Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Georgian wine captures Paris

Photo alicefeiring.com
12.02.2013. Two weeks ago, I landed in Paris full of snot and groggy from the Ambien and made my way over to my friends in the old lady 7th Arr, just under the Tour Eiffel. I blew my nose, dropped my bag and when in my right mind, hopped on line 8, traveled to chef Inaki Aizpitarte’s Chateaubriand in the Oberkampf to a special tasting that winemaker (and local distributor of his friend's wines) Thierry Puzelat was putting on.

Outside of the restaurant, in the mist, Tuscan winemaker, Francesca Padovani was among those  taking a smoke. Parting my way though the fog, I pushed into the crowd. And there was a crowd. Among the wine bar owners, sommeliers and cavistes were also Eric Texier & Marie Lapierre, Francois Morel (of Rouge et Blanc) Bert Celce. They came to see if  the five Georgians (and one lovely Italian, Francesco) showing off their stuff, and to see if the wines were talking frogs or just merely beautiful salamanders.

Not only had they landed but they conquered.
The enthusiasm was so wild and fervent, that in the end, TP sold 1200 bottles of red, white and orange wine made in qvevri. He was more surprised than anyone, and said to me, "This could have never happened five years ago." This is one gate that the natural wine movement has crashed, the one of French chauvinism in wine. On conventional wine lists, there would be international wines but mostly as a nod. As long as the philosophy is the same, in the natural wine world there is not only curiosity but a big fat embrace. So now, it's not uncommon to see Italians, Croatians, Austrians or even the one or two Chileans in a bar a vins, but how did the vine route open to Georgia?

Last year I urged Pheasant’s Tears of Georgia to present at the Dive Bouteille (read about it in the next issue of the newsletter) . This is he Vin Expo of natural wines held every year in the Loire, and of recent memory  in the chilly limestone caves of Chateau Breze. That year, I ferried John and his wine partner (winemaker) Gela in Paris to their destination, stopping at visits along the way. I arranged for visit number one was Puzelat. We tasted from barrel and bottle. And over lunch, at L’Herbe Rouge, John poured a Kisi, and Thierry, shocked with the wines profile, proclaimed himself their importer. Finished.

But it goes even deeper.

Ever since Fruilian winemaker, Josko Gravner  first to use these fermenting vessels in Italy, others have followed. There is an international curiosity in making wine in buried (or unburied) clay amphora or Qvevri. But because of this new intense relationship with Georgia, we are presently witnessing qvevri mania in France. And it all started when TPuzelat and friends visited Georgia in September 2012.

 Why in the fall? Well,  2012 was a terrible vintage around Les Montils there were hardly any grapes to harvest. With an agriculturally enforced vacation, TP & Co. took off to visit Georgia. Rumor has it that the French drank the Georgians under the qvevri, and that is not an easy task to pull off.  Upon return, Thierry noted that the visit had made him wonder if  he, a minimalist by anyone’s ruler, was doing too much vinification.  After all, what you usually do with the qvevri is throw the grapes on or off the skin in the pot, close it up after fermentation, open it up 6-8 months later and there's your wine.

Being so charmed, seven winemakers in France, including Puzelat, Jean Foillard, Hervé Villemade, Philippe Tessier and Thierry Germaine have all put in their orders and will be making their first qvevri wines--the first Georgian issue real things-- this 2013, that is if nature gives these guys and grapes this year.

That night I followed the boys to Verre Vole. Inaki sat next to me, and he was enthusiastic about the wines. Yes, they will be on his list. I took the opportunity to ask him when was that restaurant of his opening in NYC? For those waiting for it, forget it. He decided against it. He wants to do what he does in Paris and do it well, "Other's can do New York better than I can," he said. And then we tanked up on some 1997 chenin and similarly aged romo and we drank to the Georgian victory.


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