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Blinded by the Whites

and the Reds: PWW @ Delicatessen Tasting 28 November 2023

Geoffrey Finch’s week was consumed by wine walks in Saint Germain and Montmartre and a three-day trip to Champagne. So last week’s promise that this week’s post would be penned by him is as empty as the bottle of 2018-harvested Leclerc Briant Réserve Brut he brought back, which we shared last night.

The biodynamic Champagne was lively and delectable. I would have loved to taste their sea-aged champagne Abyss, which was submerged off the coast of Ouessant Island in Brittany in September 2021 and spent 10 months in the sea.

“The marine subsoil matches very well the limestone subsoil of Champagne,” Geoffrey told me.

Maybe next time.

Next Thursday’s PWW post will be about that trip, during which Geoffrey and his group visited nine Champagne houses, only two of which work “conventionally”. They also stayed in great hotels and ate at excellent eateries. Geoffrey will write it. You and I will read it and we will weep. With envy.

In the meantime…

We had a blind date with four French wines last night at Delicatessen, a wine shop in the third with a very cosy bar à vin next door.

The Wines

Moque-Souris, a 2021 Loire Valley Chenin Blanc from Domaine de Mirebeau (Bruno Rochard)

Le Grand Lever, a 2022 Ile de France Chenin Blanc from Domaine La Bouche du Roi

A 2021 Pinot Noir Côtes du Jura from Domaine Marie-Pierre Chevassu

Abondance the Domaine La Bouche du Roi’s 2022 Pinot Noir.

The Food

A nice haricots blancs dish, tarama with rainbow and watermelon radishes, big cheese plate, great bread. Tarama is not a great wine-tasting choice, but it’s delicious and we were hungry.

The Tasters

Australian sommelière and ultra-marathoner Jess Hodges, who runs the Delicatessen bar on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, was our host. In our haste I forgot to take a photo of her, so I’ve grabbed this from her IG (and no, I have no idea why she is dressed like a nun, nor why she has that I-just-saw-God expression on her face).

Also participating was Caitlin Mcinnis, another transplanted Aussie cellar rat, just back from a stint in the cellars of Domaine Christian Binner in Alsace. I didn’t get a photo of Caitlin either, but here she is a few years ago with her brother:

The remaining three members of the tasting jury were:

Nina Caplan, the award-winning wine columnist for the New Statesman and Club Oenologique and a regular contributor to Travel + Leisure, Food & Wine, Conde Nast Traveller and National Geographic Traveller. She was Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year 2018 and Louis Roederer International Food & Wine Writer of the Year 2016. Her first book, The Wandering Vine: Wine, The Romans and Me, was published by Bloomsbury in 2018 and awarded the Louis Roederer Wine Book of the Year that September and the Fortnum & Mason Debut Drink Book of the Year in May 2019.

As Nina, of the five of us, has the longest CV, she doesn’t get a photograph.

Geoffrey Finch our founder, showed up half an hour late because he had been squiring a dozen or so people on a wine walk and tasting at the Clos Montmartre. Jess took the only photo of Geoffrey, and Nina is in it, and so am I, so, well, here:

(And no, I don’t know why I look so cartoonishly smug.)

More about the wines

Le Grand Lever (Chenin Blanc)
Abondance (Pinot Noir)
Domaine La Bouche du Roi
12 Rue Saint Jacques 78810 Davron
Tel: +33 1 82 30 35 75

La Bouche du Roi is a 26-hectare estate in Yvelines, on the Versailles Plain, at the mouth of Fôret du Marly. A few years back it was a wasteland, now it’s lovely spot, newly hedged, with a wooded grove in its center surrounded by young vines—Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir.

The name — “The King’s Mouth” was what royal sommeliers and cupbearers were once called. It is a nod to the parcel’s link to French royalty — for centuries it was part of the French kings’ hunting grounds.

The winemakers, who previously worked in Bordeaux, Corsica and Napa, practice organic agriculture—no fertilizers or pesticides—but no information was forthcoming about what goes on in the cellars in terms of additives.1

The La Bouche du Roi’s vines were planted in 2017. We chose it for this first PWW Ile-de-France tasting because, according to the Revue de Vin de France, it is the first professional vineyard planted in IDF since phylloxera wiped out the industry in the 1860s.

NOTE FROM GEOFFREY: “The Revue de Vin de France is wrong. Extravagantly. And just another example of how money (they are by far the best financed operation) can eclipse the facts. There are roughly 200 vineyards in the Île-de-France and if professional is the operative word, then Suresnes should have that distinction as they have been the only (along with the Clos Montmartre) “commercial” vineyard allowed to sell their production. Since 2016 with the granting of a new IGP, several other vineyards were able to commercialise their production. Daniel Kiszel of Domaine Bois Brillant had a jump on everyone having planted vines in 2003. He was therefore one of the only domains able to immediately commercialise his production after the IGP in 2016.”

We were tempted to try their Merlot, as it came second to the Coteaux du Montguichet’s Pinot Noir — which we will tasting next — in Le Parisien’s Ile de France wine competition in October. But, well, Merlot… so we instead we went with “Le Grand Lever”, a Chenin Blanc.

Chenin is an interesting and daring grape choice for the domain’s long fallow plot, which has poor and porous soil. The grape is little known outside of the Loire or South Africa — and as “jug” wine in California. It is notorious for its high acidity, perfect for the sparkling Loires from Saumur, Vouvray and Montlouis, and for beautifully balanced dessert wines from these regions, but in the wrong hands it often results in very boring, bland “neutral” wines.

We chose Bouche du Roi’s “Abondance” because Pinot Noir was once a dominant grape variety in the Ile de France.

Our expectations were not very high — the vines are too young and the roots too shallow to produce anything approaching greatness. So, the high price — 28 euros a pop — came as a shock.

Perhaps the price reflects the domain’s use of high-tech:

“La Bouche du Roi is one of the first properties in France to use the autonomous robot Ted from Naïo Technologies. Electric and ultra-light, it allows you to work the soils without compacting them under foot. The robot is integrated into global thinking on grass cover, sowing between rows, water and erosion management. A music player was also installed among the vines by the company Genodics. A team of researchers is experimenting with the diffusion of melodies which stimulate the synthesis of proteins involved in the vine’s natural defenses against diseases.”
Moque Souris
Domaine de Mirebeau 
Mirebeau, 49750 Bellevigne-en-Layon 
Tel: +33 2 41 78 29 57 
Contact: Bruno Rochard

Moque Souris is a natural Chenin Blanc produced by Bruno Rochard, who took over his family’ estate in the Vallée du Layon in 1998 and converted it to organic farming in 2009. He uses biodynamic methods in the vineyards and no additives (yeast, chaptalization, etc.) in the cellar, except a small dose of sulfites (from 1 to 3 g/hl).

Price: 25 euros

Pinot Noir Côtes du Jura
Domaine Chevassu-Fassenet
Les Granges Bernard, 39210 Menétru-le-Vignoble
Tel:+33 3 84 48 17 50
Contact: Marie-Pierre Chevassu-Fassenet

On the Chevassu farm, Marie-Pierre makes the wine, and her sisters take care of the cows. Having studied oenology in Beaune and Dijon, she worked in New Zealand, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Champagne, before returning to the Jura, where for years she was cellar manager at La Maison du Vigneron, the largest négociant in the Jura. In 2008 she took over the family’s 4.5 hectares of vineyards and the cellar. She is one of the few female winemakers in the Jura. Her grapes are Chardonnay, Savagnin, Poulsard and Pinot Noir and produces Noirs, Poulsards, Vin de Paille and a Chardonnay Macvin.She manually hoes, doesn’t use CO2 or oak for her reds, and old barrels for her whites. Some of her Château-Chalon parcels are steep and erosion is an issue, so for these she has to use some herbicides, early and late in the season. She is working in lutte raisonnée towards Terra Vitis certification.

Price: 23 euros.

The Blind Tastings

Neither horizontal nor vertical, sort of zigzagging through two vintages, and hardly fair, as the Jura and Loire wines have many many years on the Yvelines. Still, fun and fascinating.

Here’s the scorecard:

As you can see, it got a bit messy.

The first bout of the evening was between the Chenins. Everyone quickly guessed correctly which was which, and the Moque-Souris won the contest hands down. Still, Le Grand Lever performed ably after a slow start — out of the bottle the nose resembled a backed-up sink, but then gradually developed some of the honey notes that the Moque Souris had in spades. It never developed the saline and agrume elements on the palate that everyone found so enjoyable in the Moque-Souris, nor did it have any of the Loire wine’s aromatic complexity, ripe, dense body or rich finish. But it was balanced, the acidity was nice, and it had the characteristic tautness of a Chenin. The prevailing terms used however, were “young” and “tight” and the very damning “conventional”. Perfectly drinkable, but you expect more from a 28 euro bottle.

The group also thought the Moque-Souris overpriced. As Caitlin put it, “It took us on a journey.” But at the price we should have had better seats and a nicer view.

Next up were the Pinots. Here we hit a snag as the Côtes du Jura was bouchonné. Well, not exactly corked, but leaning toward liège. “A wet forest floor,” said Jess. “Damp cardboard,” said I. “Musty and mushroomy,” said Geoffrey. At any rate, wrong, so back to the shop it went. Its replacement was mindblowingly delicious. “Fresh awake, and alive,” said Jess. “With a heartbeat,” added Caitlin, “and loaded with fruit.” “Ripe cherries,” said someone. Other comments: “earthy”; “nicely fermented”; and “spicy”.

Abondance however, La Bouche du Roi’s Pinot Noir, did not live up to its name. Key words here were “basic”, “boring”, “dusty”, and “young” — but “not young with any potential, a dead end.” Caitlin: “This is not a journey, it’s a bus terminal.”

Ouch. And, again, not fair. La Bouche du Roi’s vines are young and green, and its first vintage was 2019. No one can expect to make a serious wine in such a short time.

“Patience, people,” said our wise leader, refilling our glasses with the Jura. “And another cheese plate, please.”

Thanks for reading. If you’re interested in a Champagne tour or our Burgundy to Beaujolais trip in April, or any of our wine walks, drop us a line. If you don’t find something that fits your schedule or group size, we’ll put together something special.

Below is a sample of upcoming events:

Sparkling Wine Splash

Immerse yourself in the effervescence of the season with our Sparkling Wine Splash experience. Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion or just toasting to the joy of the holidays, our blind wine tasting of carefully selected sparkling wines invites friendly competition to see who can identify the Champagne among five fabulous sparkling wines. Book now!

Wine & Cheese Please

Indulge in classic and surprising pairings of wine and cheese with our in-depth Wine & Cheese Please tasting. Explore the nuances of flavor as our knowledgeable guides lead you through a ‘cultural’ tour de France, revealing the secrets of perfectly paired combinations. It’s an ideal way to savor the sophistication of Parisian life. Book now!

Wine Walks!

For more information, click on the underlined links:

Paris’ most famous wine producing vineyard

An insider’s journey to the oldest wine neighborhood in the city

The Marais seen through a wineglass

Discover the vinous spirit of medieval Paris

A comprehensive overview of medieval Paris

Short on time? This one’s for you.