From the “life could be worse” department…
Above: Last week the gracious Étienne de Montille tasted and took time out to pose with members of the Texas “dream team” in Austin, Texas. From left, Master Sommelier candidate Devon Broglie, Étienne de Montille, Master Sommelier candidate Craig Collins, and Fabien Jacobs, sommelier at Andrew Weissman’s Le Rêve, considered by many the best restaurant in Texas.
Over the course of my life, I’ve been very fortunate to meet and get to interact with rock stars. And I don’t just mean music rock stars. (Even though the time my band opened for Ringo Starr at the Bottom Line in the West Village was probably the top pinch-me-because-I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening moments: me, sharing a stage with a Beatle!!! A childhood dream come true. Unbelievable.)
Ever the lovable Sicilian cynic, Italian Wine Guy often laments that people consider Texas “flyover country.” He tends to exaggerate (a trait owed to his Mediterranean roots) but I have to concede that, more than once, the more snooty among my friends have asked me if life out here in Texas is boring. But, folks, I’m here to testify: it sure ain’t!
Above: A home-cooked meal at Italian Wine Guy’s place in Dallas was a welcomed respite from a week of dining in restaurants. What did we drink? Étienne’s Volnay and Barbaresco, of course!
In all seriousness, getting to “ride with” and interact with Étienne was a true thrill for me. (See the image in the left hand corner of my banner above? Tracie B took that in Paris: that’s Étienne’s father’s 1991 Volnay Les Champans in my glass, a wine I will never forget.) I’m working these days with a small Dallas-based distributor of fine wines and I had to good fortune to travel, taste, and dine with Étienne last week.
His father Hubert, now retired, is one of the greatest producers in Burgundy, and Étienne began making wines at the family estate in the late 1990s. As his American importer John Winthrop likes to say, he is “a French aristocrat whose family was ennobled so long ago that the Bourbons are relative arrivistes.” But Étienne is also a really cool, down-to-earth guy, very generous in spirit and a wine “fanatic,” as he likes to say.
Italian wine will always be my first love but Burgundy is my mistress: it was fascinating to taste with Étienne and hear him share his thoughts on biodynamic and organic farming practices. In many ways, his wines could be considered — dare I say? — “natural wines”: he employs biodynamic farming practices and uses only ambient yeast in fermentation. No one would deny, however, that his wines are a supreme example of terroir expression. He doesn’t believe in “sexual confusion” in the vineyard, for example (organic growers often deploy pheromones in vineyard that confuse the insects’s sexual drive and stops them from procreating). “Sexual confusion upsets the ecologic balance of the vineyard,” he told me, “and so it is not true to the terroir.”
The thing that impresses me the most about his wines is their balance of tannic structure and lightness in color and body. “Only nature can give color to the wine,” I heard him say over and over. “I don’t want to extract [i.e., concentrate] the wine too much because it can bring out undesired flavors,” he said, referring to the time he allows his wines to macerate with skin contact. The 2006 Beaune 1er cru Les Sizies and Volnay 1er cru Les Mitans were great examples of this: the vintage has delivered healthy but not overwhelming tannin and the wines were a pure delight, with savory, classically Burgundian aromas and flavors.
When I took Étienne to the airport on Thursday in Dallas, he left for California where he did a wine dinner — a vertical tasting of his family’s celebrated wines — at one of our country’s most famous wine destintations, RN74 in San Francisco, with one of our country’s leading sommeliers, Raj Parr. That’s Raj (one of the nicest guys in the biz, btw) to Étienne’s left and collector Wilf Jaeger to his right (Wilf is one of co-owners of the restaurant).
I’m so glad that took time out to come visit us here in “fly-over country.” Life sure could be worse out here in Central Texas! ;-)
In other news…
I’m no rock star but she sure makes me feel like one! Tracie B and I had a great time at Liz and Matt’s wedding in Richmond over the weekend. Who would have ever thought that a schlub like me would end up with a cover girl like her? Gotta say, this whole Texas thing is growing on me! ;-)
In other other news…
More rock stars are coming! Kermit Lynch and Ricky Fataar are coming to Austin on November 9 to spin tracks from their new record, eat some barbecue, and drink some good wine. And yours truly is the MC for the night (I’ll be traveling to Nasvhille with Kermit, too, for a similar event). Click here for details (the event is almost sold out so please make your reservations asap).
Keep us posted on the Nashville event, if the timing works out I’d love to come up from Atlanta.
Just curious — when you say that Italian wine is your first love but that Burgundy is your mistress, does that mean (1)that your immature infatuation with Piedmont is, like, so yesterday, and that you now lust only for Burgundy, or (2) that while you are now committed morally to Tuscany, you wish you could chuck it all for the Cote d’Or, or (3)that you continue to sip Nebbiolo out of habit and duty (though much less often than you used to), but that you can’t wait to nip out of your palazzo when you get really thirsty for a bottle of the Burgundy you crave?