Burgundy Hoe Down in Old Topanga

Topanga Coast

Topanga Coast

Lucky ole tBoW and Dotoré got invited to a tasting of wines made by Sylvain Pataille. The setting was Old Topanga. There are many neighborhoods in our wonderful city with coolness that ebbs and flows. York Street in Highland Park is über groovy right now with storefronts that say “shop me,” at least one dining establishment [ed. Sonny’s Hideaway?] and a distinctive jeune frisson that appeals to young folks of all ages. York Street is the reawakened district. Old Topanga is the lost outpost. Neither locale is freeway friendly. Driving through unfamiliar zones is required. Forget your GPS. Bring your flashlight and snacks. And remember: when the invite is right we must take back the night.

Sonnys Hideaway

Sonnys Hideaway

The pull of Old Topanga is the reason we drive through “new” Topanga often as we can. The canyon is a paradise in the city. Of course, Topanga isn’t really in the city. It feels nothing like the city. This is where the 60s started and for many still here, never stopped. Bands like Canned Heat, Spirit, Blue Cheer. Songs like “Canyon Burning Down.” Driving through the canyon always pulls memories to the fore. This time the pull was also wines… and food. When it turned out the musical palate and the company were terrific, we felt like we had rolled a fatty and smoked it. Here was the food lineup prepared by the Goldun Wan.

Primi: chicken liver/toast points, maine scallop tartare, canapé escargot/pastry
Segundi: roasted wild salmon/braised red cabbage/mustard sauce
Thirdini: boeuf bourguignon/fresh tagliatelle
Desserti: fromages

Here are most of the wines in the lineup. All the reds are from Marsannay which is the Phillip Rivers [ed. Chargers QB, please god end this season] of Burgundy regions. More than respectable, capable of greatness but not a true capo de capi. Keeping with the regrettable football analog, Sylvan Pataille is the Rob Ryan [ed. Saints defensive coordinator, this year] of Marsannay. Highly regarded, rising fast, defying obvious deficits like pedigree. All he does is get hired to produce winners. Read more about the winemaker Sylvain Pataille here. Our notes on the wines tasted follow. All are Eno Fine Wine selections. Reviewed in the order served.

pierre_gerbais_extra_brutWENV Pierre Gerbais Champagne Extra Brut $50: Bone dry lean and mean… and delicious. Home grown and produced champagne aka “farmer’s fizz.” These are wines made by the grower. They do not represent a “house marque,” i.e., the labels we expect to see such as Vieuve Clicquot, Roederer, Dom, Jacquesson, etc. Great opener for the evening to come. Matched with the liver and raw scallops. 100% Chardonnay which surprised several tasters expecting some Pinot given the firm spine. 13%

NV LeBrun Servenay Brut $50: Another bantamweight slugger. This bubbly has more fruit but it comes in a zinger with an acid vein that delivers the bedrock lode. Both are worthy purchases but if we were buying only one… 12%

javillier-bourgogne-WEB2010 Javillier Bourgogne Blanc Cuvée des Forgets $30: Second night in a row tasting this wine. At $30 this is about as big a steal as we can recall in French Chardonnay. This is “declassified” Mersault as they like to say. Whatever. If you want to know what is the fuss about white burgundy, here ya go. Bit of oak, good weight, balanced, fleshy but not flashy.

How to Taste Wine #6: When flavors are out of whack. I can taste the citrus or the wood or the alcohol BUT unless they are in harmony the overall experience is not so pleasant. By contrast, when these factors are in balance I transcend harmony. I graduate to pleasure. It is a fine line not easily reached.

2011 Sylvain Pataille Marsannay Rosé Fleur de Pinot $50: Available from Eno. Interesting story about being the first wine made when Marsannay became an AOC 100 years ago. Even more interesting was that our host had spent time tasting with Sylvain. This reporter’s location at the far end of the table along with onset of adult deefnuss has effectively disabled conveyance of any tidbits. This wine is revered and highly by the likes of Jancis Robinson and our peer tasters. However, it is not what tBoW looks for in pink wine. We are reminded of the 2010 Chambon made by Marcel Lapierre: lean, high spirited, s-e-r-i-o-u-s. 13%

2011 Sylvain Pataille Marsannay Les Longeroies $48: Lean, a bit hard, young to be sure. Younger tasters with greater experience, years of life left and likely patience than we have love this style. The promise is there. The development will be stunning… like the demise of myself and Dotoré waiting for this wine to mature. We need wines for now; next week. 13%

SPat-clos-du-royWEB2011 Sylvain Pataille Marsannay Clos du Roy $48: Lean. Wound pretty tight. But with more than a hint of what is to come. Showing some fruit after being open 20 minutes. Makes the buy list. We have to have something from this hot shit hot shot. How wine snobs really think. 13%

moulin-touchaisWEB1990 Moulin Touchais Coteaux de Layon $75: Chenin Blanc from the Loire. After a few hours listening to Little Walter, Sonny Boy and well-selected Stones mashups, and sucking down unruly red Burgundies pulled from the recesses Burgs occupy while maturing, and bantering with a Batterman… wham. Someone pours golden colored fully mature liquid ore in my glass. Without seeing the label or having read the invite, we instantly detect Chenin Blanc dessert wine. The stinky cheese is a perfect complement. Silent thanks to Mouse for our introduction to these wines. This is the bomb. Sweet and acidic. Lithe not fleshy. Sinewy not flabby. Have the Winter Olympics started? Are we at the speed skating event because the most delicious athlete is spinning round my glass. 13%

Tastings like this one do not come around often enough. We can always learn from tasters who know more than we do. The Sylvain Pataille Burgundy wines are beyond our ken. For Dotoré and tBoW the wines are angular, tough, not what we can appreciate. Like learning to appreciate Picasso when he left his blue period. Let’s do one of these again. Call it learning in the classroom of life. Let’s do it real soon.

Here is the superb Topanga-dwelling hippie band Spirit singing about what terrifies all canyon dwellers from Benedict to Laurel to Topanga. I guess they were there. Firemen are heroes! Circa 1967.


  1. Wavatar
    mouse says:

    Stopped at the Friday farmer’s market in Topanga last August on way home from tBoW tasting. Dreadlocks and white linen; two year olds running naked’ yogurts from mammals long since extinct. Very retro. Hadn’t been in years…

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    Bacchus says:

    No Moulin Touchais? Tripping in Topanga on Marsannay. A well aged mind provides all the fantasy one man can handle. Eno has line on even older Moulin Touchais. Apparently, they have 1MM bottles in their cellar. Can release older vintages anytime they wish. So Topanga!

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    Bacchus says:

    tBoW is posting this comment on behalf of a private reader who prefers email: “Not only did we see Spirit play at the Santa Monica Civic (and I recall at a free concert at Santa Monica College, too) I once witnessed them rehearsing in Santa Monica. Someone in the band was living there – it was south of Pico on Bicknell, Pacific or Strand – a half block east of Main St. Also if you like Spirit, you need to check-out this late 60’s, very LA-ish movie http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0064679/ Not only does it perfectly capture the era, it has a pretty decent soundtrack by Spirit. Lastly, while Canned Heat is clearly identified with Topanga, I do not think Blue Cheer ever had much to do with this ‘hood.”

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      Bacchus says:

      Ha! Now I get to reply to my own post that is not my post and actually posted by one of my fave winemakers who is culturally expert in all things music and film esp with LA.

      Thank you Jim for your comment. I would have liked to have seen Spirit. They were heavy man. Am big fan of their music esp the canyon burning tune and Fresh Garbage. The notes on the movie read like the perfect fantasy for the era. French chick in SoCal gets hot in erotic foto studio. With Anouk Aimée and Gary Lockwood. Let’s recast this with Melanie Griffith and me. Blue Cheer may not have lived in Topanga but they surely bought acid there. Gonna raise a fuss gonna raise a holler.

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    Bacchus says:

    Jim Moore says I can post his email comments! “So melanie griffith ‘trips your trigger’? i would cast angelina jolie – more sultry, less ditsy. none the less, watch the movie. for me it is like a return to an era when i was oh so young and i thought i knew everything (and now i know that i know nothing). it is engrossing though not necessarily compelling. it feels like a step backwards for gary lockwood after being cast in 2001. his angst and ennui seem silly within the context of a beach house, a sports car and sunset strip. maybe demy should have stuck with musicals? as for anouk aimee, once you have done fellini, you have already reached the pinnacle. now back to music – i always liked the drama of canyon fire (and recall seeing the mountains a blaze, eerily glowing orange at night) and my inner hippie always liked nature’s way – however my current fave by randy is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5BNeipwO70

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      Bacchus says:

      Love Jim’s quick reflection on the Model House film from 1967. In another email he points out that Randy Wolfe was the spiritual leader of Spirit and that Jimi Hendrix renamed Wolfe as Randy California. Which is how I knew of him. He got a distinct sound out of his axe (musician speak) which is present on the youtube link above. Like a single thread twisting into a double helix. Worth checking out. Science baby.

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