In the Name of Franco-American Relations

Nous Non Plus ended its Summer 2007 France tour on Saturday night playing to a packed house at the Flèche d’Or, one of my all-time favorite clubs (great sound system, nice people, and a really great vibe).

Seems that the band is inadvertently helping to assuage Franco-American relations and to bolster the “ego national.” For Francophone readers out there, check out this preview that was published in Paris Obs magazine (I’m the band’s “sommelier”):

Nous Non Plus

On l’a vu avec les Pipettes tout au long de l’année dernière, le pastiche ( ou remise à niveau pour les jeunes générations ) sixties a la cote. Mais quoi de plus flatteur, a priori, pour l’ego national que de voir qu’à New York un journaliste, un champion d’Air Guitar, un sommelier, un professeur de science politique, tous américains, et une artiste française, ont lancé un groupe parodiant, en français et en anglais, Dutronc, Hardy et autres yéyés franchouillards ? Il est même plutôt étonnant de voir dans un club branché de Brooklyn un « Jean-Luc Retard » et une « Céline Dijon » ( leurs pseudonymes-blagues ) chanter avec un accent approximatif des histoires de « Fille atomique » devant un public médusé. Mais quel intérêt pour un public parisien peut bien présenter ce « Grand Guignol bilingue » ? A vrai dire, voir l’héritage musical des yéyés revisité à coups de riffs garage, d’électro et d’autodérision, c’est assez jubilatoire. La mondialisation amusante.

Les vendredi 20 et samedi 21 juillet à 20 h. La Flèche d’Or , 102 bis, rue de Bagnolet ( 20 e ) ; 01-44-64-01-02. M ° Gambetta.

Timothée Barrière
Paris Obs

A Mishap Eclipsed by a Tuna Fish Sandwich and De Vinis Illustribus

The day could have started better: woke up early after a late night at the Flèche d’Or and headed out to Microbe Studios, a recording studio in St. Cloud (in the western suburbs of Paris, about 30 minutes toward Versailles) only to find that the young engineer was nowhere to be found. I decided to eat lunch while waiting and went up the street (in this upper middle-class neighborhood) to the neighborhood bar/brasserie (where a lot of people play Loto). I asked for a thon and crudités sandwich and was rewarded with an indulgent combination of rich flavors: besides tuna in olive oil, lettuce, tomato, and a generous slathering of mayonnaise, the kitchen had poached an egg (and then they must have shocked it in an ice bath because the white was firm but chilled, while the yolk was tepid and wonderfuly runny), sliced, and distributed it evenly along the long roll.

It almost made up for the morning’s mishap (the engineer never showed and I had to lug my gear back to Paris via light rail with a few changes… oh well… a lost morning but great sandwich).

• Bar • Brasserie • Tabac • Presse
• Loto • RATP
Ouvert du lundi au vendredi
de 7h à 20h.
Le samedi de 8h à 20h.
140, boulevard de la République, St. Cloud
Fax et tél. : 01 47 71 05 23

A good place to visit if you enjoy Loto and gaming.

De Vinis Illustribus – a truly superb wine shop


I went back to the 6th where the band is staying (at Céline Dijon’s parents’ house on the Left Bank), freshened up, and headed up to the Panthéon to visit a fantastic wine store specialized in old wine, De Vinis Illustribus, recommended to me by my friend Frank Butler.

The owner Lionel and his colleague Ghislaine were exceedingly gracious and I chatted at length with both of them about their shop, perceptions about old wine, and the changing landscape of winemaking today. Ghislaine gave me a tour of the cave where she showed me bottles of 1893 and 1921 Château d’Yquem, among many other remarkable lots. “When the sediment in old bottles of Sauternes is light in color,” Ghislaine explained, “you know the wine will not be oxidized, even if the wine has begun to turn brown.” It was fascinating to see the original capsules on these bottles: they didn’t stretch down as far as modern-day capsules and so you could read the information on the corks. This proves extremely useful when the labels have been damaged or destroyed by (desired) humidity in the cellar.

Bordeaux figures predominantly in their library but the Burgundy selection was also impressive. Lionel remarked that many of his clients are moving toward Burgundy from Bordeaux as they find that Bordeaux winemaking practices are changing.

Truly remarkable shop and lovely people.

Yesterday, François Hardonne (David Griffin, keyboard and trumpet player in Nous Non Plus) and I walked all the way to the Tour d’Eiffel from the Quai des Grands Augustins where we are staying. We visited the hardly remarkable and easily forgettable Musée du Vin, which is more of an events space and cheesy tourist trap than a museum.


Above: The collection of old tastevins at the truly forgettable Musée du Vin near the Tour d’Eiffel.

The collection of pre-revolutionary vine tenders’ tools was interesting, as were some of the pieces among the old stemware and bottles. Overall, the museum was a not entirely unexpected disappointment but it was nice to take such a long walk through Paris.


A snapshot of the Tour d’Eiffel as I walked from the studio to the light rail station in St. Cloud:


In The New York Times

Played with Nous Non Plus last night at the Paris Paris, a disco on the Avenue de l’opéra that features bands a few nights a week. Needless to say we performed our “(I Want to Spend a Night in) Paris,” a song about Paris Hilton, at the Paris Paris in Paris.

Paronomasia aside, I awoke this morning to read about Lini Lambrusco (wines that I love) and see myself quoted in Eric Asimov’s weekly wine column in The New York Times.

Catering at Francofolies


We drove this morning from Vosne-Romanée to La Rochelle, a journey that took us back up toward Paris on the A6, then over to Orléans, and then on the A10 to Tours and down to La Rochelle (not far from Bordeaux).


The trip took us through the “heartland” of French agriculture and then through the Loire Valley, where we could see signs for (but could not stop at) Chinon, Saumur, etc.

Just outside of Tours we stopped for gas at a rest stop and by chance we happened upon the other members of Nous Non Plus.

We were met in La Rochelle by our handlers Pierre and Pascal from Scène et Public, our agent for France and Europe, who had booked us at the Francofolies festival. After a long day of traveling, everyone was hungry and Pascal was raving about the catering tent behind the mainstage. We checked into our hotel and made our way through La Rochelle, which was in full party mode, with musicians (buskers and festival performers) everywhere.

When we arrived at the tent, even the French among us (including Patrick Woodcock of Mellow, Céline Dijon’s boyfriend) agreed that the spread was the best “catering” they had ever seen at a music festival: summer salads, freshly shucked oysters, fish loaf (which I loved), couscous, saffron rice, a cheese board… amazing… (N.B.: the French use the American word “catering” which they pronounce KAH-tehr-eeng.)


I was happy to eat a meal lighter than my typical Burgundian repast!


It was also nice to drink something a little less demanding on the palate, like the Provençal rosé they served.

I had a great time talking about wine with Pierre and Pascal. Nearly everyone I meet here knows and appreciates wine, although Pascal is not a fan of Italian wine. The French seem to know only Sicilian wine (and occasionally they’ll tell you that they like Lambrusco).


Above, from left, Céline Dijon (Verena Wiesendanger), Bonnie Day (Emily Welsch), François (our sound guy), Pascal (our handler), François Hardonne (David Griffin), Prof. Harry Covert (Greg Wawro).

Halfway through dinner, a huge storm exploded over La Rochelle and everyone poured into the main tent to escape the rain. The tent was transformed into a fantastic party (you can imagine). At a certain point, an African group started up a contagious rhythm by banging empty wine bottles on the tables and the whole tent broke out in song led by the group’s lead singer… A smoke-filled tent of happy happy people, their bellies full of wine.

Despite the rain, the festival went on, and I caught the tail-end of the closing set by ex-tennis star Yannick Noah, who closed the penultimate night of the festival on the main stage. Man, that guy can work a crowd…

A Wine Older than Me: Spanna Colline Novaresi VdT 1958 Vallana

Opening fifty-year-old wine with fellow forty-year-old and friend Jeff Grocott at Morandi.

Spanna VdT 1958 Vallana

A few weeks ago, good friend and fellow child-of-the-Summer-of-Love Jeff Grocott proposed that we drink a bottle of old Spanna by Piedmontese (Novarese) producer Vallana to celebrate the near completion of our nearly four decades on the planet. Jeff, a page-one editor at the Wall Street Journal, wrote a number of wine features and tasting notes when he was an editor at the WSJ Weekend Section. You have to subsribe to the WSJ online edition in order to browse/search old articles but you can find some of Jeff’s articles on the web. His story on wine storage, which appeared in syndication, is one of the most popular and it offers some interesting and solid insights into the myths/truths of cellaring. Jeff and I met a few years ago when I was doing media relations for a NYC wine merchant and have since opened and enjoyed many bottles together, including a Barolo Riserva (Red Label) 1990 Giacosa that my friend and colleague Jim Hutchinson generously poured for us in his apartment last winter (served with a Coda alla Vaccinara that Jim had cooked all day in his crock pot).

Jeff, who lives in the village with his wife Barbara, had spied the Spanna 1958 Vallana at the relatively new Morandi on Waverly at Charles St.

We were both reluctant to open such an old bottle at a place like Morandi: similar to the ever-popular Da Silvano, Morandi is a glamorous, star-studded (see our celebrity encounter below), pseudo-trattoria New York City cafeteria — not exactly the place you think of when it comes to old wine. The bottle was reasonably priced but what was its provenance? how had it been stored? what kind of wine service would we find at a bustling downtown “feed-em-and-turn-the-table” eatery on a hot July evening?

While the food at Morandi was unremarkable (typical greasy but well-dressed downtown Italian), the wine list offered some interesting Nebbiolo options, including a Barbaresco 1988 Produttori del Barbaresco magnum at a good price. I was also impressed by the Ligurian whites on the list and a few labels from Basilicata, unusual for a restaurant where wine-savvy diners are unlikely to be found.

Jeff Grocott and Rosario "Roy" Marino

Above: sommelier Rosario “Roy” Marino (right) tasted with me and Jeff (left).

As it turns out, where were greeted by Rosario “Roy” Marino, a Salerno native, who gave us a great table in the back, had set the bottle upright (at Jeff’s request) the night before, and produced excellent Burgundy-style crystal glasses and a crystal decanter for our table (before opening the Vallana, we ordered a glass of Donnas Rouge from Val d’Aosta, which Roy poured in the restaurant’s standard glass stemware).

Novara is a lower-lying, wine-producing zone found to the east of the Langhe Hills (Piedmont) were the more famous Barolo and Barbaresco appellations are produced. The Spanna DOC was created in 1969. In order for the bottle to be labeled “Spanna” (Spanna is the Novarese name for Nebbiolo), it must contain at least 85% Spanna (Nebbiolo). This wine was made before the DOC existed and thus was labeled vino da tavola (table wine; see label detail below).

Judging from the newish cork and clean label, the Spanna Vino da Tavola 1958 Vallana had been recently rebottled (and probably topped off with a little bit of new wine, as is the custom among many Piedmontese producers who keep reserves of older wine in their cellars).

Spanna has often been cited by wine experts (including the great Shelly Wasserman) as one of Italy’s greatest aging wines. Many people think only of Barolo (and Barbaresco) as cellar-worthy Nebbiolo. In fact, Nebbiolo grown in the Langhe was not labeled as Barolo until Ratti’s legendary 1971 bottling, while Spanna, Gattinara, Grumello etc. had already achieved fame as long-lived wines in the 1960s (for those who read Italian, I found this informative and moving account of drinking a bottle of 1964 Spanna discovered in the mud by rescuers in the aftermath of the 1969 flood in Novara).

I believe that Spanna’s longevity can be attributed — at least in part — to the addition of smaller amounts of less tannic, more acidic grape varieties. Vespolina and Bonarda other grapes are allowed in the appellation. Many have pointed to Antonio Vallana’s blending skills as the secret behind his remarkable wines.

The wine was fantastic: after the initial stink dissipated (not uncommon in wines this old), the nose opened up beautifully and the wine had gorgeous fruit, nice acidity, and perfectly softened tannins. The 1958 harvest is considered one of the great twentieth-century vintages for Piedmont and this nearly-fifty-year-old wine was powerfully elegant but retained some of the rustic character that you find in the naturally and traditionally made wines from Novara. We enjoyed it thoroughly.

As we were paying and preparing to leave, a party of three was seated next to us. Jeff discretely told me, “turn around and look who is sitting next to you.” Little did I know but the Edge was rubbing elbows with me. Wow… He was dining with two young women (I imagine one was his daughter). I wonder what they drank. I’m sure that Roy took very good care of them.

Vallana Lable Closeup