When I taste wine, I tend to verbalize a lot. I say things that may wind up in my tasting notes, but at the moment may sound like disjointed babble coming from a mentally-unhinged street person.
And not just any mentally-unhinged street person, but one who is also a pretentious twat.
Today’s wine exercise is about two words which came up earlier in the world of viniferous self-speak twatdom, one of which shouldn’t be pretentious but is (garagista), and another which should be pretentious but isn’t (garrigue).
The wine under consideration was Occultum Lapidem 2013, a marvelously-named Côtes du Roussillon Villages, which means (like ‘Villages’ wine from other AOCs with that sub-appellation) that this wine adheres to a stricter rule-regimen and comes from specific real estate within the larger Côtes du Roussillon. In this case, the wine is a blend of Carignan, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache and Lladoner and begins life in select vineyards on the slopes of the Agry River valley.
The wine is fierce and forward, and somebody mentioned a stylistic resemblance to a ‘garagista’ wine. The original garagistas were from Bordeaux and made small-batch wines that tended to be less austere and wood-heavy than the classic Château labels; they were fruitier and easier to imbibe when young. Such a bang-up job have these young turks done with their terroir-defying vins de garage, or ‘garage wines’ that the term ‘garagista’ began to be applied somewhat indiscriminately to anybody making rule-free wine on a minuscule scale (as inside their garages), whether or not said potable wound up being particularly drinkable. ‘Garagista’ took on a certain rebel-yell edge and a caché not dissimilar to—and likely as a result of—the garage bands of the Sixties and Seventies that morphed into punk music. Thus, calling someone (or yourself) a ‘garagista’ gives you an air of counter-culture hepness, as though you are tuned into hardcore street vibes that your average wine taster can hardly so much as dream about.
Since in the majority of cases that’s nonsense, randomly tossing about the term ‘garagista wine’ (which this one didn’t resemble anyway) makes you a pretentious twat.
Not so ‘garrigue’. This is a wine descriptor that I have only heard French people use. And not just any French people, but primarily those French people who grew up in Southern France wine cultures and have, since childhood, been indoctrinated in subtle flavors and obscure scents that most of us Yanks don’t discover until we are losing our hair.
I love these kind of French people because they are (in general) so not pretentious about this innate side of their life’s experience. That they can pull these elusive descriptors so easily from the vinological ether is as impressive to me as is (to them) my ability to instantaneously sing entire jingles verbatim from 70’s TV commercials, like “I’m a pepper, he’s a pepper, she’s a pepper, wouldn’t you like to be a pepper too?”.
‘Garrigue’ is an essence word; it describes a variety of of dried, herbal tastes that arise in certain Mediterranean wines, especially those of Provence and Cataluña. It is a note that does not refer to a single, distinct aroma, but rather a type of aroma—something dry, rich, dusty and distinctly herbal, a potpourri not necessarily from Grandma’s linen drawer, but from the broad coast of Southern France, especially in late autumn. Botanically, this includes the array of lime-tolerant plants that grow along the Mediterranean seaboard; juniper, thyme, sage and lavender, etc.
Occultum Lapidem is Chapoutier selection; Michel Chapoutier, you’ll recall, is that loudmouthed l’il biodynamicist from Hermitage who makes some really spectacular wines on his own, and has a superhuman knack for sniffing out value wines throughout Southern France.
Occult Lapidem, from Domaine de Bila-Haut, is one such example.
The wine offers an aromatic blast of bouncy berry notes backed with an earthy spice and the slight bite of coffee beans. It shows sweet red fruit up front, but settles into a multi-layered panoply of stone, berries, a bit of anise, and culminating in what I first (pretentiously) labeled as ‘tobacco leaf’.
Why pretentiously? Because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tobacco leaf let alone taken a whiff of one—it’s one of those show-off descriptors that I read somewhere and was trying to reverse-engineer cigarette tobacco smells back to what it might have smelled like in leaf form.
Which is really pretty silly when you think about it.
Fortunately, salvation came in the form of Todd Abrams, who—it must be noted—was not the ‘garagista’ dude. He said, ‘garrigue’.
And it all came together like the final twist of the Rubik Cube—what I was tasting was that precise, imprecise elusivity found in such wines; a combination of savory herbs, scrubby undergrowth and wild fields all drawn together like the cord around a bouquet garni.
Tasting it again was ‘garrigue unmasked’; the word now becomes like the old psychology maxim: ‘It may be stating the obvious, but it may not be obvious until it’s stated.’
Now, if you want to hear some genuine pretentious twattery, ask me more about psychology.