This year marks the twentieth anniversary of Millésime Bio which has arguably become France’s most compelling organic wine exposition. As in previous years, it once again convened in Languedoc’s Montpellier and I had the opportunity to experience the show for the fourth consecutive year. For me, it’s a pause from the retail side of wine buying – a chance to revisit the producer/supplier side of the job. As usual, it involved the intersection of cultural, linguistic, visual, and visceral stimuli that allowed me to hone and redefine my palate as a taster. I discovered a few producers whose wines that I had never tasted, and gained further insight into some of the producers that we currently support. Below are some of the highlights that I hope will trickle into our selection soon!
Determining which booths to visit can be overwhelming, especially at a show that keeps expanding. Often I go off of leads from trusted producers but I also pursue leads of my own. As I have been making wine in Friuli with I Clivi for the past four vintages, white wine and sparkling wine are high on my radar. Two separate producers from France’s Burgundy region recommended that I taste with Marc Gillemot and Pierrette Michel of Quintaine. As a husband and wife team, probably in their early fifties, they make only one wine: Viré Clessé. And not much of it. Round and rich, yet balanced and lively with perfectly integrated oak, which is something of an anomaly in their region. It reminded me that superb white Burgundy can be mesmerizing. So far their wine isn’t in the Massachusetts market but a close importer friend of ours is considering a collaboration with this grower.
Another lead came from Julien Guillot of Vignes du Maynes. Last year, Julien recommended that I taste the wines of the gent sharing his table: Champagne producer Andre Beaufort. Finally, this year I was able to taste with him. Twice. Beaufort is a demure, reserved, yet friendly man, who appears quietly confident and content. I was pleasantly surprised to observe that his style of Champagne aligns conspicuously with his calm approach. Eight of his nine children are in the wine business – some working within the small, family domaine and others have started their own farms. Many generations deep in the toil of their tiny parcels – some of which are Grand Cru – they only make about 30,000 bottles and have eight acres in total. The truth is that I really enjoy Pinot Noir-based Champagnes (like Beaufort’s) – they can have an intoxicating, silky texture while maintaining freshness and nuance. I was amazed when he told me the dates when each of the cuvées were disgorged as I couldn’t help but note their brightness, ebullience, and length throughout. From what I’ve ascertained recently, many producers are making a style that is fatter, richer, and more fashionable. The ’96 Grand Cru Ambonnay was incredible and proof that Beaufort isn’t afraid to go against the grain.
As ever, it was a pleasure to see Giovanna Tiezzi and Stefano Borsa of Az. Agr. Pacina who excitedly told me that they are coming back to Boston for a visit this month and were keen to do another tasting with our customers! I was thrilled — it felt rewarding for them to acknowledge our shops as big supporters of their wines for almost a decade. They will be stopping by our Cambridge shop from 12:00-2:30 pm this Sunday, March 10 – mark your calendar! Their ’08 and ’09 Chianti Colli Senesi are so clearly steadfast in tradition that I could easily understand why they are considering giving up the DOC (appellation) as Giovanna explained. Big, powerful, and made primarily with Sangiovese, their wines, (like many of the original Millésime Bio participants), are a complete 180° from the output of their peers that are often plush, drinkable, young, and without food. In contrast, Pacina’s wines are often viewed as rather austere and unforgiving. However, based on their success at the shop, our customers seem to appreciate wines of tradition and terroir. For a contrast to intensity of their reds, Giò offered me a small quantity of their rosé which I discovered they made for the first time in 2011. I reserved twenty of the fifty cases available and most likely it will be exclusive in the United States to our shops.
March is shaping up to be a month of our favorite Italian growers. At the conference, I also ran into Sandro Barosi of Cascina Corte who has been a regular at Millésime for some years. This is in fact where I first met Sandro before introducing him to our friend, David Mitchell of Mise Imports. Like those of Pacina, his wines were challenging to taste without food as they are based on Piedmont’s native varietals: Dolcetto, Barbera, and Nebbiolo. They are known for their bright acidity, unmistakable power and sometimes stern character. Sandro is excited to stop by and pair his varietal wines with some of our exclusive and rare robiole (about which I was raving as I tasted at his stand). He is an immense cheese lover and is looking forward to visiting with us at the shop. He will be at our Cambridge location to do a tasting on Friday, March 22nd from 4:30-7 pm – don’t miss it!
Readers of this blog by now probably know that there are some wine growers that we regularly return to, given the frequency with which their names appear – among them: I Clivi, Pacina, and Julien Guillot. This is not by accident. Every time I visit a wine exposition – whether it’s conventional or organic – I am struck mostly by the minute number of top growers that combine not only quality and tradition but also passion. As a participant at these events, encountering growers that are excited, thoughtful, and communicative about their innovation is what makes this job so rewarding. This is not to say that the overall impression of the wine under the tongue is of lesser consideration; it is first and foremost in terms of judging a wine. With almost a decade of tasting experience, I can now combine a critical palate and continue to keep a keen awareness of the people behind the wines. This is the good stuff – when the wines and the people behind them shake us up – when they and their wines keep changing and challenging us… This is what tasting and re-tasting is for: discovering those unexpected shifts inside us that make it worthwhile!
Gemma Iannoni is the wine buyer and a cheesemonger at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.