Tuesday, August 19, 2008

More on Typicity: Thierry Puzelat's "Le Telquel"

When the bureaucrats from the INAO come a-knocking at a vigneron’s door to taste through their goods for the year, typicity is one of the main elements subject to their judgment. The problem is, the INAO tasters have often been accused of being in the pocket of the large négociants houses and industrial concerns, whose interests all too often put quantity before quality. Typicity, in that context, can become more about maintaining the status quo, looking at the lowest common denominator, than about focusing on the best traits inherent to the subject in question. Producers who push the envelope, whether through natural farming and winemaking, extremely low yields or highly characterful wines, are those most often are hurt by the INAO’s power to withhold AOC designation. I’ve written about this before, regarding the wines of Vincent Ricard in the Touraine and Jean-Paul Brun in Beaujolais. But the producer who seems to knock heads with the authorities more regularly than his peers is Thierry Puzelat.

Vin de Table Français “Le Telquel,” Thierry Puzelat NV (2007)
$14. 12% alcohol. Nomacorc. Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY.

Look as hard as you’d like on the label of Thierry Puzelat’s “Le Telquel” and you won’t find a vintage date, at least not an obvious one. That, along with its lowly Vin de Table designation, is a sure sign, especially in a still wine, that the producer has run afoul of the expectations of France’s (in)famous INAO tasting panel. As do most producers, Thierry gets around the regulation that doesn’t allow vintage dating for Vins de Table by including a vintage reference in the bottle’s lot number. “Lvtr07” appears in tiny print on the label’s sidebar; while I won’t hazard a guess at the meaning of “vtr,” “L…07” certainly represents Lot 2007. As for weathering the demotion from AOC to VdT status, Puzelat has built a strong enough following that his wines will still sell, usually at the same price as if they held AOC status. Not all other producers are so lucky.

“Le Telquel” is varietal Gamay, sourced by Puzelat from high quality farms and fermented according to his inimitably natural standards. The funny thing is, there’s no mistaking it for anything other than Gamay. It’s bursting with the pure red cherry and raspberry fruit that’s typical to the variety. What it isn’t – and here’s where that lowest common denominator standard seems to have been applied – is grapey and one-dimensional, as are far too many basic Loire Gamay. The wine should qualify as AOC Touraine but has been declassified to Vin de Table, presumably because of its intensity of flavor and aroma.

A sauvage aromatic character, somewhat akin to the sweet scents of a well-trodden pasture, replaces simple grapiness. There’s a depth that extends beyond bright red fruit into a more brooding backbone of black fruits and spice. Clove and five spice both come to mind. Up front, the chalkiness I often associate with young Beaujolais is there; however, on the finish, there’s a hint of tingly minerality that roots the wine in the Loire. Best served slightly chilled, this is soft enough to be enjoyed alone for its wonderful fruit and aroma but textured enough to sit well at the table. And at less than $15/bottle, it’s an excellent value, AOC or no AOC.

Image of Thierry Puzelat courtesy of Louis/Dressner Selections.


Mike Drapkin said...

Hey great stuff.... and spot on with the INAO being out of touch and in the pockets of the big negociants.There are so many sterile wines I have tasted devoid of life with the INAO stamp of approval. And, too many wines snubbed by the INAO"experts" which are full of life,compelling, and full of terroir. Strange.

David McDuff said...

Welcome, Mike.Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

It's not really all that strange when you stop to think about it. Historically, whether in wine, art, literature, film, music, you name it... it always seems like the most distinctive, compelling entries are the least understood or, perhaps more accurately, the most misunderstood.

The idea that the INAO seemingly encourages mediocre wines isn't that far removed from the trend of big critics lavishing huge points upon the most gooped up, obvious, made wines. Vive la revolution!

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