Category France

Reflections on Beauty and Strangeness in Wine: Drinking Raveneau

Reflections on Beauty and Strangeness in Wine

“Strangeness is a necessary ingredient in beauty.” -Charles Baudelaire

A particular explanation of philosophy remarks that the philosopher’s work is to notice the strangeness of the ordinary. Such a view forms a sort of paradox. That is, the ordinary is in its nature strange, in other words, not really ordinary at all.

Last night in the midst of a Paris Popup dinner at Penrose in Oakland I unexpectedly found my nose in a glass of Domaine Raveneau 2001 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre Chablis. The profundity of the experience proved quite simple. In the grapefruit, forest musk of the glass I smelled only joy.

In what are known as the Kallias Letters, German poet-historian-philosopher Friedrich Schiller gives an account of beauty. “A form is beautiful, one might say, if it demands no explanation, or if it explains itself without a concept.” Within Schiller’s idea of the beautiful is the point that it transcends us — what is truly beautiful is not a matter of our own personal preferences (our preferences are fickle), but instead a characteristic of the beautiful thing itself. In saying that the beautiful needs no explanation, Schiller is pointing out that what is beautiful is simply complete — it needs no supplement. It is beautiful. A kind of straightforward aesthetic truth.

Schiller’s account of the beautiful seems to present an example of the very thing it works to define. It too needs no further explanation. That is, for any of us that have encountered moments of beauty in wine, his definition of beauty feels right. In the nose of Raveneau, there was nothing to say. I could try to describe aromas for the wine but the truer point was that the wine smelled of joy. It had no other explanation.

It must be said too, that for those of us that haven’t witnessed a moment like this of the beautiful (whether through wine or anywhere else), there is nothing to understand in Schiller’s point either. He can give no explanation because there isn’t one. You’ve either seen beauty, and so recognize the simplicity of it, or you haven’t.

Schiller’s account of beauty forms a sort of paradox as well. In his account, he shows that beauty is not a matter of personal preference. There is nothing fickle about the beautiful. Our tastes may change, but a beautiful form is in itself a beautiful form. Our recognition of it (or not) does not impact the truth of the object. Yet, there is a kind of problem.

The idea of beauty is an aesthetic one. Aesthetics is, by definition, a study of the principles behind beauty, but it is also a study of our sensory experiences, or that which we can witness about the world. The point is that, something like Raveneau may be beautiful in itself, but it can only be recognized or exist as beautiful because as humans we have the capacity to witness it. This point is tricky, and almost circular, so let me restate it.

Because beauty is an aesthetic concept, it is necessarily subjective — we are the sensual creatures that seek it — and yet, the beautiful thing exists in and of itself as beautiful, whether we recognize its beauty or not. We are the creatures that generate the very concept (beauty) that we then find in the world regardless of us.

It is here, then, that we discover the gift and strangeness of encountering beauty. We are struck dumb by the beautiful. In encountering beauty, we in a sense escape ourselves. Yet, we are always implicated in its form. Precisely because beauty is an aesthetic notion, it links necessarily to our senses. The experience of sensing something beyond ourselves at the same time gives us strength — we have the capacity to access, witness, and experience something beyond our own limits. Here, the intertwined nature of beauty — that it transcends us and yet we are implicated in it — reveals part of its power. The thing that transcends us roots us more fully in ourselves, precisely by its pulling us beyond ourselves, another paradox. In doing so, beauty reveals to us how much more is possible. It becomes a kind of motivation for us to be more than we thought we were.

Beauty reminds us how much more is the world than any of our self-involved analysis of it, and also of our ability to live more fully in it. In his book, The Aesthetic Education of Man, Schiller goes on to develop an account in which he treats the beautiful as an example for improving ourselves as people. There he tells us that we can strive to achieve in ourselves a sense of the completeness we witness through the beautiful. That is, when we are good there is no explanation, we simply are good. Yet, for us as humans, such goodness feels more tenuous than those moments with the beautiful, precisely because goodness for us must be an ongoing process. We must always strive for such balance without an ability to permanently arrive at it. In its parallel to goodness, beauty becomes a motivator to find comfort in our own uncertainty.

In smelling my Raveneau last night, I had no words and only smiling. The wine changed remarkably over the course of the evening, yet always carried that initial experience of my being struck. In as much as I gave myself to the wine, there was little I could say about it. To write any sense of typical wine description, I would have had to take a stance of analysis that necessarily would remove me from the very thing I sought to describe. As a result, what I find to say is this. (It is both utterly inadequate, and in itself complete. Forgive me. I can only hope the people for whom it’s meant will recognize the statement for its intended truth.)

Last night I drank Raveneau. All I can say emphatically is, Thank you.


More later on Paris Popups.

Thank you to Anthony Lynch. Thank you to Laura Vidal.

Thank you to John of Penrose.

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Value Bubbles from Limoux

Drinking Bubbles from Limoux

An under-celebrated while reliable source of value sparkling wine rests in the Southern France region of Limoux. In the foothills of Languedoc’s Pyrénées, near the historic city of Carcassonne, stands the original Abbey of Dom Perignon, the legendary cultivator of the wine that would later come to be known as Champagne.

As the story goes, the Dom practiced his methods first in Limoux, before carrying them North to Champagne to popularize the drink there. In its elevation, Limoux offers the vibrant acidity needed to give focus and length in the Méthode Traditionelle. One of the pleasures of Limoux rests in its common use of grapes such as Chenin Blanc, and Mauzac alongside the more familiar Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Chenin Blanc gives an earthy-herbal-floral depth and richness with mineral length to its sparkling wines, while Mauzac brings a unique pert-apple with cut grass character.

Crémant de Limoux AOC

Sparkling wine from Limoux shows as two distinctive styles, Crémant de Limoux, and Blanquette de Limoux. Crémant de Limoux celebrates Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc primarily, with no more than 90% together forming the wine. The final portion brings in Pinot Noir and/or Mauzac.

Crémant de Limoux offers a great source for bubbles at a screaming value. With the long standing history of the region it’s easy to find bubbles well below $20 that are also a pleasure to drink.

Domaine Collin

Domain Collinclick on comic to enlarge

Domaine Collin produces two Brut Crémant de Limoux sparkling wines — a Chardonnay, Chenin, and Pinot white blend, as well as a rosé of the same grapes. Both wines offer nicely subtle complexity with depth. The white came in as my favorite of the Limoux wines presented here. It’s a wine for people that want palate tension placed alongside richness, juicy mineral length coupled with depth of flavor. At $13 it’s a screaming deal. The rosé is a beautifully made balance that’s a touch softer, and more approachable than the white with its cherry elements dancing through the citrus and floral notes.

Gérard Bertrand

Gerard Bertrand 2011click on image to enlarge

Gérard Bertrand offers a crisply focused, clean, and elegant Chardonnay, Chenin, Mauzac 2011 white blend coming in around $16. It’s a nice balance of dried flower-herbal notes coupled with delicate fruit creams, biscuit accents, and a long mineral finish. There is a nice balance of complexity to value here.

Blanquette de Limoux

Limoux holds the primary source of Mauzac in the world. The grape is required at minimum 90% of the Blanquette de Limoux — a Méthode Ancestrale style sparkling wine. However, in recent years Mauzac plantings have been replaced by Chardonnay, leading to a decline in the unusual variety.

Blanquette de Limoux is one of the gifts of the region. Though Méthode Ancestrale originates as the first approach to champagne method sparkling wine, it is uncommon today. The style offers a creamy palate with low alcohol as wine is generally not fermented entirely dry. Since the style originates with the monks of Limoux, it has been treated to its own controlled appellation with Mauzac determined as the dominate grape. 10% of the wine may be blended to Chardonnay and/or Chenin Blanc.

Cote Mas

Cote Masclick on image to enlarge

Cote Mas offers great value in their brut Crémant de Limoux, both coming in between $13 and 16, depending on the retailer. The white blend brings all four grapes together for a clean, meyer lemon cream-on-a-biscuit nose followed through to dried jasmine, hints of kumquat, white grapefruit pith, and orange blossom on the pert, juicy palate. Chardonnay, Chenin, and Pinot Noir blend into the pert, refreshing rosé giving floral citrus alongside cherry blossom to round the juicy palate.

Cote Mas also offers their Blanquette de Limoux celebrating their love for Mauzac through a 100% rendition of the wine. The jasmine and mandarin aromatics roll into a giving creaminess on the palate spun through with ginger flower. With its ultra low alcohol, and touch of sweetness this is a wine to enjoy slowly through the evening. At $13, the Méthode Ancestrale makes this a special, ultra-affordable wine.

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Touring Tarbouriech Oyster Farm in the Etang de Thau, Languedoc

The cooler waters of the R-months in North America mean prime time for eating oysters. As some of you know I did a post over at Serious Eats on drinks to pair with oysters. I also promised to take a look here at one way we get that shellfish. Here’s a look at a tidal-influence inspired oyster farm from the Languedoc. It was a ton of fun. I love being on boats as I grew up on the water, and am generally fascinated to know how almost anything works. I really enjoyed getting to learn through the stages from alien-like oyster reproduction to growth, to monster size gonna-getcha growth.


Visiting Tarbourich, an Etang de Thau Oyster Farm

the Etang de Thau oyster farms

looking into the Etang de Thau oyster farms

In the Etang de Thau, an oyster rich pond where the Languedoc meets the Mediterranean, the Tarbourich family farms what are considered to be some of the highest quality oysters in Europe.

Driving out to see the oyster farm

driving into the oyster beds of Tarbouriech-this is one of my favorite photos that I’ve ever taken from a trip. Such a nice group of people too.

Thanks to the organizing efforts of Domaine Paul Mas, a few of us were able to take a tour of Tarbouriech in September. The family facility utilizes their own patented system that mimics tidal influences, which facilitates both growth and quality of the shellfish. With older (though still used) systems, on the other hand, oysters simply remain in the water continuously.

Entering Tarbouriech

entering Tarbouriech

The Tarbouriech facility includes a casual dining space offering oysters fresh from the water, and wines to accompany. Tours of the farm itself can be arranged.

Driving towards the farm on the boat

driving to the farm on the boat

The Tarbouriech family hosted our small group, bringing us out to the farm itself by boat to explain how their tidal system works.

The new oysters

New oysters are bred at an oyster nursery, then purchased by oyster farms around the world to be grown into edible size.

Stage 1 of the oyster bed

Young oysters small size demand them to be grown in sets within a series of hanging baskets initially. In the Tarbouriech system, the baskets move in and out of the water at changing intervals to imitate the impact of tidal movements on the shellfish. Oysters within the water develop their shell, while the shellfish out of the water develop their meat. As the animals tumble in the water their shells round and deepen.

Stage 2 of the oyster bed

Once the oysters are large enough, they are glued to ropes that then move up and down through the water in similar fashion as the baskets. This allows them greater space for growth, and more direct contact with the water.

our host

Romain Tarbouriech guided our tour, as the third generation, along with his sister, of the Tarbouriech family oyster business.

Stage 3 of the oyster bed

When the oysters have grown large enough on the rope in the second stage, they are gathered and affixed instead to a net that allows more room for the oysters to grow for the third stage. Mature oysters are gathered from this third stage for eating.

Huitre Seven

The Tarbouriech family is known too for their older, larger sized oysters, like their Huitre Seven, an oyster grown over seven years and featured in restaurants most especially in Paris. (Looking at the thing was intimidating–it was as big as my hand and several inches thick. We didn’t get to see inside to the meat of one, but I admit, I scare.)

Eating oysters

After touring the farm on the water, we were able to come back to shore to enjoy oysters on the beach with a bright Vermentino made by Domaine Paul Mas that matched the freshness of the food. The Etang de Thau also sits beside the famous Picpoul de Pinet region, a wine full of pert acidity that pairs beautifully with oysters, and that I like to drink on occasion for its aggressive (at its best nervy) zing.

Oysters on the Etang de Thau

The oysters were beautiful. Being on the water is my favorite thing. Eating beside it as lovely.

If you want to read more about possible oyster pairings, check out a previous post that links to a write-up I did on Serious Eats, as well as posts on pairings by both a cocktail-tender, and a beer lover:

Thank you to Michelle McCue, and Anne Alderete.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to

Terroir, Viticulture, Harvest in the Languedoc: Checking in with Jean-Claude Mas

Talking with Jean-Claude Mas

Earlier this week I was able to have a Skype interview with winemaker Jean-Claude Mas to check-in on how harvest turned out this year in the Languedoc. We met earlier this Fall at his home in the Languedoc, where I was able to taste through the large collection of wines Mas makes through multiple labels organized under Domaines Paul Mas.

Today, Mas heads his family’s multi-generational winery, Domaines Paul Mas, named for his father, and led by Jean-Claude since 2000. Under Jean-Claude’s leadership the vineyard holdings have expanded to include sites within each of what Mas describes as the seven distinctive terroirs of the Languedoc–each demanding distinct vine, rootstock, and maintenance techniques.

Terroirs of the Languedoc

Soil map of a portion of the Languedoc

soil map of a small portion of the Languedoc

As Mas describes, distinctive terroirs within the Languedoc can be identified through the unique combination of the following factors: altitude, proximity to the sea, the major characteristics of the soil, the wind influence, and access to water.

Depending on the region of the Languedoc, the area expresses a massive range of soil types including heavy clay, heavy limestone, schist, a predominance of pebbles, alluvial sand, and granite. The province also experiences significant wind influence (considered the windiest region of France) blowing both from the mountains, and the Mediterranean. Elevations change significantly approaching the mountains to the West or North offering hillside planting, and flatten as one approaches the Sea.

One of Mas’s primary goals in identifying quality vineyard sites is to locate land that can sustain dry farming. As such, natural availability of water (or not) also stands as a primary influence for his assessment of unique terroir.

One of the gifts of the Languedoc, as Mas describes it, is the huge range of growing conditions all within one province. “We do not have any less restriction than places like Bordeaux or Burgundy” when it comes to growing and wine rules from the AOP and IGP, he explains. “But we have access to incredible terroir, so anything you want to do can be done if you pay attention.” You look for the site with the right combination of factors in which to plant what you’re hoping to grow.

Jean-Claude Mas

Jean-Claude Mas, during our visit in the Languedoc, September 2013

Mas is a fascinating, sometimes intimidating figure. His own work ethic is so clear, and efficiently executed his presence triggers (in me, at least) a desire to work and perform at a higher level. In stepping into the lead position with Domaines Paul Mas, Jean-Claude has expanded the family’s project multi-fold, turning it from a primarily vineyard focused business to a vineyard and winery project with other aspects such as a new restaurant as well. He has also greatly expanded the vineyard holdings. The resulting volume that the company now produces is unusual for a family owned business in France.

I tell Mas I am impressed by how much he is able to manage and accomplish but also with how readily he can recall details of each of their vineyard sites. Domaines Paul Mas owns now 440 hectares of vineyard land, and works with 1120 contracted hectares, meaning they harvested 1560 hectares during the 2013 vintage. He’s developed a strong team, but stays connected to the goings-on throughout the company, and especially the vineyards.

It turns out, for Mas, his ability to manage such a wealth of information arises both from his own familiarity with the plants and climate of the area — he grew up working in vineyards with his father, feeling an affinity for the local flora — and his intensive internal organizational and problem solving abilities. The two together mean he tracks and utilizes information in his own head efficiently.

So how did harvest 2013 go in the Languedoc?

Harvest 2013 and Sustainable Viticulture

Jean-Claude Mas

There were several incidents of heavy rain in vintage 2013. As Mas reports, in three months there were three incidents of rain lasting two days each, including just before harvest. Some wine producers panicked, as a result, fearing the potential mildew that easily comes with rain. Mas and his other winemakers discussed the best approach to the vines when these rains were on their way, and agreed it was better to wait till grapes were fully ready, rather than rush to pick in advance. Those vineyards that were well maintained, and that were picked with proper hang time (rather than out of fear of the rains) gave “very good to exceptional fruit.”

In the last year, Domaines Paul Mas purchased a new-to-them 100 ha property, which means they increased their overall yield significantly. At the same time, the average yield for 2013 was down 5%, in Mas’s case largely thanks to management choices to focus on quality and ripeness.

Mas reports that in the end the rains were positive. His healthiest vineyards showed little or no mildew impact. The rains also had a positive affect in many cases as they slowed the maturation process increasing hang time to give a clearer balance to the resulting fruit.

Mas has been increasing the proportion of fully organic farming through his vineyards. Each of his sites focus on sustainable practices (he also intentionally leaves large parcels of land untended for a decade to reinvigorate) with an aim towards becoming fully organic. He reported that his already fully organic vineyards actually did the best at naturally resisting mildew production.

For Mas, organic farming arises out of his commitment to quality and the good life. “We can survive without wine, but wine makes your life better. How we farm affects nature, affects the environment around us. As long as the vine is well balanced in its environment, it is healthier and more resistant to disease.” The healthier the vine, the more we can have good wine.


Thank you to Jean-Claude Mas.

Thank you to Julie Billod, Anne Alderete, and Michelle McCue.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to

The Sean Connery of Wine, over at Serious Eats: Cru Beaujolais

Morgon food pairings

Ever fall in love without expecting to? Walk into a room to visit a friend and discover your self wrestling hysterically with someone you’ve never been so close to? Check out my latest food-and-wine illustration over at Serious Eats: Morgon, the Unexpected Lover. If you enjoy it, please share it with friends. Thanks!

Morgon, the Sean Connery of wine

The direct link is here:



#GrenacheDay 2013: keeping it simple with three varieties

Celebrating #GrenacheDay

Friday, September 20 marks International Grenache Day for 2013. Last year, to celebrate I focused specifically on wines from the California Central Coast and Sonoma. This year, I decided to keep it simple and taste through examples from California more broadly focusing in more on Grenache Blanc, with just one Grenache Gris, and one Grenache Noir. Following are notes from tasting.


Grenache Blancclick on image to enlarge

Acquiesce 2012 Grenache Blanc, Mokelumne Hills, 13.5%

Made from young vines, the Acquiesce Grenache Blanc is worth watching. In its second vintage, the wine is already showing interest with still young fruit. The 2012 offers a crisp body flavored by light stone fruit and crisp Asian pear alongside light grapefruit accents and touches of star fruit moving into a long white floral finish.

Bokisch Vineyards 2012 Garnacha Blanca, Vista Luna Vineyard, 13.5%

Blended with just a touch of Albarino, the Bokisch Garnacha Blanca gives the rocky tension the Vista Luna Vineyard reliably generates. Aged on its lees, the wine brings together a light creaminess with tons of juicy character moving into a long finish. Flavors of clementine, hints of wax, with refreshing dill accents move into a long mineral finish. This wine is all about value.

Cochon 2011 Grenache Blanc, Clements Hills, 13.8%

A nicely textural plushness with good acidity carries the subtle, clean flavors of the Cochon Grenache Blanc. The wine offers anise, with powdered lily, and fresh greenery through a long, lifting finish. The Grenache Blanc core is paired here with 5% Marsanne, and 5% Roussanne, keeping the focus on floral notes rather than fruit. I enjoy the clean flavor presentation, the focus on subtlety, and the textural interest.

Two Shepherds 2012 Grenache Blanc, Saarloos Vineyard, Santa Ynez, 13.4%

The Two Shepherds 2012 Grenache Blanc nose opens with light almond paste, quince and touches of citrus, that continue through the palate into a long juicy finish. As it warms, the wine shifts into riper pear and almond, bringing richer, still juicy flavors. With a creamy mouthfeel on a still taut mineral-zing line, the 2012 carries more fruit expression than its more austere, mineral focus 2011 counterpart, an appropriate indication of vintage expression.


[Please pretend there is a brilliant illustration of Grenache Gris Varietal Characteristics here as I did not have time to design one though I love it so.]

click on imaginary image to enlarge

Idlewild 2012 Grenache Gris, Gibson Ranch, 12.6%

A beautiful light rosé, the Idlewild Grenache Gris offers fresh floral aromatics with touches of jalapeno and light beeswax accents. Through the palate the character deepens into herbal, light campari-like hints, with brushes of apricot and blood orange. There is a nice textural interest here as well. This would also be a lovely, refreshing Thanksgiving wine.


Grenache Noirclick on image to enlarge

Skinner 2010 Grenache, El Dorado, 14.8%

Giving a well-integrated presentation of red fruit, red flower and dark spice with touches of lavender, the Skinner Grenache shows a concentrated core rolling through with juicy length over smooth tannin into a medium-long finish. The bottle first opens with lightly reductive notes that just want a little time to roll into the wine’s lovely fruit expression.


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Walking the Soils of the Languedoc

Looking for Colors of the Languedoc

Herault, Languedoc

a soil map of the Herault region of Languedoc, each color represents a different soil type–it’s intensely varied. this map represents only one small Department of the Languedoc, Herault, less than 6000 sq kilometers/2300 sq miles. The Languedoc as a whole remains so varied and reaches more than 42,000 sq kilometers/16,400 sq miles. Imagine.

Today after more study of the soils of the Languedoc, and touring some of the vineyards of Herault, near the town of Montagnac, we drove North into the limestone buttresses of the Midi-Pyrenees to taste Roquefort cheese — only the one area can produce AOC certified Roquefort, and so only 7 businesses in the world make AOC Roquefort — and visit the World’s Tallest Bridge, the Millau Viaduct. We then returned south for tasting Olive Oil, and to meet with Jean Claude Mas, a vigneron that’s slowly changing old bulk wine viticulture into better quality viticulture by focusing on organic farming and encouraging the life of the soil. Tomorrow we fly from Montpellier. I’ll be sorry to leave the Languedoc. It’s a place I’d like to spend more time. So much to share — how Roquefort is made, how oysters are farmed, what makes this region special, where to visit on tour, interviews with vigneron. When I get back to the states I have some follow up interviews with winemakers and importers, and am tasting more wines from the region. Write ups to come.


With minimal time off tour this week I’m posting only as I’m able and briefly. See you more next week!

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to


Touring and Learning the Oyster Farm

Visiting an Oyster Farm on the Etang de Thau

On the Etang de Thau

our group on a flat skiff driving out on the Etang (pond) de Thau, Mediterranean

Today we visited the Domaine Paul Mas Estate, tasted through multiple wine labels, and ate at the Domaine’s Cote Mas Restaurant. After, we visited the historic center of Pezenas, a town I’d like to return to and just stay in for a week to walk the cobbled streets, wander into the museums and galleries, shop the local artisan craftsmen (master woodworkers, master iron workers, master book binders – it’s pretty incredible. The town supports the development of rare, and antique skills such as these.), and move slowly. In the evening, we visited by boat an oyster farm on the Etang de Thau (an inlet off the Mediterranean) before then eating some of the oysters. A lovely, even if exhausting tour of the Languedoc offerings. Beautiful!

With minimal time off tour this week I’m posting only as I’m able and briefly. See you more next week!

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to

Greetings from the Languedoc

From a boat on the Canal du Midi, Carcassonne, Languedoc

Floating the Canal du Midi

our little group on a boat on the Canal du Midi, Carcassonne, Languedoc

Today I fell in love with a bottling machine, toured the largest still-intact Medieval fortified city in the world, ate Carcassonne Cassoulet on a boat, and drank some of the best $19 Methode Traditionelle that I’ll be buying as my everyday bubbles from now on because whoa-value-plus-yummy (did you know that Dom Perignon made his sparkling wine in St Hilaire, Languedoc and THEN moved North to Champagne and started making it there?).

I also put myself smack dab in the middle of an area where I have only occasional online access, and not the time to post, so I’ll likely not be back here till next week. In the meantime, I am posting some occasional photos on Twitter and Facebook. Cheers!

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Alsatian Riesling Craves Pork + Your Attention (Over at Serious Eats)

Hawk Wakawaka over at Serious Eats

My food + wine illustration and write up for the week is up over at Serious Eats.

Serious Eats Alsace Riesling

Here’s the direct link: