“Look, Aunty Helen, the legal drinking age in France is sixteen! I can come wine tasting with you!” Daniel, my eldest great nephew, was exuberantly holding the results of his Google in front of my face, with triumph in his eyes. During the course of our vacation in the Ardèche, I had been introducing him to the idea that wine drinking could involve more than glugging relatively inoffensive fluid from a five-liter box. He had scoffed at the idea of perhaps paying upwards of $200 for a bottle of wine, even as I tantalized him with stories of drinking lace, velvet, and three act symphonies. Now he was asking me to prove it with a tasting trip to M. Chapoutier.
The Chapoutier tasting room in Tain-Hermitage is a sublime starting point to introduce anyone to the transcendence of the grape. Michel Chapoutier is the rock star of the Rhone valley. His biodynamic approach to wine literally seems to suck the energy of the grape and take it to the outer edges of the Milky Way in heavenly expression. The tastings are free but the experience of the wine is so divinely heady, that I cannot imagine anyone leaving without buying at least one bottle.
We were extremely fortunate to be guided by David, a young winemaker under the mentorship of Michel Chapoutier. He asked Daniel what kind of music he liked… heavy metal… I grimaced appropriately. “To the majority of people like Aunty Helen, heavy metal is just noise, but to you, Daniel, there is a vast difference between the music of Metallica and say, Iron Maiden. You hear the progression of a band from album to album, you appreciate the guitar riffs, the lyrics, the energy and all the details of its components… so it is with wine.”
M. Chapoutier Lieu-dit Hongrie 2015
So it was that Daniel first experienced the sensual explosions of Marsanne, Viognier, and Syrah. He was astounded by the intense differences that can be explored by the senses when encountering the same kind of grape grown on a certain patch of land or in a specific year. He was able to identify the 2015 Lieu-dit Hongrie from Saint-Peray as the stand-out Marsanne from our tasting. I billowed with pride as Daniel took a giant leap by reaching into his pocket to purchase a bottle to take home to hold for his 18th birthday. On the way back to our rented villa in Largentiere, we had a young convert in the car who was no longer bewildered as to why someone would gladly spend 400 euros on a bottle of wine (We had concluded our tasting from a powerhouse 2010 bottle of Le Pavillon from Ermitage, sale price 413.10 euros).
I too, purchased a bottle of the Lieu-dit Hongrie to take back to America, with the intention of sharing a little of the trip with the readers of Sippity Sup. Whilst I was reeling with delight at the intoxicating dance of toasted apricot, pear, and honeysuckle, along with a harmonious balance of brine and hazelnuts, David mentioned that the perfect food pairing with this wine would be grilled oysters with Parmesan cheese.
Grilled Parmesan Oysters
On a warm end of summer evening in Los Angeles, Ken and Greg experienced this perfect food and wine pairing whilst Greg approximated the tastes for me (I’m vegetarian) with toasted baguette, French butter and shaved Parmesan. The simplicity of this meal belies the exquisiteness of the combination. All flavors and sensations are complete and distinct, yet so perfectly balanced that no single element stands out or overpowers. The fruit, earth, oak, malolactic fermentation of the wine and the stunning umami of the food curl together in a sacred sand mandala, breathtaking in its beauty, and then gone… HELEN