Come on Down to Flavor Town
Have you ever taken a bite of a steak and thought, holy cow. As in, this cow must have been holy because it tastes like gawwwddamn heaven? A steak tastes this way when the cow has it’s lived right, naturally and fully, and then someone is sensible enough to cook it proper, without interfering too much: seasoning with nothing more than salt and pepper, searing it to a browned, crusted perfection in a sauté pan, letting it rest. And while the steak takes its power nap, you make the pan sauce – because that’s what makes it sing. I know you’ve had this meal (vegans / veg homies: sub a marinated grilled Portobello, I guess?).
And the underlying reason your taste buds flip out isn’t the beef, it’s the umami. The fifth flavor. The wild card taste. Well this wine is UMAMI AF. Umami just means delicious, relax. You don’t have to worry I’m going to get too scientific. I don’t have it in me.
Normally I’m prone to describing a wine in terms of flora and fauna and fruits of all shades, after all, wine grows amongst these things and is of fruit itself, no? But this wine is straight up savory: lip-smackingly, make-you-drool-for-it, umami savory. There is still plenty of fruit, in fact the fruit is central and won’t be denied – noble mouthfuls of wild strawberry and currents are as bountiful as summer itself.
But that element lives within a context of dynamic layers of this other flavor component, one full of meat and earth and yes, that umami goodness. I know it’s odd to reference meat when talking about a wine. I don’t know any meat sommeliers, but I bet they would be able to wax poetic on this one, with tasting notes and nerdy elaborations galore.
In absence of a Meat Sommelier to analyze, I drank this wine with a bunch of rowdy, untamed cooks – guys who prioritize taste and could care less about soil type or longitude and latitude - they flipped out. They couldn’t get enough – I kept refilling their plastic cups and little ramekins (because, no glass in kitchens) and we all marveled at its unique deliciousness, its savory-ness. There was just something so satisfying, so enjoyably delicious.
I think it could be argued that both chefs and winemakers classify as artists. Sure some are scientists, too, but the wines that tend to speak to me profoundly are usually guided by intuition, made by someone who feels their way through the process more so than thinking about it. That’s how you cook the best food and make the best wine. But that’s not the scientific approach. And since an artist is so firstly concerned with truth and following their instincts, they’re freer somehow – to taste, and to discover new human experiences even before the scientific world has formulated its charts and equations on the subject.
Which brings us back to umami. Did you know umami wasn’t even an accepted fact until 2002?? I was a full-blown adult by then (wasn’t acting like one much, but still), and we were still all relegating taste to the old four: salty, sweet, bitter, sour! Well, thanks to Escoffier – he’s the man who invented veal stock, I’d take his word seriously – I now have the lexicon to accurately describe this wine for you.
Like a steak, it is a rustic but complete in flavor. It’s more like a bone-in rib eye than a filet mignon and if there’s anything I know about cooking (and life), the meat should always be bone-in.
I wish I could tell you all about how I bought a vintage BMW motorcycle (1975 R 90 S), coasted my way down the dirt road to Beaujolais to help hand-harvest ripe Gamay alongside Gilles Paris, who prepared for us a light meal of potato soup while we drank his Fleurie after a hard day’s work in the vineyard exchanging stories in broken Frenglish.
But that didn’t happen. And until it does, I’m afraid the only other factual information I can offer you on this obscure producer is the following:
- It is a fucking delicious wine, unlike any Gamay I have ever tasted.
- It is made genuinely natural without sulfur, without filtration, without machines and without chemicals.
- Every part of the process is done by hand.
- It comes from a single vineyard in Beaujolais Cru territory from old vines.
- The flavor runs deep, smoky and umamilicious. Look it up, it comes right after bootylicious in the urban dictionary.
Gilles Paris is making Gamay in the purest way imaginable. They are wines for a gourmand, an artist, and those with a thirst and a hunger for the world and all of its flavors. Profound and delicious at once, there is nothing mathematical about this ethereal beauty. It is wholly natural, the ultimate expression of the word, and not in the marketing sense. There is harmony in the bottle because there is harmony in the land. Gilles is so sincere in his desire to convey total purity from the grapes to the glass that he achieves a wine most would think is impossible to produce in the absence of technology and post-harvest manipulation. But that’s why thinking is the job of the scientist, not the wine drinker.
THE CHEAT SHEET
THE WINE: Gilles Paris Fleurie ‘Champagne’ Beaujolais, France 2014
THE GRAPE: Gamay
HOMETOWN: Beaujolais, France, Fleurie Cru
TASTES LIKE: UMAMI AF. Normally I’m prone to describing a wine in terms of flora and fauna and fruits of all shades, but this wine is straight up savory: lip-smackingly, make-you-drool-for-it, umami savory. There’s still plenty of fruit – noble mouthfuls of wild strawberry and currents are as bountiful as summer itself.
GOES DOWN EASY WITH: Wine’s-better-with-food is my motto, but this wine is so enjoyable on its own. If you need more than a liquid dinner, roasted chicken, mushroom-y things, salad with olives and tomatoes, simple steak, salami and cold cuts, cheeses and other picnic-like foods are all mouth-happy matches, too.
IF YOU LIKE: French Pinot Noir, Gamay; earthy, fresh reds that are light but still full of flavor, super drinkable.
NERDY EXTRA CREDIT: The word ‘Champagne’ refers to the name of the single site vineyard – nothing to do with Champagne itself – confusing as hell but what can you do…it’s France.