Tasting at Antic Wine in Lyon
Georges and I taking a picture to send Dirk Niepoort
These days it’s rare that when I’m traveling it’s not for work and work trips are thick with scheduling. So, when I do happen to have a day or two on my own I prefer not to plan anything and instead take the time to do whatever happens to happen. I’m in France for the week and ended up with a day and a half on my own in Lyon here at the start of it. So, all day yesterday I spent just walking around the city until I happened upon a wine shop that looked interesting. It turns out my spontaneity unexpectedly hit gold.
Georges Dos Santos hosts what at first glance looks like a little shop, Antic Wine, in the heart of Lyon only a few hundred meters from the Saône River. The shop is brilliantly designed with all the choicest, affordable, quick grab morsels – this time of year that’s a lot of rosé – near the entrance, moving to progressively more esoteric wines further back. The whole upper floor though (at first glance) stays rather affordable with wines for the most part below 40 €. (It turns out at the very back there is a bit of a specialty room with old Sauternes, and often asked for higher end wines from the Rhone, Burgundy, and Bordeaux.) In the midst of it I found myself a favorite Chablis producer that does go into the United States but in such small quantities it’s almost impossible to find. It turned out my selection impressed Georges, which then led to our chatting for a moment. He invited me to look downstairs where serious treasure is kept.
The basement of Antic wine is full of Grand Cru, Premiere Cru Burgundy, magnums of Champagne, and select Rhone wines. Stepping back upstairs we chatted a bit more, which led to our realizing we know some of the same people in the wine world (see the photo above we sent to Dirk Niepoort as one such example), and the next thing I knew we were deep into an impromptu tasting of wines Georges likes and thought I would enjoy. That led to our then tasting through sample bottles he is deciding whether to carry in the shop, and then we were onto Champagnes that don’t enter the United States, obscure sake he hand carried back from Japan, 170 year old port, 70 year old sherry. Eventually I discovered the tiny shop also has a big storage room with some of the hardest to find bottles in the world. He doesn’t always open so many wines but my timing was perfect as he was also going to be hosting friends later who could help drink the wines.
The whole experience was a great example of the friendliness of the wine world and the benefits of being open to spontaneous experience. Though we tasted an impressive amount of wine over the course of five hours there are three I want to be sure to mention.
As many of you know, the last couple vintages in Burgundy have been brutal leading to some producers losing 100% of their fruit. In Chablis, Thomas Pico of Pattes Loup was one such vintner who lost all of his fruit in 2015/2016. To compensate slightly for the financial hardship of the lost vintage, he created a special small production, declassified cuvée made with fruit from other parts of France. Friends supplied him with what they could and he cofermented Chardonnay, Chenin and Clairette. Though the label says Chardonnay the wine tastes anything but – it’s fresh, energetic, herbal and naturally spiced with the viscosity of Chenin but the bones and length of Chardonnay. Utterly fascinating wine and absurdly affordable at less than 20 €. Unusual wines like this occur from necessity and are well worth supporting. It turns out Polaner brings it into the States in small quantities.
Dirk Niepoort has joined forces with his son Daniel, and winemaker Philipp Kettern to make Riesling from Mosel under the label Fio Wines, and it’s awesome. The Cabinett is, as it sounds, inspired by Kabinett style wines with just a hint of sweetness to balance the midpalate on an unbelievably long fresh wash of pure, bright acidity. That sense of purity is the real hallmark of both of the Fio Rieslings (there is also a third but I didn’t taste it here). The Cabinett is utterly drinkable and begs you to run down the street to grab spicy Thai food as it would keep that palate of yours sparkling alongside lemongrass, lime, and basil flavors with the touch of residual sugar balancing the heat. The Fio, the top end of the three Rieslings, is a mind bender – it’s utterly flinty on the nose and then full of slate minerality on the palate. Totally dry with an impressively long finish – you could run down the road, order your Thai food to go with the other wine, wait till they make it, then slowly walk back to eat it at home as if you haven’t a care in the world and so much time, and the Fio finish would still be going – but most of all it’s the purity. The Fio is one of those wines I’ll be thinking about for a while. The Cabinett was 28 € and the Fio around 40 € but in case you’re looking for it Antic is the only shop that will have it in France and distribution outside Germany will be minimal.
Next time you’re in Lyon be sure to visit Georges at Antic. It’s one of those finds that’s so good I’m probably breaking some kind of industry secret by telling you about the place. If so, that just reconfirms it’s worth the visit.
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