Monday, November 06, 2006

Salon des Vignerons Independents - Lyon

Every year we go to the Salon des Vignerons Independents when it comes through town, and every year we attack it from a different angle. With over 500 wineries offering their up their wines for tastes, you have to have some kind of method. The question about whether to drink our tastes or spit them out is really a question about the reasons for being there. Do you want to just enjoy the camraderie and drink some wine, or are you hoping to take this opportunity for a good comparison between wines and invest in something really good for the cave?

Six years ago we didn't approach this question from a particularly sage point of view, being our first time and all, and we ended up drinking a few tastes, and then getting all romantic and gushy and buying whatever wine we happened to come across, which was not very smart. The second year, we were a bit more structured in our approach, breaking up our tasting to give a comparative vision to what we were doing, only tasting one or two kinds of wine in a day, and doing our best to spit. The fourth year, I got serious and made a database and read up about what the experts had to say in their tasting notes of the wines we'd chosen to seek out, and we completely gave up on all swallowing.

From then on out, we have prepared each year's fair itinerary in advance. It gives us latitude to invest all remaining grey matter into considerations of age, and soil, nose and body, sucking bubbles through the wine through our puckered lips and letting it settle near our jaws as we reflect carefully about the past and future. Most of all, we compare. We listen about the weather and the land, and also take the opportunity to see how some of the wines we've already got tucked away are developing without actually opening them at home. We always reluctantly spit out every single mouthful. In these past few years we've been able to get some really nice wines for the cave. Some of the ones that have just come to open out this year have really exceeded our expectations, and they'll only be getting better. I am only now beginning to understand a little about what makes people so excited about keeping wine.

Last year I was laid up with some kind of illness and could not go, and found that Loic did quite well without me. This year, since I am engaged on a big translation project that I find fulfilling and beautiful, I was able to send Loic off to do some tasting without much thought to what I was missing. I waited until last night's last open hour or two to go, just for a very short time, with a couple of friends, after a long day of slogging through culinary translation.

Loic had made the rounds on the previous three days, and I tasted a few of his favorites before we made a decision about some of our final purchases. The 1976 Muscat being poured above went straight down - forget the bucket! I would never have had a chance to try had it not been for the fair. We now have hundreds of bottles of wine in the cellar. Loic of course remains our house sommelier. My trust in his judgement is implicit, although I do appreciate that he asks me to taste and involves me in the decisions.

One thing I have learned is that you can get lucky with French wine by chance here and there, but with a little effort into research and some simple patience, that cool dirt floored vaulted underground stone room can transform into a veritable gold mine. It is very exciting. There's something of ourselves in the wines we choose for the cave. Opening and serving them to our guests when they're ready is a real pleasure.

They were selling stuffed duck necks at the wine fair. Serious markup!

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Blogger wheresmymind said...

That looks like some serious fun!

7:49 PM, November 06, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, this is my first comment, however I have been visiting your blog for quite a while - btw, it's great.

Good to see Domaine Cazes Muscat being poured :) I visited the Domaine about 3 weeks ago. Wonderful people and great wine. Cheers.
Greetings from Poland. ola

8:55 PM, November 06, 2006  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Yes, some serious fun, Jeff!

I certainly enjoyed the Domaine Cazes Muscat too. How wonderful that you were there at their chateau just a few weeks ago. I was also very much seduced by the Rivesaltes, we got two kinds in addition to a case of the Muscat. (not the 1976, we could never afford that, but boy was it amazing to taste!)

11:22 PM, November 06, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll tell you more: I was lucky to get a Rivesaltes Ambre Hors d'Age 1974 as a present (from Vignerons Catalans)! I have emptied the bottle with some friends on my birthday a few days a go, the wine was my age :)

2:16 PM, November 07, 2006  
Blogger franchini said...

Lucy, I know next to nothing about wine but I do appreciate wine and food that are thoughtfully paired. I'd be interested to know how you go about this. Do you always find a wine in your cave that suits whatever you are eating or do you sometimes cook something because you know will work well with a particular bottle?

2:27 PM, November 07, 2006  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Ola, that must have been amazing.

Franchini, the seasons bring opportunities to keep in mind what we have in the cave in general. I also have an idea of what I'd like to pair with a dish pretty early on when I'm planning, but that can change dramatically, you know. We sometimes have last minute ideas as a meal is taking shape. When we're going to prepare a meal that includes sharing something from the cave, Loic normally consults the list and tells me what choices we have, and we discuss it a few hours before the meal. Sometimes he'll bring up two different wines and gets them both ready. We rarely ever plan a meal around a bottle or a series of bottles, although that does sound like fun.

6:02 PM, November 07, 2006  
Blogger Lori in PA said...

Lucy, how do you store your wine? Do you actually have a cave in a cellar?

6:31 PM, November 08, 2006  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Yes, Lori, we have a cave in the cellar, as do each of our neighbors. The cave is only good for wine, having a dirt floor.

7:33 PM, November 08, 2006  
Blogger Lori in PA said...

Lucky you. I am one of the few strange folks in the world who love the smell of a dank, earth-floor cellar. It takes me right back to my grandparents' house in Tennessee.

11:47 PM, November 08, 2006  
Blogger Mimi said...

I am getting inspired to build a wine cave.

Or must I call it a cellar in Wisconsin?

4:31 PM, November 12, 2006  

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