Rocking Out in Montréal

Above: me with good friend and Montreal Mirror Music Editor Rupert Bottenberg.

The second week of July brought Nous Non Plus to Québec where we played in Québec City and Montréal. We drove up the night before the first show and stopped in Montreal to catch up with Montreal Mirror Music Editor, Rupert Bottenberg, at BU on Boulevard St-Laurent. Over the years, Rupert and I have become friends through music, getting together when we’ve played in Montréal and when he comes down to NYC for the College Music Journal festival. Since Rupert and I have historically met in loud rock clubs, where beer is the beverage of choice, it was high time we connected over a glass of vino.

I’ve been really impressed with the excellent cuisine and wine lists in Québec. Rupert suggested that we try BU (the name comes from the past participle of boire, to drink, and is meant to evoke — claims the owner Patrik — the term cru, i.e., a French "growth," or vineyard site).

Above: our enthusiastic sommelier Olivier moves faster than the speed of light (photo by Lorraine Carpenter).

When I first glanced at the list, the 2000 Bucci immediately caught my eye. A six-year-old Verdicchio might seem a stretch but Bucci is known for its longevity (I recently tasted the 2002 at Del Posto in NYC a few months ago). The wine was very much alive, with good alcohol and acidity, and paired well with pâté-topped crostini (while the list at BU is primarily French, there were some good Italian selections and the menu was italophile). Bucci’s Verdicchio is a stunning example of what an otherwise humble grape can do when treated naturally and respectfully. I love the taste and mouthfeel of old wine and I was glad to share this one with my bandmates and friends.

Although I’ve never traveled to Mâcon, I’ve read that mâconnais custom calls for the older wines to be served first. This is due to the fact that the Chardonnay grown there makes for intensely aromatic wines that become more gentle over time. The younger wines would overpower the palate if poured first and in spite of my self-doubt, I was glad that we did the Domaine Cordier Mâcon-Milly-Lamartine 2003 as the second wine in the flight. It was a real treat (and great value) and married well with the marinated octopus. North Americans are so accustomed to drinking overly oaked and concentrated California Chardonnay: we were all pleasantly surprised by the wine’s gorgeous fragrance and freshness.

The Maréchal Ladoix 2003, recommended by our wonderful sommelier Olivier, was good, although very ripe, perhaps due more to the vintage and its youth than to the winemaker’s approach. The wines from Ladoix are often called flabby but I liked the acidity in this village wine and its fruit, although overly pronounced, was genuine on my palate (not extracted through concentration).

I liked the Domaine du Colombier Crozes-Hermitage Cuvée Gaby 2003, also recommended by Olivier, but it certainly needed more time to develop. Every time I’ve traveled to Québec, I’ve been impressed by how many Rhône wines the restaurateurs have in their cellars: Crozes-Hermitage represents one of the best values in fine wine today, a relatively undiscovered country for those of us who reside below the Canadian border, and I am always excited to try the wines that the Québecois are cellaring.

The next night found us in Québec City where we performed once again at the Galerie Rouge, right next door to what has become one of my all-time favorite restaurants, L’Utopie. Although we didn’t have time for dinner, I did pop in before our set to taste a few wines. Belgian sommelier Bernard Mesotten is one of the most impressive young wine professionals I have met and without blinking an eye, he produced three wines and a distillate that I had never tasted before: a Chardonnay, a vin jaune, a Poulsard, and a vin de liqueur from the Jura region in France, each from the Overnoy estate (see photo below). Knowing I had about 45 minutes before the band took the stage, he quickly created this flight for me. Nestled between Burgundy and Switzerland, the appellations of Jura are relatively unknown in North America. I was particularly impressed with Poulsard, a black grape that makes a wine so light and fresh that its often compared to rosé, and the vin jaune, "yellow wine," which is made by allowing the lees (the dead yeast cells) to form a film over the wine, thus creating a natural cap so that that wine can age in open vats (perfect for the cold climate of the region because the lower temperatures naturally stop fermentation). The wine has a wonderfully viscous mouthfeel (due partly to the evaporation during the uncovered aging) and the oxidation gives the wine complex flavors that you normally find only in old whites. To my mind, Bertrand is everything that a sommelier should be: passionate and curious about wine, generous with his knowledge, and always searching for wines beyond the obvious choices. Next time we perform there, I hope to sample more lots from his excellent list of Languedoc Syrahs. Bravo Bertrand!

We played to a packed house that night and as our popularity has grown in Québec, it’s been amazing to see the francophone fans respond to our new album, mouthing the words to the songs as they rock out to the music. Nous Non Plus’ little utopie indeed.

Above: a few of the wines tasted at Utopie before our show next door at the Galerie Rouge (photo by Greg Wawro).