'Puits à Vin' 2019
I think good lighting is very important. And in the domestic abode, especially living a life traipsing from one rental every few years to another, the ability to transform a room with a low wattage bulb and a carefully chosen shade or an industrial hook-necked study lamp is a skill I’ve gained and continue to harness. And I love the lamps of Herbert Terry. I have a couple of them. And if I find them for cheap: beaten, broken and in need of a little care, I occasionally bring the stray dogs home to re-build and re-sell. It’s no hustle. It costs more time and energy and actual cash cash money than it’s worth. But it’s a quiet and quaint exercise, the likes of which I feel starved for in the whirlpool of the modern circus; like jigsaw puzzle making, like… writing about wine.
So, one day, I have this old orange model 90 disassembled across the living room floor and to test the replaced power line I have the lamp plugged in. Only I forget as much and drive a finger right into teeth of the bulb socket. My hair jumps off the top of my head. My whole hand and half the arm goes stiff and numb. And I feel a jolt in my teeth, my tongue, in my eyes, almost to my skull. And drinking the fresh and crunchy chardonnay that is the 2019 Puits à Vin from Baptiste Nayrand I feel the same jolt, the same dangerous joy.
Dangerous because this bottle aint gonna last long. Dangerous because if I see his wines in a shop or on a list, it’s going to be hard to look beyond them. Dangerous because where there’s desire, there’s the seed of gluttony. Dangerous because this is a different kind of juice.
AOP Coteux du Lyonnais is a little known appelation below Beaujolais and above the Northern Rhone, that’s like being the meat in a spicy and romantic sandwich, the heavenly slices of salad and cured delight between a playful poppy-seeded burger bun and a brooding sourdough, the guest lover turning a happy marriage into a brief menage a trios.
Nayrand started his domaine in 2014, with vines planted in the 60’s, 80’s and in 2016, after a career marketing a chemical company. If I was a better writer I’d draw some kind of ironic parallel between a man who once worked for a chemical company and now deliberately farms entirely free from chemicals, I’d paint Nayrand as a modern day hero in a parable of the everyman learning from the error of his ways, but he’s just a dude who makes wine. Delectable, sharp, insistent, natural wine.
Infusion over Extraction. That’s what Nayrand touts and what the wines themselves speak of. They are reserved, not ungenerous, but slow to throw their hand in the air, soft of voice, calm of temperament. A quiet, almost quaint liquid. There’s white domestic garden flowers, snowdrop, jasmine, gaura; either just before or after bloom when the perfume isn’t so pungent that you catch it on the street, but there’s enough to make you stop and sniff the air on your way passed the nicely manicured frontage of a two storey cottage. What else have we got? Apricots. Orange zest. Lemon pound cake. A subtle nuttiness coming in mid-palate. It’s almost that kind of clip you get from toasted sesame. It’s awash with a savouriness that can be hard to define; not pushily saline, though slate-like and fresh. Goats cheese, maybe. Popcorn, yes. It tastes of a first-time film directors showing at an independent cinema: handheld shots of sweeping landscapes, rolling piano chords, soft drama, high tension, as scenes of a sexual nature hit the screen and your date keeps grabbing at the box between your thighs, throwing the whiff of popped corn into the air.
There’s a great backbone mark of acidity, around which the sugars entwine, a staple of good chardonnay (of which this is 100%), though this an uncomplicated, less complex expression of the adolescent potential of the grape. Often noted for speaking more of where it is grown, of who grows and what they do with it, than many other white grapes. We should expect to catch a little Lyon, a little of Neyrand in the wine, and I’d say we do. Infusion over Extraction. The wine is infused with what the land of Lyon has to offer (in schist and deep clay) and what Nayrand has done with it (6 months ageing in 5 year old barrels, an easy malo-conversion, fine lees, organic farming, and most notably a hands-off approach to the whole game).
When it warmed up I got a little lokum and the brightness of it mellowed, matured. The texture changed also, one might say improved, fattened. It’s drinkability is through the roof; it is often said that the mark of a good wine is whether you desire a second after the first; by that measure the Puits à Vin is very good indeed. It has the sort of cool, clear sophistication and ease of a well-made (lemon twist, please) vodka martini and the lightness of touch, the prettiness of palate of an apricot soufflé. Its’ very clean. It’s very clear. A crystalline quaffer, of that splash of a small waterfall over rocks into the cool river, of those preserved citrus’ awaiting a roasted spatchcock, of that spring day, post-pandemic, with or without company there’s an intangible and rich sense of promise in the air and strangers have started to smile at one another again.
So, what is the parable? What can we learn from juice of Lyon? From the Puits à Vin? Perhaps it’s that even the smallest places, producing tiny wonders have the power to surprise. Perhaps it’s that even if you think you know someone, (a chemical company employee, perhaps), you know something (chardonnay, perchance), you know somewhere (Coteux du Lyonnais?), any of us in any place with any thing can change… can drop the unnatural sport, the industrial fare, the playing with poison and spin crisp, raw, exquisite threads from the flowers of the vine. Perhaps the best parables of our age are not yet writ.
tasted March 2021