Clos Chanteduc is delicious. Drink it. End of story. Or is it?
In 1984, now famous chef Patricia Wells left America to live in Provence. She watched her first harvest from the villa in idle bliss, but was soon shocked. Wells blanched at the green and mildewy grapes coming in. The resulting wines were thin, acidic, and thus, undrinkably wrong. Ever American (and a touch entrepreneurial/imperialist) she knew better.
By 1990, Wells “paid the farmer a lot of money to go away”. Not a winemaker herself, she hired one, and watched three rough vintages not meet expectations. He retired. Wells hired another and got involved in blending until it fit her taste.
The “recipe” extended to the vineyard. More syrah was grafted onto cinsault vines. They got spice and fruit. Mourvèdre was planted for more color and tannin. They gave up on it. Cinsault soon disappeared entirely. The 2009 blend is a triumph of minimalism and manipulation: 65% Grenache backed by 35% Syrah.
Wells most loves the wine’s “naturalness” and “lack of pretension”. Yet it is pretense and artifice about what wine should be that led to all this accommodation.
The Wells have guided a delicious wine for sure. My problem is that it had to be. This is the self-fulfilling prophecy of modern wine. We increasingly squeeze grapes into what we expect good wine to taste like; removing stalks, gentle extraction, aging on lees, in casks for a year, et cetera.
We buy reds in the same way. They have to be “full of flavors of dark fruit” and have “a pleasant, peppery quality”. The fault is not the wine. It’s us. We expect wine to always comfort us. Wells imagines this is “[t]he kind of drink a wine writer might advise to drink with ‘uncritical consumption.’.” That would be fine, if it was a rare request. But we too often don’t like surprises. Wine must provide escapism, but down a predictable, “pleasant” path.
This apathy renders all reds the same. The wine world is getting really really boring. Consumers and vignerons should seek out the weird, the odd, the exciting. Wine can shake you and take you somewhere. Clos Chanteduc takes us to our cartoon of the Côtes-du-Rhône: rich, soft, spicy but never too edgy.
I’m jealous of Wells. I want to live in France with my own vineyard. Maybe knowing her intentions dismisses the benefit of doubt, which I extend to other wines. I likely can’t trust an expat to make “French” wine. As if I can taste nationality (which is as much a myth as this wine).
Hell, all wines are made to fit certain boxes. It just seems that those boxes are becoming the same.
I apologize for preaching. I love this wine. But I worry that I already had to. As if taste was predetermined. But that puts acculturated likes and dislikes before the act of acquiring taste. We are better than that. We learn to love new things all the time. Maybe Wells could have adapted to drinking that “thin and acidic, thus undrinkable” wine. The French had for years.