An “Accident” of Roussanne

It’s our first week in Paris and I’m constantly thirsty. The city has consistently kept temperatures above 85 degrees and the humidity IS NOT PLAYING. I also feel a perpetual need to walk eight miles a day and indulge in nothing but baguette and chocolate, so that could also be drying out my mouth, but who cares, calories don’t exist in France. (Dehydration is real though.)

Obviously, on our first day in the city we run into a natural wine store on the Ile-de-St-Louis run by the most stereotypically give-no-fucks French man imaginable. L’Etiquette is basically a watering hole for the alt-crowd drinkers and absolutely nothing in the store is anything I’ve tried in the US. After gallantly trying to ask in French for the blend in a sickeningly cute wine with an orange fox on the label (skin fermented Aligote, proclaimed to be “so typique of orange Aligotes” by Herve, as if I was expected to try such a wine every week), the owner took me under his wing and brought me a bag of out of this world stuff. I could write a review about every single wine in our picnic bag (which yes, we did drink on the Seine every night for an entire week, you could judge or be jealous, idgaf.) However, what absolutely cannot go unexamined is the above experiment gone wrong/totally right: Domaine de Rapatel’s “Accident de Roussanne”.

Rapatel’s estate is in the Languedoc, located just outside of Nimes where it straddles the Mistral winds and the Mediterranean sun. Rapatel is an eco-wizard, treating his vines with phototherapy (I promise I didn’t make up this word) and employs only wild yeast fermentation in the cellars. For this wine, Rapatel experimented with top-up techniques like those used in the Jura, where barrels are not topped up during the fermentation process to prohibit oxidation. Doing this introduces oxygen more actively to the young wine, thereby yielding a particular flavor profile. (This taste can either resemble nutty Christmas pudding, or manure.) By leaving room however, something else can happen during fermentation: something rull weird.

When wine is exposed to oxygen for too long during fermentation, it can form a veil of “flor”, aka a layer of yeast bacteria. This bacteria is the best of a potentially dangerous situation: bad bacteria will all but ruin a wine and cannot be fixed once it takes hold. A veil of flor is what winemakers in Jerez use to make sherry, as the flor imparts a bready, earthy characteristic to the wine, while simultaneously shielding the wine from further oxidation during the long time the wine spends in sherry soleras. Winemakers adjust the amount of flor or the time the wine is exposed to the yeast to determine whether the sherry is a fino, amontillado, oloroso, etc.

When Gérard Eyraud, winemaker at Rapatel, tried to ferment several barrels of Roussane in the top up method, he accidentally created a veil of flor, which produced this gnarly beast. In a blind tasting, I swear no-one would guess this was Roussane. While I love sherry dearly, this wine was something completely on another level. Every sip was like Adventure Time: Yeast Edition. Take a journey down Marmite island, then hang a left on unfiltered beer sediment, bask in the taste of your own sweat, and then break with fistfuls of fruity brioche. The wine has the benefit of also being twelve years old, so there are truffly, hazelnutty notes abounding, with a base drum thrumming all the way down your throat.

If you are wondering if you’ll ever be able to try this wine, my answer is, come to my house when I get back, because Eyraud was never able to replicate the flor. The 2005 vintage is literally the first and only vintage of this wine ever made. Herve had six bottles of this wine and I bought two so go cry to Unsinkable Molly Brown Paris cause you MISSED. THE. BOAT.

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