Saturday, October 10, 2009

Châteauneuf-du-Pape and my friend Mario Guiot

Earlier this week I was going through some off my old vintage notes from the late 90’s in France. In a four year period I worked at Clos Hermitage, Tavel in the Southern Rhone and also at Jean-Marie Etienne in the Marne Valley in Champagne, and through all of these vintages I had one stable factor throughout – Mario Guiot. You see, both of these wineries were represented by Alchemist Consultants of London, a restaurant consultancy group I was working with, and Mario was effectively the Liaison in France for Alchemist

Mario was a big influence on me back then, and it was while we were in Tavel that Mario not only got me in to Institut Auvignon to study wine, but he was also my travel companion on most Sundays when we would head out on the road exploring the southern Rhone; Carpentras, Châteauneuf-du-Pape (CDP), Lirac, Rasteau and Saint-Pantaléon-les-Vignes.

Before heading overseas, my wine knowledge was quite small you may say. If I was at a BBQ there might of been a box of our world famous, ‘man and woman in boat’ – better known as Coolabah, or a bottle perhaps of Jamieson’s Run or Penfolds Rawson’s Retreat, and if we were lucky, Bin 28 – good times!

It was here in the Rhone, and also in New York at Le Fauchon Bistro, where my wine education started. And it was probably the many visits out to Château La Nerthe in CDP. It was here that we befriended a very wise old gent, Lauren. He had lived within CDP his entire life, and had been living on the Château La Nerthe for the last 15 years. He was full of stories and was orphaned during WW2, as he kept telling us every time we saw him. He said he was not sure how old he was, but he said that he remembered having his first beer when Montpellier finished runners-up in the 1928 French Football championships.

It seemed everyone in CDP knew Lauren. Everywhere we walked through the Village, people would stop us and pour Lauren a glass of this or a glass of that. Mario and I also got a glass and more often than not another bottle was opened; Domaine Raymond Usseglio, Ch. De Vaudieu, La Nonciature, Laurus, Vieux Telegraphe and Ogier were just some of the wines I quickly jotted down in my little journal from our walks; sour cheery, morello, chocolate, cedar, blackberries and on and on. These are wines that can only come out of CDP and flavours that are masterfully extracted from Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Mourvèdre.

Mario Guiot (left)

Now my French was very poor, but I could always understand the, ‘coner Australien’, or stupid Australian, for it was my fault apparently that Australia, to the French, made such crap wine. But these were not rude sniggers, because this was often followed with a wink and a smile and a comment that pretty much equated to how lucky I was to be in France to get my education – they were right.

You see, the French always thought our wines were far too ripe and alcoholic, a fact really that cannot be argued I reckon. It was during these afternoon sessions that I learnt that wine should not be expressed through its alcohol, but its mouth feel, and this just did not mean fruit also, but of minerality, acid, tannins and savoury factors; these are words I would have never of used to describe Australian wines of the 80’s and 90’s!

My last visit to CDP was in late 1999 where I again walked with Lauren and Mario and listened as best as I could to their great stories of wine, war, women and football. I am not sure if Lauren is still living at La Nerthe, or even living period, but I hope one day to take my kids back there and hopefully get some kind gents to open up something wonderful and again listen to old French men speak.

I am writing this today because I just got an email from an old friend in London to inform me that Mario passed away on Thursday from cancer. So thankyou Mario for introducing me to not only your culture, but also your beloved Châteaunuef-du-Pape. Mario was 45.

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