1997 (Chavignol) Sancerre at Joe Beef

Dec 21, 2010

Working hard at Joe Beef: Vanya Filipovic, David McMillan, and Ryan Gray

One of the best ways on the planet to discover great oyster wines is to step into Joe Beef, in Montreal’s Little Burgundy neighborhood, order a dozen or two oysters from whatever is in (there will be two or three kinds, all superfresh, generally from the Canadian Maritimes and even from Europe, which you can’t get in the States) and let owner David McMillan choose your wine from the overwhelming list hand-written on the blackboard that serves as one wall of the tiny restaurant. The emphasis is on France, especially great oyster-friendly regions like Chablis and Sancerre, and the specialty is small-scale producers implementing traditional techniques. When I visited recently, McMillan chose a 1997 Sancerre from Gerard Boulay. Boulay is in the Chavignol area of Sancerre, which many (including Joe Beef’s wine director, Vanya Filipovic) argue should be a separate appellation, because Chavignol has a chalky soil profile more akin to Chablis than the Loire Valley. Indeed, in this wine, all the usual Sancerre touchstones—the grassiness, the herbs, the zing–had receded (no doubt because of the age; I’d never had a Sancerre this old before), leaving behind a pure, ringing note of gunflint that held indefinitely, like a zen bell being struck. It was screamingly good with oysters, framing the flavor rather than competing with them, and my second lesson this month (my first was with white rioja) that very old whites may be the best of all oyster matches.

Any other Chavignol fans out there? And, to turn it around, which particular oyster would the French eat with Sancerre?

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