Natural wine with a capital N: 91 Nicolas Joly Coulée de Serrant

August 17, 2009

Above: What is natural wine? The question of what it is (and what it isn’t) is one of the most hotly debated topics in the world of wine blogging and punditry today. No one would deny, however, that Nicolas Joly’s Coulée de Serrant is natural wine. The 1991 was fantastic the other night.

Things have been so crazy lately — between “keeping the world safe for Italian wine” (check out this recent post I translated for VinoWire) and hawking wine in California (hey, Alder, there are wine bloggers who start wine clubs and are proud to attach their names to them!). So crazy that I neglected to post about a very special bottle of wine — 1991 Coulée de Serrant — that Tracie B and I opened to celebrate our anniversary a few weeks ago.

Above: I had packed the bottle in a thermal bag (recycled from my mom’s annual mother’s day gift of gravlax from Barney Greengrass) with an ice pack and stashed it my suitcase and brought it back from La Jolla to Austin. The sturdy wine held up well — not surprisingly.

Where did we find this bottle? In this most unlikely of places: La Jolla’s oldest luxury hotel, located on Prospect, in the heart of downtown, La Valencia (often pronounced lah vah-LEHN-chah by locals), affectionately known as “The Pink Lady” or “La V.” A good friend and fellow wine dude had mentioned that he found the wine on the list, which is otherwise dominated by flights and flights of big, oaky California Cabernet. Tracie B and went in there a few months ago at the end of the night and convinced the current sommelier to sell it to me (I have to say it was a steal for a Joly that old).

Above: At Trio, chef Todd Duplechan prepares shishito peppers the same way that padrón peppers are served in Spain. The pepper is not spicy but tangy and moreish, as the British might say.*

As it turns out, I recently became friends on Facebook with the sommelier who put that wine on the list at La V, Dustin Jones, who now reps for Fourcade and Hecht. “It was definitely a hand sell,” he wrote me, “and a tough one at that, the fact that 6 bottles were put in inventory and they still have it suggests that this is not a wine that sells itself!” One man’s esoterica turned out to be our golden Chenin treasure: Tracie B and I were thrilled to get to taste an older Joly and it didn’t disappoint.

Above: We shared our 91 Coulée de Serrant with sommelier Mark Sayre and chef Todd, who surprised us with this special dessert for the occasion. Mark is without a doubt the top sommelier in Austin and so whenever I have something really special that we want to open away from home, I take it to him. Mark and I are good friends but whenever you BYOB, you should always remember to share a glass with your sommelier.

The wine had bright acidity and nuanced fruit on the nose and in the mouth and it showed a caramel note that Tracie B attributed to the winery’s practice of letting botrytis form on the grapes. (Remember her post on our visit there?) No one would question the “natural wine” street cred of Joly and Joly’s approach to winemaking proves over and over again how natural winemaking can deliver remarkably delicious wines with remarkable aging ability.

Above: We had so much fun that night at Trio and Mark and Todd made such a special dinner for us. Even I feel handsome when I’m standing next to the beautiful Tracie B. Who wouldn’t?

In the wake of the San Diego Natural Wine Summit, a few folks have written me pointing out that not every wine we poured at the event would be considered a “natural wine” by everyone. I’ve even heard from some of the most authoritative voices in the field. I’m beginning to believe that the notion of “Natural Wine” (with a capital N) is more of an ideology and an attitude about living, eating, and drinking than a set code of self-imposed regulations. Recently, I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interact with Kermit Lynch, who, when I asked him about this, told me: “Before I find out how the wine is made, I taste it, and if I like it then I ask about the winemaking.”

Can a wine taste “natural” even if some elements of vinification go against natural winemaking dogma?

* Of food or drink: that makes one want to have more (Oxford English Dictionary, online edition).


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