That wine should be paired with a steak” said Anthony Lynch when tasting this tête du cuvée from Paul Bara. Not just any steak obviously. I wouldn’t pair it with barbecue tri-tip, but consider filet mingon or a dry-aged rib-eye. It sounds heretical, right? Don’t you pair steak with Cab? Often, red meat has elegance and subtlety to it that can be masked by big, juicy, tannic wines. Here’s an instance where opposites don’t attract—elegance often pairs best with elegance.
The Montagne de Reims boasts some of the best Pinot Noir in the region—Bouzy is the capital. The key to its inherent greatness lies in its deep, chalky subsoil which imparts intense expression of fruit and great mineral complexity in its grand cru wines. The village of Bouzy and Champagne Paul Bara are practically synonymous. As the published village historian, Paul is indelibly linked to the lore of his hometown. Many call him their most renowned producer, one of the rare récoltants-manipulants in a region inundated with mass-produced wine. These R.M.s, as they are known, are of the few who still grow their own grapes and make their own wines. Champagne Paul Bara is the quintessential example, everything done with personal touch.
True Champagne must not only sparkle, but also must come from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France and be made using méthode champenoise—a process that involves prolonged aging of the wine as well as a bottle fermentation used to add the sparkle to the finished product. Though wine has been made in this region since at least the 5th century, Champagne as we now know is a relatively new creation. It wasn’t until the 19th century that sparkling wine production took hold on a large scale in much part due to improvements in the strength of glass for bottles and the embrace of French nobility of the sparkling wines of the region.
Only three grape varieties may be used to make Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. The chalk-heavy soils not only provide complexity and texture to the finished wine, but also act as a natural humidifier thus keeping the vine’s roots warm during colder months of the year. There are grand cru and premier cru designated vineyard areas but unlike Burgundy, there are few lieu-dit vineyards (though in recent years there has been a greater interest in producing vineyard specific Champagnes).
Kermit’s first foray into the region came in 1981 when he began importing the wines of J. Lassalle and Paul Bara—two producers whose wines we still import. In the mid 2000s, Kermit began importing the wines of Veuve Fourny et Fils.
Of Champagne, Kermit says, “You might be surprised to learn that I don’t like a goût de terroir to dominate the taste of Champagnes. If it dominates, you lose finesse. I want some, obviously—but only enough to keep things interesting.”
Every three or four months I would send my clients a cheaply made list of my inventory, but it began to dawn on me that business did not pick up afterwards. It occurred to me that my clientele might not know what Château Grillet is, either. One month in 1974 I had an especially esoteric collection of wines arriving, so I decided to put a short explanation about each wine into my price list, to try and let my clients know what to expect when they uncorked a bottle. The day after I mailed that brochure, people showed up at the shop, and that is how these little propaganda pieces for fine wine were born.—Kermit Lynch
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