Curieux and Curiouser
At Clairvaux d’Aveyron
Hamlets in biscuit stone crown bluffs:
white knights guarding red queen.
Sun grinds sandstone walls below;
pet their crust, blushed as its wine.
Centuries creep through and hide
in alleyways that mid day heat forgets.
Gate-house tower browbeats carp-scaled roofs,
bleached oak doors and rusted hasps obey.
Walnut, vine and chestnut forests watch
where mantis pray and buzzards levitate.
Patrick Rols recently appeared at the natural wine festival (Dive Bouteille) in Deauville. We are not sure that he was supposed to feature but his neighbour-in-Aveyron-wine, Nicolas Carmarans, who was scheduled to display his wares, was forced to pull out, and Patrick, supposedly, stepped in as a late substitute. Eric tasted, liked the wine, and asked him what he was doing with it. Monsieur Rols shrugged. It was in a barrel. Would you bottle it for us? Another shrug – why not. Without sulphur? Most certainly.
So unlike the marketing pragmatism that characterises many commercial estates we can appreciate a hearty slab of Gallic insouciance. The “maybes” hang in the air like seagulls on thermal breezes: maybe if I feel like it, maybe if I like you, maybe if the north wind is blowing…
Obscurity is the realm of error, said the Marquis de Vauvernage in one of his many moral aperçus. Or, more simply, in the words of Manuel: “I know… nothing”. We can’t guess the intention of a grower who surrenders so little information and we have little idea how the wine is supposed to taste nor how it might develop. Whence did it come, whither is it going? Well, the wine in question is most assuredly Chenin and comes from the old province of Rouergue, now the department of Aveyron, not far from Marcillac. It is called Le P’tit Curieux, the curious little boy, although whether it relates to Georges, the cheeky monkey of the same name, is not known.
The wine resists easy categorisation. Light gold it conveys a touch of funny honey on the nose giving way on the palate to ripe, almost tropical fruit like pineapple chunks in syrup followed by full throttle tartness. I expected it to be bone dry, as dry as the winter winds that sweep through the Aveyron. I prefer to suffer for my Chenin, to taste quince shaved off the stone and to suck on the memories of bleached almond. The great Loire Chenins are like tiny super-crunchy apples or pears and often possess the sort of minerality as if they had been filtered through the rocks themselves. Here the initial sweetness was disconcerting; then jolting, scathing acidity introduces an opposing sensation, a different dimension. The two tone element is difficult to reconcile and makes the wine hard to appreciate, but, with the two cheeses that we were nibbling - Harborne Blue and Wigmore – the flavours were suddenly realigned and harmony was achieved.
Not for beginners though.