Wildman & Sons Ltd. Is a New York-based importer of wines and spirits that’s been putting the ‘happy’ in happy hour since 1934. President and CEO Richard Cacciato calls it ‘the biggest little wine company in America’ by which he probably means, “We’re a gigantic conglomerate schlepping a Saragasso Sea worth of wine and we intend to get bigger and bigger until we take over the planet—but we don’t want you to stop thinking of us as your corner bodega.”
The thing is, he’s going about it just right. Take Potel-Aviron Fleurie 2009. In Beaujolais, they are so hidebound that you have to pull a permit just to plant a grape seed and the Wine Authorities can strip the ‘Beaujolais’ name from an eminent producer simply because they find a particular vintage ‘atypical’—like they did with Domaine des Terres Dorées Beaujolais l’ Ancienne, 2007.
So the emergence of a new and exciting Beaujolais producer like Potel-Aviron is a story in itself, and the fact that the team of Nicolas Potel and Stephane Aviron have established themselves as Cru Beaujolais superstars after only a handful of vintages is remarkable.
Whose Cru Do You Do?
‘Cru’ is a term which in Beaujolais can be loosely translated as ‘not crap’. French wine critic François Mauss refers to cerrtain non-Cru Beaujolais as vin de merde, which likely requires no translation.
The northern hills of the region are spackled with vineyards that have a high proportion of sand in their soils, in a composition which is perfectly suited for the gamay grape. Note that nowhere else on earth does gamay do quite as well, and it isn’t for want of trying, even here. In fact, the Duke of Burgundy once banned gamay from the region as being ‘a bad and disloyal plant’. Well, gamay is going strong and the Duke’s pushing up grape vines in some church yard.
Ten zones wear specific ‘cru’ labels, and Fleurie is one of them.
Okay, it’s ‘grandma’ wine, but kind of like Michelle Pfeiffer is a grandma actress. Enough said? Like her, Fleurie wines tend to be soft, silky, seductive, elegant and perfumed, bearing a distinct aromatic resemblance to their flowery name. Fleurie may not be a ‘guy’ wine in the strict sense of the word, and even though the region has some nice masculine granite in the soil, it’s pink granite, so there you go. In any case, Fleurie requires a few years in the bottle to come into its own, and the 2007 is just starting to open up.
Who’s Who in This Cru
The son of Gérard Potel of Domaine de la Pousse d’Or (which we incorrigable yanks might translate as House of the Golden Unmentionable P-Word), youngish winemaker Nicolas Potel is no stranger to Burgundy. In fact, he’s the former negociant with a domain that bears his name—from which the money fellows ousted him a couple years back. They booted the man, but they couldn’t touch his reputation, built in the main from a mastery of pinot noir—seen especially his Vosne 1er Crus and especially his Chambertin or Bonnes-Mares.
As for his partner, Stephane Aviron is a Beaujolais boy, born and bred, and his family, who has been making wine here for years, is known for their fragile-free Cru Beaujolais.
Together they suitably impressed the picky palates at Wildman to take on the label and we benefit by the lyrical results, a blend of older vines offering gamy gravitas along with they spunky fruits of youth that’s typical of Beaujolais.
Potel-Aviron Fleurie, Vieilles Vignes, 2009, about $18: Nary a trace of a mushroom here; this is a vivid-red cranberry and cherry driven Beaujolais with some light, vital tannins working behind the scenes to flesh out the scene. Musky herbs, mineral and violet/iris notes prevail in the nose—the medium-body wine carries through to a rich, refreshing, if somewhat short-lived finish.