"A Wine's Personality" by Joe DressnerThere's always a lot of debate about whether a wine reflects a terroir or the intervention of the winemaker. I've been too busy watching the Tour de France the past three weeks to participate in any of these debates. It was a great Tour, a superb Tour, and I will long remember the hard, hot days in the Alps and Pyrenees.
Getting back to wine: the only way to understand the personality of a wine is to get to know the personality who made the wine.
This is a lot of work and requires an investment of time, money and energy. Language skills are also required.
I drank a bottle of Paul Pernot Puligny-Montrachet Folatiéres 1986 for lunch yesterday. With a delicious Charolais veal roast bought from M. Bataillard of Azé.
Paul Pernot has a reputation in Puligny as being a savage who talks to no one and who wants no one to talk to him. He is in his late 60s, looks very much like a peasant who has spent enormous time in sun-drenched vineyards and remains an aloof recluse in his native village. He is also an important landowner, with the largest plot of Folatiéres 1er Cru, and has a formidable collection of motorcycles (he likes to ride Harleys) and antique Mercedes. He looks like an agrarian worker, but in truth he is a rather wealthy peasant.
We've been selling his wines for quite a number of years now. It took us about a year to get an appointment -- at the time he was heavily lauded by The Wine Advocate and simply was not interested. My wife would call and Pernot would refuse an appointment. More or less, he would hang up on her. Finally, Denyse (my wife) called and got Pernot's wife, who was perfectly polite and gave us an appointment.
We arrived, Pernot told us he was busy and only had five minutes, and somehow we managed to hit it off with the guy and he agreed to sell us wine. Pernot was extremely reserved during this encounter, but we walked away with a decent feeling about the guy.
About a year later (maybe in 1991), we came with a New Jersey retailer, the retailer's wife, and our daughter (who was about three years old). Pernot has a grandaughter the same age as our daughter. Our daughter got bored and had a fit on the floor of Pernot's cellar as we were tasting the latest vintage of Bâtard. Quite literaly, she rolled on the floor screaming and crying and demanding that we leave immediately. In perfect French though.
The retailer and his wife were horrified. They had been all nervous to go taste with the mythic Paul Pernot (he was getting 95s in Parker) and to be tasting a range of grandiose Burgundy appellations. Afterward, they told us that they had been horribly embarassed by our daughter's behavior in the middle of serious dégustation. Pernot smiled as we left and told us to come back at the end of August to taste the vintage after it was bottled.
Since then, Pernot always asks us about our daughter and discusses Alyce's fit in his cellar with great fondness. When we visit him, we invariably leave with gifts of old vintages to drink at our home in the Mâconnais.
As years go by, Pernot turns out not only to be friendly with us, but almost gushingly so. The man banters and tells small jokes as we taste, discussing old vintages, Puligny in the old days, and how Burgundy has changed over the decades. We discuss our children, his grandchildren and the future of the wine market. He gives us samples from other vignerons he has met, including a bottle several years ago of Bois de Boursan Châteaneuf-du-Pâpe, a bottle that turned into a phone call to the proprietor, that turned into a visit, that turned into a commercial relationship. Jean-Paul Versino who makes this delicious Châteauneuf aways tells us that Paul Pernot is his image of a vigneron. Versino likes to visit Pernot and often goes up to Puligny with a Belgian customer he shares with Pernot. For Versino, as for Denyse and I, the visits to Paul Pernot are immensely enjoyable, personal and gratifying.
The 1986 Folatiéres I drank today was incredibly fresh, forward, honeyed, rich and with a touch of botrytis. What an example of Chardonnay from a grand terroir! Seventeen years since it was harvested, it was almost painfully expressive and demonstrative. We truly regretted coming to the end of the bottle.