People often ask me: “How do you think of a story?”
Much of the time, I pitch stories based on wines or winemakers that have amazed me, or places I’ve visited where I see an interesting trend happening. But in the case of my most recent piece, a sort-of manifesto about Sauvignon Blanc (and why we might want to call it, simply, “Sauvignon,” and never “Sahv Blanc,” although I do think “Savvy B” is a nickname with a certain charm), the idea came to me the morning after a really fun pop-up at La Buvette, one of my favorite Paris natural wine bars in the 11th arrondissement. I woke up thinking about the snacks served at that event, and the wine we drank alongside them, and just started writing. In a nutshell, the piece explains why I don’t want to drink Sauvignon Blanc that tastes like canned green peas, or like a jalapeño made love to a watery green apple. I want flesh and citrus in my Sauvignon! Find out why I feel so strongly about Sauvignon in my latest for Sprudge Wine here, and I’d love to hear what you think.
Cheers to all of you from London, after a few days of enjoying the city’s fantastic eating and natural wine culture, and prior to that, a brief stay in Edinburgh, where I attended Wild Wine Fair and had lunch at Timberyard restaurant. More on both of those to come, soon!
The answer: anything and everything. Lots of water, cold cold beer, and soooo much vin de soif.
Paris, and most of Europe, is just emerging from a terrible heatwave. This past week, an energy-zapping, torturous, four-day cloud of brutally strong sunshine and 37 degree Celsius temperatures made the entire city into a greenhouse. My brain felt cooked. I tried to get work done, but it was really difficult to sit still and concentrate.
That said, I did have an article come out on Monday, ruminating on the phenomenon of “hipster celebrity natural winemaking,” in this case with the launch of Action Bronson’s wine, made in collaboration with a French grower and micronégociant Patrick Bouju. Read the story for Sprudge Wine, here.
Other than that, I spent the week working on Terre Magazine; we’re assigning stories to writers around the world, plotting the corresponding artwork, and delving into the massive task of layout design. It’s interesting working with Erika and Katie across the sea, but actually it’s not so hard to communicate. We have some really compelling and unique stories in the works, and I’ll be editing throughout July and August. (For those interested in writing, see these pitching guidelines.)
Due to the heat, I really had no choice but to drink quite a bit this week. Here’s what I’ve gotten into (some of these are from the previous week; my liver’s not THAT hardcore):
Collaborative Septime x Vouette et Sorbée Champagne
Not your average house wine! The restaurant Septime partnered up with biodynamic Champagne grower Vouette et Sorbée to make a killer special cuvée; it’s effectively the producer’s signature Fidéle blanc de noirs, made from Pinot Noir grown on Kimmeridgian soils in the Aube, but in this case élevage and tirage go a bit longer, according to the woman working at Septime Cave, where I purchased it. The juice is from vintage 2014; disgorgement was in December 2016. All of the V&S wines are rich in texture, vinous, and deeply mineral, and this one is no exception; it had notes of bitter almond, tree barks, and preserved lemons.
Cidrerie du Vulcain, cuvée “Trois Pepins”
I am smitten by the Swiss ciders from garagiste Jacques Perritaz, a former biologist who works with nearly-extinct heritage apple varieties, “remnants of a bygone polyculture,” as written on the Becky Wasserman site. This cuvée blends apples with quince and pear; it’s only 5 percent alcohol and refreshing without being sweet, loaded with mouth-puckering acidity and complex flavors; a perfect drink for aperitif at the charming caves-a-vins La Buvette in the 11ème.
Cancelli “Vini Rabasco” bianco Trebbiano from a small estate in Abruzzo, niente chimica added, showing the true potential of this grape; the wine has luscious mouthfeel and a healthy dose of salinity layered with good concentration of fruit. Truly a pleasant wine to drink with small plates at La Buvette. I’d drunk the red several times in the U.S. but I actually think this one is more interesting. Not a wine to age, but wonderful for enjoying in a casual setting, and fantastic with pâté.
Etienne Courtois, Romorantin, 2011
If any of you out there have money and want to plant vines in a cool climate wine region, please please find a pépinière (vine gardener, essentially) who has Romorantin and grow it! It’s one of my favorite varieties on the planet, a mouth-puckering combination of lemon drops, white peaches, and stony minerality, and only about 60ha are left in the Loire Valley. The barrel-fermented and -aged Romorantin of Etienne Courtois is one of my favorite wines; it could age for another few years but right now it’s drinking marvelously and it tamed my thirst perfectly the other night at Aux Des Amis.
Luici Tecce, Taurasi, 2011
A bold, ripe Taurasi on a sweltering summer night? Might seem counterintuitive, but I’d been invited by a friend to hang out at a newish spot selling Italian natural wines called Vino Nostrum in the 11ème, and when the owners told us they had only one bottle left of this extremely limited-production, culty Taurasi… we obviously had to buy it and open it on the spot. The DOCG appellation of Taurasi features the Aglianico grape grown on volcanic soils about 500m above sea level, and the wines receive extensive aging in barrel (minimum of three years prior to release, at least one year in wood). Luigi Tecce, who is considered something of a wizard in the region, inherited the family estate in the late 90s when his father passed away; it has 5ha of vines, including some that are over 80 years old. Licorice, smoked meats, tobacco, and ripe raspberries made this a contemplative, complex wine.
La Ferme de Sept Lunes, Viognier/Roussanne, 2015
Rhone whites are under-appreciated. True, they can be flabby and sweet-tasting, but in the hands of certain producers, the unique white varieties of this region really do shine through. La Ferme de Sept Lunes, in Saint Joseph, came onto my radar during a salon I attended a few months back, called Découvertes en Vallée du Rhone. I drank this Voignier/Roussanne blend at La Buvette, and it was the perfect balance of ripe fruit and fresh acidity. In true biodynamic fashion, the estate is polycultural, working with grains and stonefruits. You can purchase their apricot, pear, and grape juices at La Buvette right alongside their wines.
Joan Didion: “It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends. I can remember now, with a clarity that makes the nerves in the back of my neck constrict, when New York began for me, but I cannot lay my finger upon the moment it ended, can never cut through the ambiguities and second starts and broken resolves to the exact place on the page where the heroine is no longer as optimistic as she once was.” – “Goodbye to All That“
When I moved to New York, I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer. In fact, I’d forgotten all about writing as an artform, and was totally focused on an academic career.
But I grew up with writer parents, surrounded by books, our household first on the block to have a computer (or a “word processor,” rather, made by Epson–yes, they did computers before printers!). I couldn’t stay away from the life of words for long. Nobody ever said to me, “Hey, did you consider journalism, or writing?” It was like I was pulled to it, the métier spoke to me from a place beyond my control.
And as I set out teaching myself the basic skills of reporting and producing a story (nut graf, intro, body, conclusion; the foundational structure of everything), I realized that New York was going to be hard on me as a writer. Money was short, and student loans were heavy weights. I traveled to the Bronx at 5:30am to substitute teach in charter schools. Had almost no furniture. Ate lots of uninspired pasta and bulletproof Chinese food, drank cheap beer and Trader Joe’s wine, and often cried at night in a bathtub with a neat whiskey in hand: how am I going to do this, here, in this city?
Over the years, New York has not gotten any easier on me. I’ve gotten tougher, probably. I’ve learned to let the drive to write overcome everything. But other kinds of obstacles come into your life, if you stay in New York. Your relationships are strained. Dating, as a woman in her late twenties/early thirties, is an excruciating task; somehow I do know people who have met and fallen in love in New York but it has only presented itself to me a few times, and always accompanied by heartbreak. Money in New York is a contradiction; we never have enough of it but somehow keep on spending, because the city demands it.
In ways, New York has been very good to me. I’ve eaten some incredible meals, met brilliant people, had the chance to interact with some heavy-hitting winemakers and chefs and editors. I’ve learned fiction writing–which has made me a much better journalist–from some of the best editors and publishers in the city, and that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
But, having now found a niche (or a passion? an unwise obsession? a devotion?) within the world of wine and food writing (the path to that is too long to recount here, but this earlier blog post touches on it), it is no longer satisfying for me to be in this concrete jungle, too far from the vineyards that most inspire me at this time.
I am a hopeless francophile. I first tried to learn French when I was 12; for whatever reason, Madame Fox strongly disliked me (OK, I was a rambunctious and probably rude kid), so after one semester I switched to Spanish. But I always wanted to learn the language. When I was 20, I was living in Spain and went to visit a friend who was doing a semester of art studies in Paris. Walking in the Latin Quarter one day, I needed to use a bathroom and waltzed into a restaurant as it was just opening. The waiters tried to push me out, but I persisted. One of them, in his starched white shirt and suspenders, raised a chair overhead and threw it toward me, yelling something I didn’t understand but was probably like putain americaine de merde avec votre président du merde (effectively: screw you, American with President Bush!). Since then, I was absolutely determined: I would learn French, move back to Paris, and take that city by its literary teeth, breathing in the ghosts of all those writers and thinkers of centuries past. I would write a book in Paris.
At 20, I had no idea that I’d be writing a book about wine in Paris, but that is now what I intend to do.
This is my last week in New York. I have no idea when I’ll be back. Possibly this fall, but I’m not sure. I also don’t have every detail of the next year of my life figured out–but I am headed to Paris with a small amount of earthly possessions, most importantly this laptop and a dog-eared copy of A Moveable Feast that my brother gave me (have you read about the latest Hem biography?) and will be based there.
Believe me, I know that living in Paris will be different than visiting for a week here or there. And I also know that Paris will offer its own set of challenges and complications (such as: greetings, with the French–are we kissing once, twice, seven times, a handshake?). But I have to give this a try. The world is too unstable, corrupt, sanitized, to not at least try to pursue what you think will make you happy. If something is calling to you, the only choice is to push aside the obstacles and go toward it.
In Paris, I’ll be working on Terre Magazine, as well as writing for wine magazines in the U.S. I’ll also be trying to do some more cultural writing; I used to cover art and film openings in New York, years back, and would like to return to that in Paris. I’ll be visiting lots of vineyards this summer, you can be sure. Will be headed to Greece next week, in fact, and then to Burgundy, later in June. Slovakia and Croatia are in the scheming, also, as well as the Jura and the Loire this fall.
And I’m working on the book, I am. But first and most importantly, as soon as I get to Paris, I’m going to call my friend and ask him to pick me up on his motorcycle, and head to Septime Cave in the 11éme for an apéro. I’m going to sit down with a glass of Champagne and listen to him tell me all about what it was like to be in Paris during the recent election. I’m going to have a snack of anchovies on toast. Or maybe, we’ll grab a bottle and bring it to the canal, to soak in the sun. And I’m going to relish in the experience of feeling at home in a new place–and in the fact that if somebody does throw a chair at me now, it will hopefully be because my French is too good, but I haven’t yet lost my ability to be sassy. Madame Fox would be proud.
I have two (very different) pieces in this month’s Wine Enthusiast Magazine. First, there’s a short feature about producers in the Right Bank of Bordeaux, where the Côtes de Bordeaux appellation (created in 2009) is trying to establish itself as a new benchmark of quality–meaning, they are working toward healthier vineyards, and in some cases turning to biodynamic farming, or even, in the case of Chateau Roland la Garde, experimenting with amphorae winemaking. There’s a link to this feature online.
Then, in the back of the issue is a personal essay about a friendship with an American woman living in Paris, who wanted me to teach her about wine, or maybe just needed an ear to divulge about her unhappy marriage. At the moment, this one’s only in print. When there’s a link, I’ll tweet it out.
I am desperately in love with the city of Paris. If I could do really anything in my life, I would move there to write a novel, and I don’t care at all if that sounds like a cliché. To substantiate it a bit, I do think that France right now is a really interesting place, but the reasons for that aren’t exactly positive: the country as a whole is in a difficult moment, with extremely heightened racial tensions and the constant threat of terrorism on the heels of severe attacks. I have wanted to live in Paris ever since I was 20, and while the romance of the city may have been part of that desire and still is, along with its incredible culinary scene, the complicated nature of that country appeals to the writer in me. And maybe I’m just a nostalgic sap, like everybody else who read A Movable Feast after high school and dreamt of being a poor writer in Paris, ideally minus the poor part.
Well, I’m not sure how I got onto such a serious note, because the point of this blog post was to share my latest Vogue.com article, on the vibrant nighttime scene at Paris’ little neo-bistros. These restaurants are helmed by young and talented chefs and sommeliers, and they have incredible atmosphere. Each time I go to Paris, I manage to try one or two new places, and I fall more and more in love with the city’s dining culture.
Read the article here. And thank you for putting up with my eternal bohemian disposition (it drove my mother crazy for eighteen years). But it persists: the other day, I pulled out the novel I finished in 2014 while I was waiting tables at Reynard–the job that led me to fall in love with wine–and I found myself wondering when I would be ready for my second attempt. And what the setting would be, for me to write it.