Thursday, June 18, 2009

Laurent Tribut and The Mystery of Picasso

Whether you’re a modern art buff, a student of painterly technique or a card carrying member of the Pablo Picasso fan club, if you’ve never seen “The Mystery of Picasso,” you should. In this 1956 release, filmmaker Henri-Georges Clouzot captured the visual aspects of Picasso’s full creative process on film. With Picasso drawing and painting on translucent paper behind which Clouzot set up his camera, the viewer is able to see the artist at work – adding, changing, completely obscuring then adding more – until each piece reaches what Picasso deemed to be completion. Most of the pieces you’ll see in the trailer below are quick and relatively minimalist. There are other works in the film, though, that are intricate, layered and intense. There are pieces where Picasso seemed to have finished but would then add another layer, even paint an entirely new picture over top of what already appeared a beautiful work. It’s a powerful demonstration of painting as an additive form of art.

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Tracie B. – soon to be Tracie DoBi (congratulations, y’all!) – provided all the inspiration I needed for this post. She wrote up the exact same wine I’m about to (albeit from a different vintage) not long after I’d picked up a bottle at one of my occasional wine shopping stops.

Chablis Premier Cru “Côte de Léchet,” Laurent Tribut 2006
$20 (32). 13% alcohol. Cork. Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, AL.
Intense lime and mild washed-rind cheese aromas. Sapid minerality and medium acidity, at least by Chablis standards. The aromas aren’t so much pretty as they are brooding and profound. Pear skin and subtle vanilla notes add a touch of comfort. Served cold, this is pure Chablis, mineral and crisp, not at all unlike the best Muscadets of the Pays Nantais.
Warmer, it becomes clear that, in spite of the wine hailing from closer to Épernay than Dijon, this is indeed white Burgundy, fleshy and stony.

Don’t ask me to explain it any more clearly than I’m about to but I sensed a twisted spine in the structure of Laurent Tribut’s 2006 “Côte de Léchet,” as if its nerves and muscles had wound-up then released but never quite returned to their original position. Its quirks – from cheesy aroma, to a slightly sour/bitter note on the finish, to that crooked stance – may be signs of imperfection but those imperfect notes make the wine all the more interesting. In any event, the fact that there is no such thing as a “perfect wine” aside, I don’t think Tribut is a producer who’s aiming for a sense of polished perfection; rather, he’s simply striving to make wines that are true to their place and time.

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In the days since first reading Tracie’s post, in which she wrote less about Tribut’s Chablis itself than she did about the wine world’s all too often myopic anti-obsessions with Chardonnay, I’ve encountered a couple of other pieces that got me thinking along rather cubist lines. First, there was Samantha Dugan’s take on why so many people say they don’t like Champagne. (I find a similar phenomenon and have a similar pet peeve when it comes to Riesling, Sam.) And more recently, there was Christopher Watkins’ discussion of Carignane (and Chardonnay) at 4488: A Ridge Blog.

All of these vines and wines have something in common. There are plenty of bad examples floating around out there, whether coarse, saccharine, obese or headache provoking. People drink a couple of bad Chardonnays (or Champagnes or Rieslings…) and then make a blanket declaration that they don’t like Chardonnay. Period. It’s human nature, and it’s one of the most frustrating roadblocks encountered in trying to open peoples’ eyes to the pleasures in all sorts of wine, not just one color or type. Chardonnay, though, offers up a trait that makes it stand apart from these other grapes and styles of wine.

When you see Picasso at work, you see him creating something from essentially nothing. Sure, he has pens, markers, paint and a brush, but he’s adding something where nothing existed before.

In contrast, when Chardonnay is grown in a decent place by a caring farmer, its very Chardonay-ness, or its Chablis-ness, is already there when the fruit is picked and crushed. The winemaker is not working with a blank slate but rather with a medium – a sculpture, if you will – that is already largely finished. The best winemakers, at least in my opinion, will simply find the right frame for their wine and then gently guide their work to completion, adding as few strokes as possible along the way. Malolactic is fine if it’s natural to the wine’s physiology. There’s nothing wrong with barriques if the scale or spine of the wine calls for them.

But far too many winemakers place the emphasis of their title on the “making,” not the wine. Too many look at their just pressed juice as a blank slate, as a canvas wide open to the additive arts. Chardonnay offers up what’s perhaps the biggest, blankest piece of canvas in the wine world, making it far too easy for good raw material to take on monstrous proportions. And nobody likes a cheater.


bill l said...

the tribut cote de lechet was on close out almost immeadiately on release. a sign of the time i suppose. i had mine (you know where i got it) some time ago, liked it, went back for more at that price, but all were gone.

David McDuff said...

This came from the same shop, Bill, marked down from $32 -- a very appropriate price and still a good value -- to $20. A definite sign of the times, also perhaps driven by a need to move product from the distributor's end. I was all too happy to avail myself of the savings. I'd originally planned to discuss that -- even took a picture of the dueling price tags on the bottle -- but things morphed into something quite different as I considered and wrote the piece.

Samantha Dugan said...

Thanks for the mention of my Champagne post, and I kid you not...less than half an hour after I read this, I was helping a customer in the Champagne department and he said, "Well true Champagne has to come from Bordeaux right?" ....whimper.

Could not agree with you more about when people say they don't like Chardonnay, it's like saying, "I don't like cheese" like they are all the same! I have found the one thing that helps is tasting, at my into ro French wine classes I pour a Chablis and a Macon or Meursault...blind, (or without telling them what it is made from) and ask the crowd what the two wines have in common, opens many an eye and seems to not only help them understand that knowing what it is made from, when talking about French wines, does NOT mean you know what it is going to taste like, but also helps bring more people back to the Chardonnay table...with fresh new eyes.

Not all producers of Chardonnay are following some recipe and there are some wicked delicious wines out there that are being overlooked..kind of sad, so thanks for reminding us.

Do Bianchi said...

2B or not 2B Tracie P was the question... Take one loop from that B and indeed it becomes a...

Thanks, David... :-)

We loved that wine and the village Chablis they make is awesome, too... so fun to taste wine "virtually" with you!

Tracie B. said...

great post david! i just heard this AGAIN yesterday from a buyer--a buyer! "i DO NOT like chardonnay."


and riesling...that's a whole new sigh. going to check out the posts now, thanks for the link :)

Anonymous said...

The idea that someone hates Chardonnay is one of the worst offenders brought on by mainstream wine writing. A few years ago they started to write about the ABC crowd (anything but chardonnay or cabernet in some instances) and people really latched on to the idea that Chardonnay asn't worth drinking. It is awful that this line of reasoning still exists.

Sauvignon Blanc on the other hand just sort of sucks. ;)

David McDuff said...


Thanks for sharing, as always. Though I rarely if ever get the chance to pour blind in the classes I teach, I like your approach with pouring white Burgs blind to wake people up to the possibilities and different styles of Chardonnay. It's something I often mirror, in a way, when convincing customers who say they don't like Chard to try one or two anyway....

This whole discussion is hardly anything new. In fact, it's probably appeared on half the wine blogs out there in some shape or form over the last couple of years. It was just my take, inspired by some recent tasting, reading and rambling.

Yep, I find Tribut's wines to be compelling -- and pretty decent values -- throughout, from the village level Chablis right on through "Les Clos." Always fun to compare notes.

I expect there's a Riesling posting lurking in here somewhere, ready to pop up and scream at some unknown point in the future.

I'm not so sure it's a line of reasoning as much as it's a line of following. One person declares a preference for red wines, which seems to be the overwhelming trend here in the States right now, and suddenly all in their sphere of influence hate white wines as well. Not just Chardonnay, but all white wines.... Whether it's a single variety or an entire category, it drives me freakin' crazy.

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