Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fancy Lunch, William Fèvre Chablis, and Natural Wine Thoughts

I live in Brooklyn, but I also live in New York City, and from time to time I go to Manhattan, where things can get pretty fantastic pretty quickly. Recently I found myself on the upper east side of Manhattan for lunch, and I cannot remember the last time that happened. I was lucky enough to be invited to a lunch at The Mark Restaurant by Jean Georges (whose new downtown place I recently kvetched about). 77th Street between Madison and 5th Avenue - I'm talking about stately awnings and flags. You would be forgiven for mistaking this place for the Icelandic Consulate, or something of that nature.

The interiors are amazing too. Of course there is the lighting and the stained glass, but notice the rug - that's tiger skin! The Mark staff maintain that no tigers were harmed to make the rugs, but I don't see how that can be true.

So why the fancy lunch on the upper east side on a random Tuesday? Didier Séguier, wine maker at Domaine William Fèvre was in town, and the Henriot people most generously invited me to this lunch and tasting.

I had a ball at this lunch. I sat right next to Didier Séguier and he is a lovely guy, very happy to talk about his wines and Chablis terroir, about his young daughter, or anything else that came up. There were five wines on the table, all from the 2008 vintage, which Séguier said is his favorite of the past 10 years, maybe more. He said that it is a "connoisseur's vintage," one that really showcases the different Chablis terroirs, like 2007, but that the wines have a bit more body than in 2007.

We tasted each of the wines, and then we drank them with lunch! An exclamation point because I thought it was such a smart way to do something like this. Sure, they could have barraged us with 15 different wines, but instead they selected five, and allowed us to get to know them with food.

I liked all of the wines, and of course it is great fun to drink wines from Grand Cru terroirs like Bougros and Les Clos, but on this day the wine that showed best was the 1er Cru Vaulorent, a wine made from a parcel within the 1er Cru Fourchaume vineyards. This wine was ripe and rich, but also very controlled and elegant, and it showed classy white flower and stone aromas and flavors. The finish was rather delicate, and the fruit there was outlined with distinct seashell and iodine notes, quintessential Chablis sensations. The Grand Cru wines were bigger and richer, and also still very much closed, so it was hard for me to truly understand them. I would love to drink them again in 5 years. But they were certainly delicious, and Les Clos in particular seemed to offer tremendous potential. It was more expressive toward the end of lunch with a simple and terrific plate of grilled black bass served with braised fennel, a dish that looked far more lovely before I tucked into it, before I snapped this photo. But you get the idea.

During our lunch I asked Dider Séguier which Chablis wines he liked to drink when he wasn't drinking his own wines. He said that he obviously liked Raveneau and Dauvissat, and then he named a few that I hadn't heard of (and mostly cannot remember now), and said that they were very small producers whose wines he doesn't think make it to the US. It turns out that one of them does, Domaine Collet, whose wines I've not had, but will have to try. I asked if he likes Alice and Oliver De Moor and he said yes, he likes some of the wines very much.

And when he said that about the De Moor wines I had a moment of clarity regarding an issue that's been in the wine news lately - Natural wines. There are Natural wine people out there who would patently dismiss the Fèvre wines because they are not remotely in the Natural wine camp (the fact that
Séguier is in the process of converting fully to organic farming notwithstanding). Some of these people would dismiss the wines without ever tasting them, in the manner that in high school the goths dismissed the jocks, and the punks dismissed the stoners, but that's not what interests me here. There are measured and open minded people, real wine lovers, who might dismiss Fèvre wines because they fall under a large corporate umbrella, or dismiss them because they are made conventionally and they don't fit in with the prevailing ethos of Natural wines. I will admit that I have dismissed them too.

But I've had plenty of
Fèvre wines in the past few months, and they can be very, very good. And the things is, I also love Alice and Olivier De Moor's wines. For me, there is room for Alice and Olivier De Moor and there is also room for Fèvre, they are not mutually exclusive. Appreciating a Fèvre wine does not dull my enthusiasm for the De Moor's amazing wines or my appreciation of their earth-friendly environmental practices. Nor would my enthusiasm for the De Moor wines be dulled if there were a severe rot problem in one of their parcels, and they were forced to use a chemical spray in order to preserve their income that year.

One of the problems with the natural wine movement, as I see it, is that it has painted itself into a corner, in a way. To acknowledge that Fèvre's wines, for example, can be very good, to drink one and to find it delicious and terroir expressive, would somehow be a betrayal of the Natural wine movement. There are very few things that can wisely be viewed in stark black and white terms, and I don't think that wine is one of them.

8 comments:

Asher said...

Great post. I think Fevre Chablis are terrific. Some people put Fevre in the same league as Dauvissat and Raveneau. And Fevre's wines are well-priced, too. And the 2008 vintage is supposed to be a home run; Dieder echoed that.

Yet I can't help but note that despite all of those positives, Dieder had to get on a plane and come to NY (and maybe other cities) to promote the 08 Fevres. And somebody had to pick up the tab for the fancy promotional lunch. Why is that? Why is a great Chablis producer with a terrific new vintage in need of such promotion?

Anonymous said...

Brooklyn,

I think you are arguing against a man made of straw here.

Who is this person that you are talking about who only drinks natural wine? What is there name?

What is this venue that ONLY sells natural wine? How many of those are out there? Have you been there and verified they ONLY sell natural wines?

I am not aware of a cabal of strictly natural drinkers, and I am certainly not aware of any group that is large enough to even register on any kind of market data outlook.

If you sat next to a guy at the lunch who was like "yeah, I only drink Natural, that's it, no ifs, ands, or buts" then great, write about that guy in a post and make the argument you did. If you sat next to a winemaker at a large corporation who was complaining that not enough people buy his wine, I don't see how you go about making the argument you did.

Best,
Levi D

Brooklynguy said...

hey SAher - not sure whether or not they need it, but there was some larger Chablis thing happening last week, a big tasting (that I couldn't go to) and other smaller events.

Levi - perhaps, but it's not a person who drinks only natural that i'm talking about. it's the dismissal that i'm arguing against. there are folks who dismiss without drinking first, and with something like Fèvre that's easy to do. i've met people and read others who project the attitude that there is a decision to be made between natural wines and other wines. for me, that's not the most important decision, that's all. and really - you haven't encountered or read anyone with the attitude that natural is better because it's natural, and conventional wines like Fèvre's aren't worth spending time with? really?

Anonymous said...

Brook,

What I have encountered with increasing frequency is that the folks who have no interest in natural wine are using the "these natural hippie types are dogmatic" as a kind of counter marketing. As if the Natural Wine people were out to curtail their freedoms or some such. Force people to drink only natural wine and that's it.

Which is all ludicrous, because there are thousands of supposed wine stores that are actually liquor stores that sell the big name, conventional wines by the case stack, and there is like one place in the entire country that is basically all natural. That one store adds to the freedom of choice, in my view, and does not detract from it.

In my experience, when I meet someone from the "conventional" side of the pond, they are usually surprised and threatened by strong beliefs. Threatened by them.

Why can't someone believe something strongly? What would be the problem with that?

I have seen Alice F. drink Grace Family Cab in your home. There is photographic evidence of it, actually.

So I am going to ask you again, what is the name of this person you are arguing against?

Best,
Levi D

saignee said...

Brooklynguy,

It's interesting that you chose Fevre as the launching pad for argument, since Fevre is a polarizing Chablis even amongst people who don't consider themselves in the "natural" camp at all. The biggest collector of Chablis that I know personally has the same level of distaste for Fevre as he does for de Moor, which is to say he would only drink them out of morbid curiosity and not for pleasure. the little experience I've had with Fevre has been negative, but the little experience with say dauvissat or tribut has been positive, and neither of those are considered natural, and certainly not in the same way de Moor is. I won't dismiss Fevre, but to put the people's dislike of the wine down to the natural/conventional debate is silly.

- Cory

Brooklynguy said...

okay, so if two good guys whose viewpoints i respect have ruffled feathers over what i said, two guys who i would have imagined would agree with me if we were sitting around talking about it, then i must not have said what i was trying to say clearly. and i re-read and there is one important thing that i said wrong - should not have said: "One of the problems with the natural wine movement, as I see it, is that it has painted itself into a corner, in a way..."

I should have said "some people in the natural wine movement." the way i wrote it makes it sound like the movement as a whole.

as it reads, levi thinks that i don't understand joe's point - 13. Doesn’t this make us a bunch of fascists who want to dictate taste to everyone else? Not really, The Natural Wine Movement doesn’t look for converts. If you want to hang around with us, that’s wonderful, but we’re just nice people looking for a nice buzz. Ever meet Olivier Lemasson – I can’t imagine a softer-spoken, nicer guy. He has two young kids to feed and buying a case of Olivier’s wine would be of great assistance to him.

and Cory thinks that I might be attributing dislike of Fevre to the natural/conventional wine debate, but i'm not. i hope that dislike of the wines, when some one dislikes them, comes from drinking them, not from anything else.

I wasn't trying to complain about natural wines or the movement that believes in, make, supports them. Many of my best friends are natural wines.

I was trying to say that when people roundly dismiss a wine because it is made conventionally, that's silly. And there are people who do that, and Fevre is a good example of the type of wine that would be condemned, and when people do that it does make it easy for people to be rubbed the wrong way by the movement in general. if you omit the final paragraph, or change it the way I did above, do you see what I was trying to say?

Anonymous said...

I just don't like Fevre, although I think BrooklynGuy is pretty cool.

Joe said...

Grace Family, man, now that's harsh.