines complain that even alcohol contents as high as 15% can be distractions from aroma when there is not residual sugar.

That’s a massive simplification of an extremely vociferous debate, though I’m quite certain the author knows it. Response to obvious alcohol is variate and personal, but the crux is always balance-in-context. The most strident anti-alcohol ranters have likely tasted (for example) Ridge zinfandels far above their personal thresholds that seemed poised and appealing despite being only a few ordinals shy of actual Port. It’s almost never the number, though the number is a convenient whipping boy. It’s the imbalance and the entire set of corollary effects — fruit-sweetness to the point of overripeness, textural issues, structural abandonment — that form the entirety of the objection to high alcohol in dry wines.

Let’s get this out of the way first: this is an easily-manipulated response, manageable with tricks both crude and subtle. Clark Smith claims that “balance points” for a given wine exist at multiple alcohol levels, and while it is (or was) his business to use technology to bring wines to those points, I’ve no reason to believe he’s lying. But as the most volatile component of wine, alcohol can be trapped or shunted by a studied choice of tasting vessel. In fact, the entirety of the wine-tasting rigamarole is based around this and related concepts. Anyone who’s purchased a boozy domestic pinot tasted from a narrow stem and carted it home to their wide-bottomed Burgundy bowls knows what I’m talking about.

The more interesting consideration here is a utilitarian one. Is the wine being employed as a cocktail? Or is it a component of a food-centered ritual?

I submit that of all the differences between wine and cocktails, the greatest is that one is normatively intended to accompany food and the other is not. I say “normatively” because there is a very lucrative subset of wine consumers who do, in fact, drink wine as a cocktail. That they will perceive issues of balance, aromatics, and sweetness differently is immediately obvious.

Wine, even with residual sugar, can be (and in the majority is) intended as a companion. A supplement. An enhancement of the food, or itself enhanced by the gustatory accompaniment, but in any case only one element in a more complex work. Cocktails, however, are generally considered in isolation. To bend one context to the other, wine (as traditionally employed) is not the cocktail, wine is the vermouth in the Manhattan. (That vermouth is in fact wine seems massively apropos.) Whereas a Manhattan is not the wine, a Manhattan is the entire meal.

It follows, then, that wine-as-cocktail has a fundamentally different set of sugar/alcohol/ester relationships than wine-as-food-partner. I’d submit that the bifurcation of wine response is most profoundly expressed by that division. And thus, it inevitably follows that while the science of organoleptics and the personal art of sensorial response are theoretically the same, they are inevitably divided by utility. To speak definitively about balance in wine is to skip past the essential, first-principle “how.”

And perhaps also “where.” The structural theory of wine, as grounded by history in the Old World (and Older World), is based on a cuisine that increasingly exists as a cultural artifact and is fading nearly everywhere. Many of the truly paradigmatic wines, like age-worthy red Bordeaux, remain unconflicted only with the most restrained of dishes. The modern trend towards fusion-in-all-things and pan-national culinary polyamory has almost destroyed the traditions that support things like structure-driven cab/merlot blends, which is instead now a market almost entirely supported by icon-seekers in multiple cultures, and people whose diets somewhat inexplicably consist of steak after steak after steak. I don’t say this to criticize or judge — people should eat, drink, and buy what they want — but to point out how the field of play has shifted: the most dedicated wine consumers no longer consume a diet that supports most of the traditional assumptions about structure, aromatics, balance…and yes, sugar.

We have long been living in a gustatory world that should wholeheartedly embrace off-dry wines, as Asian influences permeate nearly everything we eat and even our driest, most animalistic dishes tend to employ some sort of sweet counterpoint. This while the Germans, who mastered the most brilliant wines to accompany this sort of eating, have fled such styles wholesale in the pursuit of magisterial dry rieslings (which they can now make with steady confidence, thanks to climate change). Certain umami wines, like Burgundy, have proven unexpectedly adept at marrying world cuisines, but there is an entire universe of bibulous assumptions that has been somewhat unquestioningly abandoned by the modern diner. To cheer or regret this movement is to miss the point; it is, and the wines must respond or be rendered antiquated.

But even as wine and food tastes bend inexorably to an unfamiliar horizon, is it possible that spirits confound this trend, falling into neatly predictable ratios that transcend the vicissitudes of the ages? Perhaps. And perhaps it is my natural cynicism that makes me doubt it. A moment in time is little more than a vivisection. Perhaps we can definitively characterize a given moment and support it with data, but I don’t know that our firmest conclusions will be of much use to the swillers of 2040. The very reasons for cocktails in their traditional forms have profoundly changed over the interregnum between creation and our modern revivalist fetishization. Their utility would be slightly more familiar, but even that cloth is fraying. Do I think that today’s answers will apply tomorrow?

Honestly, I don’t. They certainly haven’t in wine. It’s true that cocktails have a much more intensely-tended root system, and I think it’s entirely possible that the “core curriculum” of cocktails will be preserved for eternity, to be admired and learned and introduced by bartenders to curious stool-perchers until the heat-death of the universe. But is what I just described “cocktails” as actually experienced, or is that just a foundation on which many future and highly differentiated edifices will be built?

I don’t know.

The brash attentional nature of these Manhattans are thought to dispel anxiety and with that said we might have just found their motive. If the Manhattan simply becomes a vehicle for attentional therapy there quite a few ways to skin the cat.

In fact, this is where and how the wine world divides most neatly in twain. The largest cohort of drinkers most certainly seeks familiar and repeatable commodification. This is a hyper-competitive market obsessed with pricing, positioning, and marketing minutiae. The rest are the cornucopia of niches who must be micro-marketed to by a haphazard chain of producers, shippers, and outlets, but who consume the vast majority of labels and of media generated in service of those wines. The former are the wine industry as an industry, the latter are the the entire reason that the greater wine industry has persisted and blossomed for millennia.

Do people who order a Manhattan without modification want the edges pre-filed to fit neatly within expected parameters? That’s the assertion here, and it’s likely to be true for the mass of drinkers, but what of the enthusiast? Is the delicate propriety of a safe Manhattan what they’re after? Do they even order Manhattans? Or do they order something from a creatively-crafted list, or a more touchy-feely cocktail like a Sazerac? I can’t answer for the market, but I know that I prefer the latter; Manhattans I save for bars I can’t trust (a cruelty I bafflingly inflict upon myself given the pitiful “success” of the results) or home.

It may be that this is a significant difference between cocktails and wine, in that the creatively important segment of the wine market (in terms of sustaining interest in something other than a mere alcohol delivery system) is very much obsessed with “vehicles for attentional therapy.” Indeed, there seems little other reason for most non-commodity wines to exist. No one needs a hundred new natural wine labels any more than they needed hundreds of differentiated Burgundian lieux dits. But we have them, and we embrace them.

If our motive is to thwart complacency it might make sense to have a formula forced upon on us through random old school free pouring where we will just learn to love it. Many people enjoy this randomness, but we are quick to chalk it up to a lack of understanding their options. Free pouring and random recipes are cocktail movement blasphemy but they may not have been without positive effects.

…and this gets to the very crux of the issue. Historically, we have “learned to love” all manner of contradictory things. We would not now drink Port with steak and Sauternes with roast game birds, even though to do otherwise would once have been to challenge long-settled wisdom. We do not tend to drink hyper-sweet wines as apéritifs if “we” are Americans, fearing them destructive to the dry whites or reds that are sure to follow, but the French ritualize that very behavior. We do not love resinated wines, unless we are a certain sort of Greek traditionalist, and we have abandoned aromatized wines to the cocktail folk for their blending experiments…only to have them turn around and offer those wines unadorned as breezy, delicious alternatives to cocktails. Apparently, the simple act of adding a citrus peel transforms something that is very obviously wine into not-wine, a categorial exclusion that is based on shifting cultural appreciation of aromatics and approaches to balance. Why do we consider Dolin Blanc a cocktail beverage and Conundrum a wine? Because we’ve decided so, whether via choice, marketing, or acculturation. No better reason.

Whether or not we are naturally inclined towards any aspect of wine (like sweetness) or require assimilation (as we likely do with tannin), it’s fairly clear from the multiplicity of wine styles that we are a constellation of opinions regarding balance. The industrialists have chosen recipes (and there are many) that are, by and large, repellent to enthusiasts. A cloudy Riffault Sancerre is predictably shocking to a Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc drinker, but it isn’t any more likely to appeal to a regular buyer of Vatan Sancerre. And what of the late-picking Cotats and their ilk, who occasionally lose their AOC privileges despite the historical precedent for off-dry Sancerre? Or the opposing camps in Marlborough: one favoring enzyme-enhanced pyrazines and the other off-dry fruit salad from their sauvignons, while a third wave skirts the perimeter with uninoculated, texturally dense alternatives? There’s a strong and opinionated market of enthusiasts for all these wines, and in fact it could easily be argued that “learning to love” not just what is, but what is developing, is a foundational motivation for a very large number of wine consumers.

I often think that this trend is almost exactly reversed in the cocktail realm. The “new/now/nextness” in the wool-vested world frequently comes from adulterating vodkas and whiskies that are almost entirely rejected by the cognoscenti. Want to get cocktail geeks excited? Resurrect a lost formula. “Unimprove” a modernized product, like Lillet. Convince the Amer Picon folks to export to the States. Want to bore a room full of wine geeks to tears of indifference? Tell them you’re going back to Hermitage-ing classed-growth Bordeaux, just like they did it in the old days. The deafening silence of crickets and empty bank accounts will follow. But tell them you’re kveri-fermenting and skin-macerating a white from some Latvian grape they’ve never heard of, and the wine nerds shall flock.

“Thwarting complacency” is the raisin d’être (sorry, I apparently never tire of that pun) of wine geekery. As for “randomness,” it’s the very essence of the natural wine movement. Is there a “lack of understanding their options” at work? Perhaps among some of the most indifferent True Believers, but the majority understand their options very well, and have specifically and deliberately rejected complacency in favor of its opposite.

Though I still don’t know if they’d prefer free-poured cocktails.

It’s fascinating to consider the intellectual and emotional tension between the two worlds, actually. That the scientific perfectability of a Manhattan could be seen as desirable makes sense from the perspective of my inner cocktail enthusiast. My longer-time companion the internal wine enthusiast finds the very idea tedious, at best. I wish I had a verifiable explanation for how these fields have arrived at opposite conclusions regarding irreducibility. I don’t. I can only speculate that the difference is that cocktails are, by design, multivariate complexity unified by craft, whereas wines are singularities that must express both authenticity and complexity with, preferably, as little resort to craft as possible. (Here, of course, I speak only of non-industrial wines.) But this is only a contention, not a demonstration.

Some of the most fascinating work in the linkedy essay revolves around the tension between aroma and sugar. For example:

Among people with well entrenched acquired tastes, when we flatten a path to olfaction by holding all the the other senses at their most innocuous (a sweet drink) the aroma presented must be extraordinary or the experience will be seen as unharmonic.

Again, there is a clear difference when the subject is wine rather than cocktails. Industrial exemplars of the category — Blue Nun, Apothic, and so forth — don’t really have any aromatic extraordinariness at all. The current vogue for moscato certainly highlights aromatic explosiveness, but are the painted-whore charms of muscat really extraordinary? Rarely. Industrial wines that rely on sugar to sell themselves, of which the once-triumphant Kendall Jackson Chardonnay and its usurper Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio are the exemplars, are severely aromatically muted compared to their non-industrial brethren.

Yet I definitely agree that an overtly sweet cocktail must work harder for my attentions…proportionally along a continuum of same… than a drier cocktail. If I’m to truly adore a muscat, I need more than sugar and a flower shop/fruit salad detonation, yet access to those organoleptic realms is only hindered by muscat’s lurid varietal signature.

Again, I wonder at the reason for this separation. Wine lovers appreciate lavish aromatics, certainly — witness the rhapsodies writ with the ink of Burgundy or Barolo — but there is hesitation when it comes to overtly sweet wines. Instead, adoration usually only comes when the wines sugars have retreated; not in measure, of course, but in comparison to the maturing varietal, terroir, and winemaking signatures that blossom with age, rendering the wine “less sweet” to the palate. There are people who drink young Layon for the overwhelming sugar, certainly — most of them are French — but no serious aficionado reaches for their corkscrew until the decades-long process of drawing forth chenin’s elegant, earthen complexity has at least begun.

Here’s where I come around to a conclusion, of sorts, regarding the Boston Apothecary essay. Do I think there’s value in the search for a paradigmatic Manhattan? Yes. Immensely so. There may even be one, though I harbor more doubt than the essayist. But as is so often true, it’s quite possible that it’s the search that provides more value than the conclusion.

Mostly, I regret the lack of similar inquiry into the science of wine’s sensorium. Not because I want a One True Sommerberg Riesling, but because I think the people who would most benefit from a robust examination are leaving the questions (and thus the answers) to people who make wines they hate. Personally, I abhor artisanal wine’s too-frequent rejection of science, and hope for a day in which both the most vapid industrialist and the most committed naturalist can agree that biochemistry is an important tool.

And now I’m going to make a Manhattan. Because I’m thirsty.

Living on the edge

Vivant Table“He’s played us. Don’t you think he’s played us beautifully?”

The setting was a Paris apartment. The “us” referred to a small gathering of folks who, mostly, work in or around the alcohol and media worlds. And the “he” of debate was natural wine evangelist and (at the time) object of intense media scrutiny over then-current events, Pierre Jancou.

Here’s the if-you-missed-it summary: a muckety-muck at a fashion mag hit up Jancou for a free meal at his restaurant Vivant Table. The dangled carrot was positive mention in Mr. Muckety-Muck’s publication. This sort of gross pay-for-play quasi-blackmail happens all the time, and most restaurants just bend over and take it, figuring the publicity is worth the cost. Jancou’s restaurant is tiny, perpetually overbooked (well in advance, too), and has zero need of such publicity. Given this freedom, Jancou said no. Hard words were exchanged over email.

Now, the tale could have ended there. Except that Jancou passed the story, complete with email proof, to a bunch of writers who were naturally inclined to be sympathetic to Jancou’s objection, and likely to spread the story. Which they did. And did. And did again. I arrived in Paris the day after the hullabaloo hulla-ballooned, and everyone (“everyone” being a self-selected cohort of folks, many of whom I count as friends, acquaintances, or trusted sources) was talking about it.

Naturally, the backlash – not much of one in comparison to the pro-Jancou outrage, but it was there – arrived soon after. Motives were examined. The question that seemed most prevalent was the most obvious: didn’t Jancou end up turning this into a giant PR victory by his own savvy use of the media?

A few months earlier, I’d seen this debate play out in different context. On two different wine fora, a drinker with a bit of a reputation for contrarianism-without-justification went after winemaker Eric Texier, essentially calling his participation on those and other fora no more than transparent publicity-seeking, and going on to suggest that anyone who fell for it was brainwashed. The issue, apparently, began with the drinker’s dislike of Texier’s wines, but from there, the conclusions – each darker and stranger than the previous – followed.

So what are Texier’s motives for participating on wine fora? He says, among other things, that they’re to provide information, often corrective, in discussions of wines and winemaking. Occasionally regarding his own work, much more often not. Since he very pointedly does not shill, openly or otherwise, for his own product, and in fact posts as his claimed motivation would suggest, I’ve no reason to think he’s lying.

So what about the accusation that Texier gets a publicity boost from this participation? Well, of course he does. If it damaged his brand, he’d be an idiot to keep doing it. I’ve seen winemakers, restaurateurs, retailers, and others damage – even destroy – their reputations through ham-fisted use of technology and social media. And Texier is no idiot. He uses his participation well. And yes, his reputation benefits as a result.

To suggest that this should not be is to suggest that either Texier can’t use the internet because he might gain from such use, or that he must use it less well. These are ludicrous positions to take, though that didn’t stop one finger-wagger from taking them. If Texier’s participation in a discussion works to his benefit because he adds value, and he in turn receives value from that participation, where is the damage? I see none. If Texier’s wines are bad (which, in my opinion, they most certainly are not), then disappointed consumers will sort that out for themselves, irrespective of Texier’s online musings.

The benefits stemming from Jancou’s media firestorm are somewhat more indirect. As noted, it’s not like he has empty seats to fill; perhaps a few more people could stuff themselves into his shoebox-sized wine bar, but only at tourist hours. Yes, there’s theoretical benefit to “Brand Jancou,” but since he’s not shown much inclination towards franchising or Vivant-logo mugs and t-shirts, all it really gets him is more regular quoting in the media…a mixed blessing to an evangelist for a category of which many remain skeptical. One thing that the attention does bring, however, is corollary illumination for the natural wines that Jancou promotes. Since his only direct financial interest in promoting these wines is if you drink them at one of Jancou’s establishments, which as I’ve noted isn’t all that likely unless you’ve planned well ahead, I again think it’s reasonable to take him at his word.

Instead, I submit that to the extent that there was promotional intent behind Jancou’s actions, it was less numerical than it was qualitative. Anyone who follows Parisian restaurant buzz knows that, especially since the installation of a new chef and a corollary upgrading of the kitchen’s ambitions (see below), Vivant Table is a “hot” reservation. In fact, there are few hotter. By getting his side of the story into the press, Jancou doesn’t do much to increase the number of potential diners – in fact, if anything he probably holds off some portion of the available pool by resisting those who want in simply to say they’ve been – but instead increases the likelihood that diners are there because they are sympathetic to his restaurant’s philosophy. Vivant is as much a statement as it is a restaurant, and that’s not the sort of thing everyone enjoys. Those who don’t now have reason to stay away, clearing the field for a few more of those who do.

Here’s another reason to take Jancou at his word. A few nights after the imbroglio, I was standing outside his wine bar with a mutual acquaintance, chatting with the man himself. Naturally, this was one of the subjects. He grew increasingly animated, and what seemed to enrage him most was when his free-meal-seeking correspondent suggested that Jancou was well-known as some sort of skinflint, as stingy, as someone who’d refuse a simple request due neither to principle or practicality, but basic meanness. (Needless to say he did not agree with this interpretation.) His agitation and animation while recounting this were quite obvious and I don’t for a second believe they were feigned.

So did Jancou take an irritating encounter and turn it, via a willing media, to his benefit? Sure, but I submit that it doesn’t really matter. Yes, his case was amplified and abetted by interlocutors. But it’s a good case, or at least it’s the case he wishes to make for his restaurant and his passion. He has other methods of publicizing what he does, but why should he fail to make the best use of the sort of gift publicity provided by this incident? If he’s being duplicitous or is, as they say in Texas, all hat and no cattle…well, as with Eric Texier and his wines, disappointed diners will sort that out for themselves. And I haven’t noticed reservations at Vivant Table getting any easier.

For instance…

blood sausageSecuring a table at Vivant Table is far from the hardest thing I’ve ever done, restaurant-wise, but it’s no destination for last-minute deciders. In my case, five weeks of advance notice are required for a late seating, the hour of which is changed several times by the restaurant as the night approaches (though at the restaurant I can’t tell if the time-shifting has accomplished anything…maybe a very late third seating for someone?) I do note that more than a few people are turned away during the first hour of my meal, even a few who claim to have reservations, though I’m not eavesdroppy enough to assess the details.

In any case, it’s a tiny room in which one can be sure that most everyone who’s there wants to be there, or at least is accompanying someone who does. And it doesn’t offer much in the way of negotiation: the choices are a set menu, or a set menu with matched wines. This sort of restaurant-dominated approach, which I think many places would like to try but don’t, has been given a healthy lungful of oxygen by the ideologically-driven natural wine movement, and such places now litter Paris and are popping up in other cities, in Europe and elsewhere. There’s been follow-on benefit to non-natural places who, given tiny kitchens and limited seating, would like to shift the point-of-view to that of the kitchen rather than of the table, and I’m enthusiastically behind the movement.

Of course, I can say that because I’m an omnivore. Consecutive courses of sweetbreads, blood sausage, and multiple takes on venison do require somewhat of an open palate. This is aggressive, frequently brilliant food that takes the ingredient-focused cooking for which the restaurant was previously known and enlivens it through some very accomplished, almost swaggering cooking. There are some chances taken, and not everything succeeds (the blood sausage, for instance, is easily the most brilliant version thereof I’ve ever tasted, and finds a sweet counterpoint in an autumnal squash purée, but is paired with an utterly pointless bit of octopus…perfectly cooked, yet akin to a tuba player joining an in-progress violin quintet). But more than enough does succeed to make this one of the more interesting menus in Paris. Love it or not, if anyone is bored here, they are jaded beyond repair. It’s also extremely rich food, of course, and one will want to arrive with not only an open palate, but an open belly.

Despite a pretty good familiarity with natural wines as they exist on American shores, and many visits to other French covens of naturalia, Jancou’s explorations litter his shelves and his lists with a fair number wines I’ve either never tasted or have never even heard of. Not wanting to miss out on the latest and quirkiest, I do something I rarely choose to do and give myself over to the restaurant’s suggestions. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control (and no fault of the restaurant’s, either), the evening comes to an end before I can get a written version of the wines – almost all unfamiliar to me – so what follow are the only two names of which I’m certain. But there’s also a dark orange “white Burgundy” that’s not, as far as I can tell, actually an orange wine, several spiky reds (including one from sangiovese), and other highly individualistic offerings that sometimes range far beyond the borders of “mainstream” natural wines.

Do some of them taste like cider, white ale, lambic, distant cousins to vin jaune, or really almost anything but what one conceives of as “normal” wine? Yes. (Some don’t, and in fact taste quite familiar.) Some of them are good matches for the food and others are far too demanding of attention to coexist. I wouldn’t want an unending diet of such experiments, even the good ones. But to have one’s assumptions so aggressively challenged is both an intellectual and an emotional thrill-ride, and this is why I don’t choose between natural and traditional wines, but instead drink both. Yes, sometimes, one wonders why anyone would let certain fates befall otherwise defenseless grapes. But that’s exactly the point of natural wine as a philosophy, isn’t it? Risk is inherent in the genre. Universal pleasure is not.

Georges Laval Champagne Cumières 1er Cru Brut Nature (Champagne) – Foam, intensity, and the stench of brettanomyces. Not so much that it’s invalidating, but it’s there, so be warned. Otherwise, I like the wine a great deal, but this is a bit past my personal twitchiness point. (11/12)

Le Coste “Litrozzo” (Veneto) – Like drinking fizz without the usual trappings of wine that the fizz delivers. It’s pretty interesting, actually; if one considers bubbles or the sensation thereof to be a structural element, then this wine is all structure. What it really is, though, is all texture. (11/12)

Vivant Table’s room is somewhat uncomfortable, despite the quirky retro brilliance of the décor (rescued from the room’s previous incarnation), yet the slightly edgy discomfort matches the culinary and vinous experience on offer, and thus makes a certain amount of sense. Service is brusque in the very familiar French manner, which means you’ll get careful attention when someone’s at your side, but it’s best to not wish for things while they’re not. That said, at the end of our meal there’s an issue that requires a bunch of staff attention – again, nothing that’s the fault of the restaurant – in the face of which they couldn’t be kinder or more briskly attentive.

I read back over this review and see far more ambiguity and hedging than I really feel. There’s a perpetual debate amongst those who assign ratings to things and those who don’t, into which someone inevitably drops the cliché that the only rating that matters being whether or not one would repeat the experience. I don’t rate things, but I’ll answer the cliché: I’d go back to Vivant Table in a second. No matter how many weeks it takes to get in. Moreover, I love the restaurant, and part of that love is accepting that I will not love everything at the restaurant.

No, not accepting. Embracing.

wine & stairs at vivant caveI’ve a friend who complains that almost none of the wine bars that litter Paris are actually wine bars, but instead are restaurants with a lot of wine by the glass. I don’t really grasp the rigor of his definition, which seems to preclude either everything-but-charcuterie or seats (I forget which, possibly because I’m making fun of him), but I’d be tempted to draw the dividing line between places that feel like restaurants – sit, chat, graze in your own space – vs. places that feel like bars, in which one elbows up, through, and away, maintaining near-constant physical contact with one’s neighbors, or if seated feeling like a passel of them are hovering overhead and wishing you’d give up your seat. By that definition, Vivant Cave is very nearly a true wine bar; there are seats at the bar and a few around teetering tables at the back, but it’s…let’s call it physically convivial. The food – a few products-on-plates, a constantly-changing short list of quick assemblages – is inconsistent, though locals tell me the menu has gone through a fair number of changes since the bar’s (recent) opening. On two occasions, an octopus salad is vibrant and perfect, a stenchy andouillette is fine, blood sausage – which I’d find hard to believe is the same as served next door, though if it is they’re capable of mistreating it – is just OK. Two different preparations of burrata are magnificent.

Wines come from a short list of open bottles (though I suspect there’s almost always something else open, whim to whim), or from an elaborately-stocked case right at the wine bar’s narrowest point, the location of which makes for a lot of shoulder-jostling browsing. And unless one is completely steeped in the arcane nether-realms of natural wine, there’s going to be a lot here that’s unfamiliar, even to people who think they know the genre. As in: I’m offered a patently oxidized Loire gewurztraminer. (I pass.)

Fleury Champagne “Fleur de l’Europe” (Champagne) – Vibrant and lavishly present, with a tinge of oxygen-derived fullness and an ever-expanding sphere of sun-infused pastry. This is a wine for which the overused term “mouthfilling” might have been invented, even though that word is rarely applied to Champagne. Incredibly good. (10/12)

Courtois 2008 “Lard du Vin” (Loire) – Brett, check. Volatility, check. Sweaty naturalia, check. Structurally, it speaks of sauvignon blanc, but aromatically it’s on a different planet. I’ll say this for Courtois’ wines: they’re never boring. (10/12)

Piccinin 2009 “Bianco dei Muni” (Veneto) – Chardonnay & durella. This is the most tannic orange wine I’ve ever tasted, with a fierce chomp from sharp, razored incisors. Fruit-wise, I’m thinking blood orange and raspberry, but it’s that tannic saber-whip that truly marks the wine. (10/12)

Blanchard “Le Grand Cléré” (Loire) – Sauvignon blanc. Salted honeydew melon, pit sweat, and the bitterness of underripe almonds. It leaps and hops for attention, but it’s not great at holding same. (10/12)

Ducroux 2011 Régnié (Beaujolais) – Pomegranate. Vividly acidic, with a diagonal hack-slash of thin tannin and a long, crisp tail. I’m not entirely certain it has anything to do with Régnié, though as it airs the more muscular aspects of the cru do begin to peer from dark corners, but it’s pretty delicious anyway. (10/12)

Sénat 2011 Minervois “Mais où est donc Ornicar” (Languedoc) – Tasting this in an ultra-naturalista wine outpost is a bit strange for me. The wine, which I first tasted years ago (obviously from a different vintage) in Sénat’s cellar, seems almost shockingly conventional in this setting, surrounded as it is by the whimsical, the ideological, even the downright insane. In the context of its appellation it’s strikingly approachable, yet it retains the structural baggage and density of its source. Meaty, herbal, somewhat dark-fruited, but largely about muscularity and the weight of long-eroded, sun-drenched history. What sets this apart from other wines of the appellation, and the rest of Sénat’s wines, is a sense of space and air that can be penetrated by a palate unassisted by animal flesh or its analogues. I don’t always love this wine, finding it somewhat imbalanced in certain contexts, but either the vintage or the setting are very much working for me in this one. (11/12)

Henri Milan 2011 Vin de France “Le Papillon” Rouge (Provence) – Brittle, its acids volatile in the physical rather than chemical sense (though it has those too). It’s an old TV on which someone is twiddling the hue knob between red and violet, with no lack of static and that tactile electrical-field hum. Or perhaps it’s like a nouveau with structure. Or one of those push-up fruit-syrup freezer candies. It’s all those things, and it’s wine as well. (11/12)

Disclosure: in conversation with Pierre Jancou, I inquire about the availability of an older Overnoy Vin Jaune, an expensive and very difficult to obtain wine. It’s made clear that the deciding factor is not money so much as an understanding that the purchaser will properly appreciate the result. I am eventually able to buy the wine (not at a discount), so to the extent that this is special access deserving disclosure, I’ve now done so.

This and other travelogues encompass multiple temporalities, for the blog format does not easily accommodate imposition of timeframes other than its own rigid sequentiality. That is to say: if I’ve visited a place on three separate occasions, posts arising from those visits will not be kept separate. All future travelogues will thus be undated, with only the dates that always follow wine notes indicating when they took place. Travelogues from the past are in the process of being unshackled from their own temporal moorings.

The Serine republic

Texier “Domaine de Pergaud” 2009 Côtes-du-Rhône St-Julien en St-Alban “Vieille Serine” (Rhône) – Absolutely singing. This isn’t like drinking a really good Rhône blend…which, by the way, it isn’t. It’s syrah. This is like drinking a fireworks extravaganza designed to celebrate the the fact that wines like this exist. It’s sizable without being big, it’s concentrated with plenty of light and space, it’s serious but breaks out in periodically goofy grins, and it’s rather spectacular from start to (a much-extended) finish. (11/11)

Cask & Tangent

yachtsWine Cask – Too much touristy wandering of Santa Barbara’s ultra-deluxe streets leads to missing most of the lunch hour, and thus it’s a sort of act of charity that they let me sit and eat anything at all…though I’m restricted to the cold-prepped portion of the menu. The wine list is said to be interesting, and a quick perusal seems to verify that, but I just don’t have much basis for an elaborate opinion of this place.

Tangent 2010 Albariño (Edna Valley) – Tired of my grumping and grumbling about New World wines, the brave few who are actually willing to hear more of the tiresome lecture are sometimes moved to ask what I’d change. One of the things I always mention is that there’s a really wide world of grapes out there, suitable for all different soils and climates, and that I think there’s a lot of (say) pinot noir planted where something like nero d’avola might be more at home. The luxury of saying this, of course, relies on not having to sell something like nero d’avola to a public that loves pinot noir. In any case, I’m pleased to report that even though such wines are little more than a rumor on the East Coast, there’s actually been a fair bit of progress towards this goal in some sub-regions. And I have to say that, on balance, I like what I’m tasting. There are plenty of missteps, and for the usual reasons (more ripeness is always better, everything tastes better with new oak, wine should taste like fruit, acid can always be added later), but there’s plenty to like, as well. Here, for example, is a pretty albariño. Note that I didn’t type “little” in between those two words. It ain’t little. Though I suppose in the context of the region’s whites, it might be thought of that way. It doesn’t yell and stomp and carry on, but presents itself with plain simplicity and leaves the interpretation to the taster. Swirly yellow fruit with both green and peachier notes, some nut oils, a decent bit of acidity. Nothing special, not bad, just…nice. (11/11)

Margerum 08 Pinot Gris “Klickitat” (American) – When I was a kid, there was liquid saccharine that came in a little tip-and-squirt bottle, in case you wanted add some to food or drink in lieu of sugar. I only remember the one bottle, because of course there was the whole (overblown) cancer scare, and who wants to be offering carcinogens as a condiment? (This in a part of the country where pretty much everyone would have been puffing on cigarettes throughout the meal.) Anyway, this wine tastes like that. (Liquid saccharine, I mean. Not a carcinogen. Lawyers, stand down.) (11/11)

Epiphany 2010 Grenache Blanc (Santa Barbara County) – Fat and happy nectarines wearing bronzer and some out-of-date Ray-Bans™. (11/11)


santa barbara sleeperDinner with friends – Despite all the eminently mockable distractions of the internet, one clear benefit is the ability to bring people together across geographies. I have “friends” – certainly predating Facebook, and in many cases even predating the web – all over the world, and when geography is removed as a barrier it’s always pleasant to make or renew acquaintances in a less digital way.

And drink their decidedly analog wine. Let’s not forget this crucial element.

Delamotte 1999 Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs (Champagne) – My long-standing preference for noir-based Champagne has taken a fairly major hit over the last few years from a passel of grower-producers doing unquestionably brilliant work, but this reminds me why I once held the preference in the first place. Grapey, lemony, gauze-wrapped apple, filtered and only lightly yeasty…I’m sure there’s more to come later in its life, but this is a sip-while-conversing Champagne that doesn’t hit any of my sweet spots. (11/11)

La Valentina 2010 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo (Abruzzi) – One can, on occasion, ask much of certain variants of trebbiano and receive much in return, but in general it’s best to ask not what your trebbiano can do for you. The result is that you won’t be disappointed in wines like this: good, clean, green fruit in a tart, linear, narrow-gauge cylinder. Perfectly decent and undemanding, yet the wine geek in me demands more. (11/11)

Lageder 2009 Vigneti delle Dolomiti Pinot Grigio (Trentino) – Pinot grigio for those who don’t like pinot grigio, and this is only the basic version: firm, rock-infused, with restrained, polished fruit and just enough grip. (11/11)

Oddero 1998 Barolo (Piedmont) – I admit to struggling with this wine, never quite sure if it’s corked (if so, it’s sub-my-threshold) or just being a typically antisocial mid-life Barolo. The only thing of sure of is that, based on numbers and history rather than organoleptics, this is probably a suboptimal age to be drinking a traditionally-styled Barolo. It is not, in any sense, giving of itself, except with clouds of obscurative tannin and an angry snarl. Structurally and temporally, all seems to be right with the wine, and my worries about taint are not shared by anyone else who tastes it. So if this bottle is representative, this is no time to be drinking it. If it’s not, then I just don’t know. And there’s always the possibility that the current problem is the taster and not the wine. (11/11)

Texier “Domaine de Pergaud” 2009 Côtes-du-Rhône St-Julien en St-Alban “Vieille Serine” (Rhône) – Absolutely singing. This isn’t like drinking a really good Rhône blend…which, by the way, it isn’t. It’s syrah. This is like drinking a fireworks extravaganza designed to celebrate the the fact that wines like this exist. It’s sizable without being big, it’s concentrated with plenty of light and space, it’s serious but breaks out in periodically goofy grins, and it’s rather spectacular from start to (a much-extended) finish. (11/11)

Longoria 2009 Syrah “Vino Dulce” (Santa Barbara County) – 375 ml. Corked. (11/11)

Casting Opale

Texier 2010 “Opale” (Rhône) – Only 7% alcohol, because it’s partially-fermented viognier. And frankly, this is what most fully-fermented viognier should probably taste like (minus, of course, the sweetness…which is not dessert-like, but rather apéritif-level), in that it achieve the pretty honeysuckle and citrus blossom (not quite ripe enough to be orange) aromas one wants without the soapy oiliness that is both lurid and tiresome in quantity yet so prevalent from viognier, and especially without the travesty of oak that the grape absolutely does not need, yet so often receives. Pure deliciousness. (12/11)


Texier 2006 Côtes-du-Rhône (Rhône) – Poke around in old wine books (and not even that old…say, the 90s or so) and when you come across the generic description of what a good Côtes-du-Rhône offers, you’ll find much of what’s in this wine. Gently roasted fruit – maybe calling it braised would be better – with warming soil influences and a fair bit of fully-integrated spice; nothing too aggressive, just subtle French shadings rather than Indian exotica. I love this, especially at its absurdly generous price. Or rather it might be more accurate to say that I loved this wine, because this is my last bottle. (12/11)

VV voom

Texier 2000 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc “Vieilles Vignes” (Rhône) – Absolutely singing. The last bottle I tasted was fairly tortured, so I was a little hesitant about opening another, but there are no longer any regrets. Molten metal in gold, amber, and brass hues, a Renaissance still life of stone fruit (mostly stone, not so much fruit), and the sort of decadently fetid decaying floral aroma that, along with the general fatness of the wines, one either loves or hates in white Rhônes. I can go either way, depending on the bottle, but I love this. There’s even a bit of acidity, just to add simulacrum of levity. Now is this wine’s time. (11/11)

Roussanne to judgment

Texier 2010 Côtes-du-Rhône Roussanne (Rhône) – When I was first introduced to Texier’s wines, back in the late 90s, his CdR blanc was a regular hit-it-out-of-the-park surprise for Rhône aficionados, especially at its ridiculously low price. And then, due to vagaries of the market or whatever, it disappeared from my life. Well, it hasn’t gotten much more expensive, but it has gotten even better. Rolling spiced stone fruit, with much more life and verve than is typical for the genre, and a pretty twist of flowers as it finishes. Delicious. (11/11)


malibu coastMalibu Seafood – Whenever I travel to a place in which one of my many winegeek friends live, I ask them for restaurant recommendations. Because if we’re going to get together to share a glass or ten, we’re going to need a venue, right? Usually, this request leads to a fairly detailed and diverse list of excellent places.

Not so Malibu, in which one of my longest-term fellow imbibers has lived for a good while now. His responses, each and every time, have been the consultative equivalent of a resigned sigh, followed by a suggestion that we meet somewhere else.

But today he’s on a tight schedule, with just enough time to squeeze in a quick lunch, and so Malibu it must be. A takeout seafood shack, with picnic tables and a pretty unbeatable oceanfront view on a fine, sunny day? How bad could it be?

It turns out: not bad at all. In fact, the squid – which comes in fried and sandwich form – is [choose your preferred expletive] delicious. A little cup of pre-squid ceviche is decent, but really: just get the squid. If you’re still hungry, get more squid.

Raveneau 2005 Chablis 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre (Chablis) – As a non-owner of much white Burgundy of any genre, the whole premature oxidation disaster hasn’t much affected my cellar. But if I’d owned a bunch that needed disposal and then had chosen to hold on to any, it would have been mostly Chablis from this and one or two other producers, and so I’d be eyeing their trajectories with a fear. Or, alternatively, I’d drink them early-ish, because at their best they can be pretty spectacular drinks even in adolescence, given the right coaxing. Like this bottle, which shows every one of the qualities for which Raveneau is known…minus, of course, those only shown by the onset of a fuller maturity. Intensity with restraint, power wielded with a whisper, a nearly-unique textural experience of brocaded silks and burnished shields, and a sense of duration that extends beyond the temporal. It becomes difficult to take a next sip when the one that’s lingering still has so much to say. (11/11)


huntington chinese gardenLou – The hotel at which I tend to stay while in Los Angeles, far too scene-y for my tastes and rather unfortunately situated in the midst of Hollywood at its most dissipated, is within walking distance of this incredibly welcoming wine bar-ish restaurant. This is a dangerous thing.

The greater danger, however, comes from proprietor Lou Amdur’s enthusiasms, which – vinously speaking – run towards the natural, the eclectic, the weird, the statement-making, the paradigmatic, the temporally notional, and the because-it-was-amusing-at-the-time-(ic). But enthusiasms they are, and the unfortunate result is that patrons with similar enthusiasms soon find themselves in a rapidly rising river of delicious “here, try this” splashes that, added together, turn out to be rather more wine than was on the initial agenda.

Thank goodness for taxis.

I’m here with fellow Barberagate conspirator Whitney Adams, one of the very few serious wine geeks who should ever be allowed on camera, and amidst some of the usual tale-telling and casual noshing there is, indeed, the periodicism provided by Lou toting another likely bottle for us to try. And another. And another…

Staldmann 2010 Gelber Muskateller Kapellenweg (Thermenregion) – Open four days, and showing itt: lightish floral elements with a barely-oxidizing structure starting to fall apart around it. I don’t think the wine was ever much more physically powerful than this, but I suspect the aromatics have suffered since opening. There’s minerality – stony, rocky – but it, too, is beginning to decline. A fresh bottle would have more to say. (11/11)

Saumon 2010 Vin de France Romorantin (Loire) – Open two days, and I don’t know whether to credit or blame that time for the wine’s current performance, which is jumbled and uninviting. Shrouded and closed in on itself, this is a wine that doesn’t invite introspection, but wishes to conduct same on its own terms. (11/11)

Texier 2010 Côtes-du-Rhône Roussanne (Rhône) – When I was first introduced to Texier’s wines, back in the late 90s, his CdR blanc was a regular hit-it-out-of-the-park surprise for Rhône aficionados, especially at its ridiculously low price. And then, due to vagaries of the market or whatever, it disappeared from my life. Well, it hasn’t gotten much more expensive, but it has gotten even better. Rolling spiced stone fruit, with much more life and verve than is typical for the genre, and a pretty twist of flowers as it finishes. Delicious. (11/11)

Schnaitmann 2010 “Evoé!” Rosé 018 11 (Württemberg) – 80% pinot (I assume noir, but the label doesn’t specify), 20% trolllinger. Growls and yips, but behind a locked door through which all I can perceive is a muted din. What’s left is a countervailing soft strawberryishness and a powdery texture that really doesn’t do a whole lot for me, though there’s a bit of a nip at the end to remind me that this little dog’s unhappy about something. (11/11)

de Conciliis 2009 Fiano “Antece” (Campania) – There’s a real presence to this wine that surpasses the usual ash-and-bones structure of Campanian fiano, something that hums and beats in a texturally persistent way. Also present are waxy memories of lemon and a bit of salt at the finish. As tannic as it is acidic (though not all that much of either), and much of its story seems as-yet untold. (11/11)

Janvier 2010 Coteaux du Loir “Cuvée du Rosier” (Loire) – Pineau d’aunis, which means it’s likely that I’ll hate it. Which I do. It tastes like an ash-dusted vinyl fetish suit. (Well, I mean, so I hear.) Look, I fully agree with anyone’s objection that this is my personal issue with the grape rather than some external truism, but an issue it is, and unfortunately this is the exact opposite of pleasurable for me. If pineau d’aunis was the last grape on earth, well…I’d be a very sober man. (11/11)

Cambon 2010 Beaujolais (Beaujolais) – Yum. I mean, I could say a lot more about this wine – its brittle cohesiveness, its chewy and somewhat surprisingly dark fruit, its vivid life – but really, “yum” gets across the essentials in a much more succinct manner. (11/11)

de Conciliis “Donnaluna” 2008 Cilento Aglianico (Campania) – Spicy, rocky, coal-dusted darkness with a fair bit of unintegrated acidity. I want to like this more than I do, but there’s an insubstantiality to the wine that becomes apparent with greater attention. (11/11)

Rare Wine Company “Historic Series” Madeira Malmsey “New York Special Reserve” (Madeira) – Sweet, heavy, liquefied nuts. I have to admit that I’m not an enormous fan of Madeira due to its ever-present volatile acidity, which I’m unusually sensitive to, but this is pretty nice. I’d really only want to drink a tiny bit of it, though. (11/11)

Rare Wine Company “Historic Series” Madeira “New Orleans Special Reserve” (Madeira) – Sweet, heavy, liquefied nuts. Spicy? If this note seems awfully similar to the previous one, it’s because my attention is flagging at the end of a long night of tasting and socialization, and my lack of true interest in Madeira is starting to reveal itself. This and the previous are pretty pathetic notes for wines on which someone spent a good deal of time and attention, not least the guy who opened and served them to me. Apologies to all involved. Really. These wines deserve better than what I’m giving them here. (11/11)

de Bartoli Marsala Vecchio Samperi “Ventennale” (Sicily) – On the other hand, this is one way to grab my attention, hard, and wrench it back to the wine in front of me. That no one in his region makes wine like de Bartoli is well known, that no one in his region makes wine as well as de Bartoli is pretty widely acknowledged, and yet he achieves something beyond mere iconoclasm and superiority. I’m not sure these are the right words, but there’s a palpably different sort of life to them, as if they’re existing simultaneously on this plane and another that can’t quite be perceived with straight sight. Some might point out that the previous is really just another way of describing complexity, and they’d be somewhat right, but I think it’s necessary to specify that the complexity is not of the usual, three-times-the-descriptors, type. It’s something else. Though the wine doesn’t suggest electric guitar to me at all, this particular quality puts me in mind of Jimi Hendrix as he was first perceived, channeling a muse that was so far afield from that of his peers that it was often clear he was working in a different language, that whatever he was hearing inside his head (which didn’t always translate to his hands) was something that others weren’t going to be capable of hearing for a long time, if ever.

I note, at this point, that I haven’t actually described the wine in any useful fashion. Well, it’s dry, complex in both the usual way and [see above], incredibly persistent, and monumentally compelling. I suppose my lack of enthusiasm for actual descriptors here is more or less a suggestion that you should go out and try this yourself rather than listening to me ramble on about it. One action is much more rewarding than the other. (11/11)

Antoine Arena 2010 Muscat de Cap Corse (Corsica) – Like drinking sweet, sweet sunlight from a glass of freshly-crushed ice in a field of blossoming white flowers. In Corsica. (11/11)

This tally does not, by the way, include all the wines tasted on this evening. At several points, quantity and conviviality intervened to prevent me from even noting a wine’s identity, much less its qualities. See? I said Lou was dangerous.

Disclaimer: I have absolutely no way of discerning a relationship between what I was offered and what I was charged for it, but in the absence of details and based on previous experience at Lou, I think it’s likely to assume that I was at least undercharged for, if not outright gifted, some percentage of this evening’s beverages.